Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Question of the Week

At one point in Three for a Wedding Phoebe comes to the rescue of two old ladies. She's in Holland, she doesn't speak Dutch but 'she mimed the need for a blanket...and then once more played her desperate charade to convince her companion that she would have to go for help.'

I once had a perfectly lovely discussion with an Italian Grandmother at the Vernazza train station. We relayed the ages of our children/grandchild, discussed their merits and I was made to understand the depth of excitement the grandmother felt while she waited for her grandson to arrive (and now that I know a little more about Italian birth rates, I understand even better).

Anyway, all this was accomplished with my knowledge of Gelato-Italian (an inability to speak Italian unless ordering gelato) and hand motions.

So tell me about the times you've been lost in translation.


  1. Alone and lost in Japan. I went into a very small corner grocery store to get a drink and directions. I had an address and phone number of where I was going - but I don't speak Japanese. The store owners didn't speak English...but the wife was hilarious in her attempts to communicate - she just spoke much louder. Since we obviously weren't getting anywhere, she had her husband go get their delivery van and drive me to my destination, which wasn't too far away - but he got lost too, and was reduced to stopping and asking passers-by for directions.

  2. Not really my story, but I'll tell it anyway. My nephew and his family spent 3 years living in Tokyo several years ago. He worked for a major firm who virtually stole him from one of their subsidiaries to send him over there, paid him scads of money and paid to send him, his wife, and the children to language school before and during their stay.

    My niece-in-law escorted her young children to their different schools each day, and shopped on the way home, for that day's food - no large expansive refrigerators in most Japanese homes. This sounds rather simple but it actually took up the better part of her day, involving many changes of train and bus.

    One day, she was hungry, really hungry, for home style mac and cheese. So after some days of research, she took herself off to the market where one could buy cheese - not convenient to anything else she did in a normal day - but she had this hankering...

    I guess cheese (and how to buy it) had never come up in any of her lessons. The cheese was marked at the equivalent of $12 or $13 per pound, according to her on-the-fly calculations. What she didn't realize is that when she indicated she'd take "One pound," she really bought "one wheel," and said wheel cost over $100. AND she had to lug a nearly 10lb wheel of cheese through all of those train and bus changes!

    They did enjoy all of the cheesy dishes in the coming weeks, and there were several other ex-pats who were happy to take some off her hands. :)

  3. When the then Sargent Vue de Plane and I were stationed in Spain, where Betty Ariel and Prof Rob were born, we took a road trip to Italy in our tiny Seat - pronounced Say Ott. We scheduled the trip so that very few hours were spent in France because our gas rations were not accepted there. We stopped to buy bread in a small town in the South East of France. I was proud of my 4 years of High school french and waited my turn and ordered one loaf of bread in French. The lady at the counter ignored me, served everyone in the store, and then handed me a stick of bread and took my money.
    And that's why we call them Freedom Fries.

  4. Betty Henry (Brit Hub 1.1) and I visited Paris back in 2000. (We even sat at the same table as Betty Ross (aka Brit Hub 2.0) for the 75th anniversary dinner for the crossword they had in common -- he stared at me or us all evening long. Hmmm... I've asked him, but he denies any memory of this.)

    Anyway, Betty Henry is pretty handy with French, so our experience was fairly universal: we'd enter a shop, start to order in French, the shopkeeper would smile and switch to English. Everyone seemed happy. (Our age -- mid-40s -- helped. We chatted with a college-age girl who said her Parisian cousin did all the talking, but it didn't matter, they were still rude to her.)

    However, this was the saddest thing. Betty Henry wanted to climb to the top of the Arc d'Triomphe, so I sat on one of the many park benches around the outside edge of the traffic circle. A Japanese couple came around; he went off to sketch the Arc d'Triomphe, while Madame sat next to me.

    Within minutes, she'd whipped out a small album of photos of her small fluffy white dog. She tenderly went through them one by one. I think she was crying by the end. Clearly homesick for Fluffy. I really felt for her.

    When Betty Henry came back, I pulled him aside and begged him to say something in Japanese (which he has a smattering of) to this woman, whom I couldn't communicate with.

    But Betty Henry is BRITISH and the BRITISH don't share my American sensibilities that it's okay to talk to a total stranger if what you're going to say is comforting and reminds the other party that's she's not alone.

    Lost in Three Way Translation!

  5. Oh dear, I loved those French stories, ladies. The one time we were out and out snubbed was at a Customer Service desk in the Frankfurt Airport. And I had 7 years of German! And the desk clearly said 'Customer Service'! As it was my very first transaction with a European in Europe it is a wonder that I didn't redeem my round-trip ticket on the very next flight!
    Happily, the rest of Europe was lovely...

  6. Immigration officers at airports sometimes gave me the impression that I was not very welcome in their country - but I guess it's boring to repeat the same questions over and over and over again, literally thousands of times every day. And they do, after all, have a lot of responsibility. It is their job to spot questionable individuals and send them on to be processed by other officers who determine if said individuals are permitted entry. So what if they sound a little bored or unfriendly. It's their job. I had heard stories about East German customs and immigration officers being difficult, but the one time I went to East Berlin the officer who checked my passport was quite benign.
    The only time I was REALLY,REALLY made to feel unwelcome was during a school trip to Bavaria. It was summer, the weather was fair and we were sitting in a Biergarten in a large square in downtown Augsburg. ("School? - Beer garden?", you may ask. They did serve coffee and softdrinks as well, plus we were all of legal drinking age. But I digress.) At one of the tables next to ours sat a middle aged couple. The man didn't say all that much but the lady was quite voluble and emphatic in her efforts to make us see that we should not have come there. She was literally bristling with hostility and mentioned several places where we might have gone instead - places where they had been.
    And that was the only time in my life I was treated like an unwanted foreigner. In my own country.
    Betty Anonymous