Arriving on Samui last September, I sat down to breakfast on the first morning at my resort, ordered a cup of tea, and opened the menu. Under the ‘breakfasts’ heading, were the usual – full English breakfast, pancakes, fresh fruit, cornflakes with milk – but hang on a minute – could it be true? Was I seeing right? On offer under cereals, was ‘cockroaches’. I picked up another menu to make sure it wasn’t a misprint, and sure enough, ‘cockroaches’ was crossed out and ‘coco-crunch’ was hand written above it. I can just hear management’s ‘Aaaah... so that is why nobody was ordering the coco-crunch’ when a well meaning customer pointed out the misprint to them.
During my last six months on Samui, I have come across several such incidences of lost in translation, as I’m sure most readers have. For some, it is obvious what is meant, just being mis-spelt, or wrongly worded. Others bring on a reaction of ‘Huh? Can it be?’ A health shop in Maenam has a board outside, advertising their stock. Included in the list of healthy options are orgasmic vegetables (One would assume they meant organic veggies). Well that is one way to get the carnivores to eat their greens!
Recently, during an office move, we arranged for a pile of rubble, garden refuse, broken office furniture and general junk to be taken to a dump and disposed of. ‘No problem’, we were told, and happily paid for the job to be done. The next morning, we arrived at our new premises, only to find our pile of junk had been neatly placed at our door – they had transported it all to our new office, instead of to the dump. What can you do? Laugh!
Probably one of the best cases of lost in translation, is that on a menu of a street café in Bophut. You can only wonder how they came up with these translations, or perhaps the chef is rather creative and believes in fusion food? Have a look at some of these menu items, and decide for yourself:
‘Pork, chicken, pour the page’
‘Fried pork, chicken, cotton that stops’
‘Fried shrimp, squid meat, cotton that stops’
‘Little finger muscle’
‘Crab fishing for ultra green papaya salad’
The prices are so good, that it’s worth ordering these dishes just for a laugh – we may be pleasantly surprised!
Keep your eyes open, and look out for wording and spelling. Perhaps my eyes are more tuned to it, as I am a writer and English teacher. I do have to say, that had the tables been turned, and I had to translate into Thai, the results would be equally as amusing to Thai readers, so this is definitely a case of laughing with you, and not at you.
If any readers have come across other interesting translations, please share them with us, and email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will do a follow up post, with the results.
© Rosanne Turner