Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lost In (Bad) Translation(s)

I feel like a less depressed Bill Murray, but equally lost in this foreign land. It's not because I've come to the realization that Scarlett Johannson forgot how to act, and it's definitely not because I've had too many Santori times: it's because I've been lost in bad translations. Whether it's at museums, restaurants, or any other signs on or around tourist attractions, this city abounds with just plain awful translations. I don't know why I notice it here more than in Madrid, I'm sure there are just as many mistranslated items in the Spanish capital. But for some reason or another, I find myself noticing sub par translations more and more. I did do some work as a translator when we first got here, which may have sharpened my eyes to such miscues. I'm probably not shocking you when I say that translating is not a walk in the park - it's actually quite tough. It takes more than just broad vocabulary and having mastered all the verb tenses and direct/indirect objects; you must know (or in my case, figure out by looking on the internet) the way people actually say things, you need to interpret meaning which you then recreate in your own language. Many phrases translate between languages with relative ease, but others have no real equivilent, so for these you must extrapolate what the phrase is trying to express and figure out a way to express that same feeling in your native language. I, by no means, am an expert translator, but I think I do get the idea behind it (I did take a class at GW about translation between cultures in terms of language and culture itself, so I've done some meditation on the topic) and find it to be a fun and interesting challenge.

It also remains a potential source of income while here, although I haven't had much success thus far. At one point, Julia or her parents suggested I offer my translating services to such institutions that attract plenty of English speaking tourists, and thanks to our new housemate Dan, I may have found the perfect restaurant to start with: La Bodeguita del Medio (LBM). The following is taken from a leaflet Dan received from said restaurant, with the Spanish version, how I would translate it, and how they decided to translate it. It is obvious some of them come from putting a sentance or phrase into a standard online translator and doing a simple cut and paste. Others baffle me, I have no idea where they come from. Just about all of them are pretty funny, so enjoy.

Promo 1:
Spanish: "Milanesa con guarnición"
Me: A milanesa, which is a thinly cut fliet of veal, beef, or chicken that is battered and then fried, with toppings or garnishes (guarnición), which always includes a wedge of lemon. A milanesa can also be served as a sandwich, but it will usually say so if that's the case.
LBM: "Milanese with Garrison." Really? Garrison? Couldn't even begin to think of where this one came from.

Now that's what I call a Milanese with Garrison.

Promo 2:
Spanish: "Pastas a elegir"
: It literally translates to "Pastas to choose", and it usually means that you can choose your type of pasta and the sauce that accompanies it. It's common for there to be four or five choices of each and usually serves as a consistently good, albeit plain, choice for dinner.
LBM: "You graze to choosing." Even when correcting the errors in syntax, it's still "You choosing to graze", which would presuppose you are an animal that likes open spaces and plenty of grass to eat. Was this supposed to be "glaze" instead of "graze"? That would have made a bit more sense...maybe. I really like this one.

Taking the "fat American" stereotype to a new level.

Promo 3:
Spanish: "Pollo al verdeo con guarnición."
Me: We've seen this "guarnición" before, and "pollo" is near-universally known by even the most novice Spanish-speaker to be "chicken". The real mystery is verdeo, which I found to be a green sauce comprised of green onions and olive oil. So put it all together, and it's "chicken in a green onion sauce with garnishes". That's a pretty rough translation itself, but it's light-years beyond...
LBM: "Chicken of verdeo with garrizon." If you noticed, they didn't even stay consistent with the Garrison translation and changed it to garrizon. I really have no idea what this would be. And quite frankly, neither does Google. Maybe I need to Twitter it...

Promo 4:
Spanish: "Saltiado de verdura."
Me: Couldn't find any translation for "saltiado", I'm guessing it's a misspelling of "salteado", which means "sauteed", and that would translate to "sautaed vegetables".
LBM: "Saltiado of vegetable". Again, I attribute the mess-up of this ordinarily straight forward translation to a misspelling. The syntax of "of" is a common direct translation from Spanish to English. This one is at the top of the "correct" list.

