Living abroad when you don’t speak the language very well presents plenty of challenges. When I first arrived in Spain I assumed that when they taught you to say ‘hablo poco espanol’ to indicate you have a poor grasp of Spanish, it meant ‘I have very little Spanish’. So without checking I took ‘hablo’ to mean ‘I have’ rather than ‘I speak’, because it sounds more like ‘have’ doesn’t it? So into the shops I went, confidently asking the first shop keeper if she spoke cheddar cheese. I got a funny look but she worked out what I wanted so emboldened by my success I continued in this vein for a week or so, no doubt making a complete fool of myself every time, until I checked my translator and the awful truth dawned.
But spare a thought for the Spanish, trying to cater for Brits like me and so helpfully translating some of their services into English despite on occasions having a similar lack of linguistic education. Their efforts are very welcome but often equally amusing and not always helpful when the result of their attempts serves only to confuse.
Restaurant menus have offered me ‘Toasts of Smoked’, ‘Spaghetti Sailor’s Blouse’ and ‘Fried Spawns’, and, in case that wasn’t tempting enough, also suggested ‘withered sausage’, ‘wind of squids’, ‘in a mess of shrimp’ or ‘weak rice’. One of my favourites was ‘mousse of the housse’ which I always imagined being spoken by John Laurie of Dad’s Army. It does surprise me a little that some really quite swanky eateries go to great expense to design and print large embellished and laminated menu posters in another language without asking anyone to proof-read them.
I went to a Spanish zoo once which advised ‘Do Not Feed Fingers to the Animals’ with a picture of a stick man about to be devoured by a huge crocodile head. Underneath it warned ‘Forbidden Get the Body Over The Fence!’. This crocodile sign was attached to an enclosure full of flamingos, but this was because they had used the same signs all over the zoo, giving the impression that the place was full of crocodiles and the other animals just had to take their chances.
On our sea front the authorities have erected very impressive wooden framed information boards, packed with detail. Summarised translations are offered for some sections. Of particular interest is the proud boast that ‘this is an FEE accredited Blue Flan beach’. There are then some little pictures showing all the facilities, such as the ‘Public Bath for Men and Woman’ (I wonder who the lucky lady is), the ‘Sumpling Point’ whatever that is, and my favourite, the chair on stilts where the lifeguards sit, described as a ‘Tower of Vigilance’ as though it has been borrowed from the Lord of The Rings.
I considered offering English proof-reading services for a small fee but then thought, no. These mis-translations and grammatical faux-pas offer amusement and entertainment. Let’s keep them as they are!