June 02, 2003
I do not think that means what you think it means

Via Paul Frankenstein, I came across this funny story about what can happen when you mistranslate something. This has never happened to me - sadly, I'm insufficiently mulitlingual to be in this position in the first place - but my friend Jason has an anecdote about his mother.

His dad was (and still is, to the best of my knowledge) in the diplomatic corps. Their family spent a fair amount of time on assignment in Italy. Early on, Jason's mom was at a dinner without his dad which was also attended by several military officers. She did her best to play the role of dutiful embassy wife by keeping the conversation going, and in doing so spoke of the difficulties she encountered in finding all-natural foods in a foreign land. Apparently, she got a lot of strange reactions when asking shopkeepers if their food had any "preservativos" in it. Perhaps this should have been a clue, as the officers' bemused questions about her natural-foods quest should have been, but it wasn't until one of the men gently informed her that the word she was looking for was "conservativo" did she learn that she had been asking those shopkeepers if their food had any condoms in it. I suppose she could take solace in knowing that their denials had been honest ones.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 02, 2003 to Society and cultcha | TrackBack

Traduttore, traditore.

Posted by: Charles on June 2, 2003 10:47 AM

Mine is more of an example of what I didn't say that made the difference.

Having just cleared customs at Charles de Gualle airport in Paris and seeing it was 7:30 AM, I decided to get a cup of coffee. I forgot, however, that simply ordering a "cafe" in French is ordering a cup of espresso. In this case, I was unprepared for that special, rocket fuel like taste in my mouth.

American style coffee is "cafe au lait", or "cafe American".

Posted by: William Hughes on June 2, 2003 11:50 AM

Jason's mother is also, IIRC, the source of the story of the slight difference in pronunciation between the very tasty Italian dish 'Penne Arrabiata' and 'Inflamed Penises'. "Would you like some grated Parmesan cheese on that?"

She drank Guppy under the table twice and me once. Thanks for the reminder of the story!


Posted by: Michael on June 2, 2003 2:45 PM

I forgot about this one. I was at a minor league hockey game in Albany, NY when the PA announcer a program giveaway (find the signature in the program and win a prize type of thing) for dinner for two at Aporto Restaurant right across the street.

I thought at first he said "A Porno" restaurant. I guess the dishes would be hot and spicy.

I have a problem when reading things as well. When I first worked as a volunteer at a nursing home I saw a sign that read "Pokeno Every Wednesday at 2PM." I thought at read "Porno Every Wednesday at 2 PM".

What can I tell you, I have problems with my ears and my eyes.

Posted by: William Hughes on June 2, 2003 5:56 PM