Words are fun. Probably one of the most entertaining and fulfilling aspects of being human, words give us an outlet to describe, explain, express, judge, contest, disagree and supposedly validate our lives. What would we be without words?
Living abroad provides ex-pats with numerous opportunities to experience how words are used, translated, pronounced and then included into conversation, publications and other arenas for public consumption. It doesn’t matter on which side of the spectrum you happen to be (speaker or listener, reader or writer), this is a perfect example of why we’re only human. Faults and all, we still communicate.
When we lived in France, I unintentionally massacred the beautiful and romantic French language. Assuming I knew what I wanted to say, my words usually came out as some absurd and rather random stringing together of words. Sounding a bit like a poster child for Neanderthals, the French often heard me say things like “Dog have me black.” or “Car blue broke-broke there street – tomorrow. Elephant.” And that was before any of my pronunciations were examined.
Often perplexing any given waiter and instead of ordering a glass of white wine (vin blanc) at various restaurants, I requested a glass of white wind (vent blanc). The two words have slightly different verbal nuances but the effect is enormous. A bit like asking if my hair (cheveux) looked alright before going to dinner, which came out as “Do my horses (chevaux) look OK?” Counting to ten meant 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, oyster, 9,10. Unfortunately, the number 8 (huite) sounds similar to the French word for oyster (huitre), as in “I wear a size oyster shoe.”
Now that I have made fun of myself, I’ll share with you a few equally silly translations from French to English which I found while living in Europe.
To begin, here are some direct quotes from a magazine we received when we first relocated. With the best intentions, this publication was meant to welcome English speaking people to the Roussillon region, introduce them to different restaurants, discuss the landscape of the area and promote sports.
Stylish case with uncommon colours smelling good the South.
With out rolling, the navy pleasures during a gustative crossing.
The various varieties of pasta are prepared with a passionate love hand.
A must stop place along your greedy route.
Thank you to maintain actively sporting bonds whose rugby is one of the figureheads.
My husband and I have a dear French friend who, after meeting “les Americains”, decided to try her English. Unfortunately, this verbal experiment occured at a dinner party for 20 when there was a sudden lull in the conversation. As the rest of us dove into our dinner, we were entertained with a loud voice saying: I. Love. You. Henk. Silence followed by nervous laughter from the speaker is the best way to describe the moment following her proclamation. In English, she only knew the statement “I love you” and simply added my husband’s name at the end, for variation. Like me, she was showing off her foreign language skills.
Regarding our daughter’s Selective Mutism, my husband and I sought advice from other parents. During our online research, we found a number of French parents who described their own experience with children who had that particular affliction:
Since Tuesday evening, fifille did not give the feet any more nor the remainder to the school, thanks to a well oiled mechanics. Wednesday morning, a few minutes before leaving to the school, it vomits its breakfast, and thus does no go to the school…Wednesday afternoon, it is in perfect state to go to make clipaclop clipaclop on a horse. Thursday morning, one does not change a method which gains: vomit. Leave of school. Thursday towards 13h, smelling my intention well to benefit from the meridian pause to try on it a new placing in school orbit, it adapts the method of the morning to the lunch…I start to ask to me whether it for submission to going back there before the great holidays.
Knowing exactly what this mother was talking about, it occurred to me that had I tried to scribe a story or some advice in French, no doubt it would have read quite similar.
A rarity for fine French restaurants, there is a seafood establishment on the coast of Port Vendres which offers “take away” meals – only after you’ve been officially welcomed:
All the team of at Pujol wishes your place a good appetite
Ask your plates of seafood to carry
There is a book called Sky my husband! by Jean-Loup Chiflet. A collection of English and French colloquialisms translated into the other language respectively, this book proudly touts the entertaining aspects of literal translations.
Example: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush = Un tiens vaut mieux que deux tu l’auras = A hold is better than two you will hold it.*
So again: What would we be without words?
The answer is obvious: J’ai tout lieu de croire que c’est une grosse legume qui a une langue bien pendue et qui tient le haut du pave en s’en mettant plein la lampe.*
I have all place to believe that he is a big vegetable who has a well hanged tongue and who holds the high of the pavement in filling plenty his lamp.*
In any case, it does not eat bread…ca ne mange pas de pain…it is not important.*
* Excerpts from Sky my husband!