Saturday, 28 April 2012

Saturday Snapshot: Very Very Very Lost In Translation

Okay, here’s a snapshot I had wanted to post three weeks ago because of its obvious Holy Week connotations. At the time I didn’t find the opportunity, but since it’s pretty funny, I figure I’d better do so late than never. Unfortunately, you readers won’t get the point unless you have the deductive savvy of Sherlock Holmes and a working knowledge of the Dutch language. Since I have both, I’ll help you along.

I took this picture at the entrance gate to a camping in the hills north of here. To tell the truth, ‘camping’ is a big word to describe the place. It was no more than a plot of grass in the backyard of a decrepit old farmstead, run by two octogenarian brothers, one of whom still knew how to talk while the other still knew how to walk. You surely get the idea.

By the looks of it, these two old fellows were dead set on turning their farmyard enterprise into a mammoth money maker. They thought long and hard about the right kind of PR and publicity, and decided that what they needed most was a welcoming sign on the gate inviting potential clients to step into the premises. So the one who could still see, directed the one who could still write to paint ‘Enter!’ onto a piece of cardboard. In Spanish, the word for that is ‘Pasen’ when the plural imperative is put into the polite form. So far so good.

But was that good enough? No, it wasn’t! You see: our ageing entrepreneurs were also most anxious to attract an international clientele. Therefore, they understood, they ought to add the same luring slogan in the most current international languages. Unfortunately neither of them spoke an international language. But no problem, the one who could still think explained to the one who could still hear: we’ll ask one of our foreign campers to translate the text for us!

So out they hobbled into the meadow looking for a foreign tourist. And they found one. To their misfortune, this was a Dutchman who knew next to no Spanish and had never heard of the plural imperative in the polite form. The one brother who could still talk took the signboard with ‘Pasen’ from the one who could still lug, and handed it to this travelling Boer with the request: ‘¿Usted? ¿Traducir? ¿Al inglés y francés?

Our polyglot-from-the-polder looked at the word, shrugged, took out a pencil, and - since ‘Pasen’ is the Dutch word for Holy Week – scribbled underneath the English and French equivalents: ‘Easter’ and ‘Paques’. It never seems to have occurred to him to wonder why an octogenarian campground owner in Galicia might wish to know the word for Semana Santa in various international languages.  

Thus, my dear Watson, a most original entrance sign was born… And if, in a few thousand years, Chinese archaeologists dig up this example of 20th Century Spanish epigraphy… Boy, will they have a hard nut to crack to explain it!


  1. What is a camping, Alfie?

  2. Where's your French, Colin? It's a camp-ground. (Gosh, was that so hard to figure out?)

  3. Bloody 'ell. Not again. As if once wasn't quite enough!

    Q. Where in this phrase should the word 'rather' be inserted so that it it is euphonious to anglo ears?

    " . . . . I’d better do so late than never."

    A. Between 'late' and 'never'.