Promo 5:
Spanish: "Lomo salteado"
Me: They got the "salteado" right this time, making this one really easy: "Sauteed tenderloin".
LBM: "Jumped loin". That's right. Jumped loin. Yes. This one definitely "jumps" off the page at you, and it's merely the result of typing "saltado", which is the present perfect of "to jump", instead of "salteado". You gotta love how one letter turns a delicious plate of beef into a tenderloin that's practicing the Fosbury Flop. Thank you, Babelfish, you should have gone with Word Reference.

And you thought only dolphins could catch some air?

Promo 6:
Spanish: "Tortilla de papa a la española."
Me: Now, this one hits really close to home for me since I would eat it regularly while in Madrid. This plate is a thick potato omelet complete with diced red peppers and small slices of Spanish sausage. My host mother made a mean tortilla española. Even better, she did a slight variation on a sandwich roll for when I would go on day-excursions. I like to think it was because she loved me so much and didn't want me to go hungry or spend money when I was out. Plus, she was contractually obligated to provide me three square-meals a day. Whatever, I'll believe what I want. I digress. Either way, this is a great dish that would attract any non-Spanish English speaker who likes eggs, potatoes, and sausage. That is, if they were lucky enough to read that kind of description. I guessing you can see where I'm going with this...
LBM: "Sandwiches of ham and cheese". Wait. What? Really? Sandwiches? Ham and cheese? I see NONE of these words. Toasted ham and cheese sandwiches are absolutely delicious, no matter how plain they may be. I've even given in to the temptation to eat one on numerous occassions. But those have NOTHING to do with tortilla a la española. What would you do if you ordered what you thought was a ham and cheese sandwich, and instead got a giant, round, potato and sausage filled omelet? You may like what you see, but it would undoubtedly be a great shock and make you question your own ability read the English language. I'm stil scratching my head on this one. I assume they changed the menu and forgot to due the translation...or did they put in the translation without changing the Spanish version? I'm seriously wondering which one the waiter would bring out if I ordered Promo number 6. It's only 10 pesos - it may be worth finding out the conclusion to this mystery. Stay tuned, I may have to update this post.

Feast your eyes on this lovely Shephard's Pie, brought to you by La Bodeguita del Medio.

Promo 7:
Spanish: "Bife con papas a la española."
Me: "Bife" is some form of beef, and it's served with potatoes in the Spanish style, which I've seen as either a potato omlet as described above or as potatos cooked with parsley, garlic, and olive oil. Either one of these options, maybe accompanied by a glass of the house Malbec, would be a steal at under 20 pesos.
LBM: "Beef-steak with dads fried." This, my friends, would not be a steal. They were doing so well when they inserted "beef-steak" for "bife", but it all fell apart from there. They translated "papas" as dads, and to do so they would have had to spell it "papás" when putting it into whatever translator they used. Next, they completely ignored the "españolas" portion and put in "fried", which makes for a sickening side dish of fried fathers. It may be a very silly translating mistake, but it sounds like a villians modus operendi from Wes Craven thriller starring Breckin Meyer and Jennifer Love-Hewitt. I can see it now: Meyer plays a former dad -- turned serial killer after his own child dies in a horrible deep frying accident, who abducts fathers out of his jealousy induced insanity
and kills them in the deep friers at McDonalds across the state of Missouri 36-hours later; Love-Hewitt plays an FBI agent who goes to visit her father one evening only to find a Happy Meal Box on his doorstep, which is obviously the calling card of the Deep-Frying-Dad (or Father, you can satisfy the necessary alliteration either way). She's been tracking this guy for years, she knows him inside and out, but now it's hit home and everyone's unsure if she can put aside her personal involvement and work the case objectively. Of course, she gets taken off the case about 4 hours in, but she continues hunting him as a rogue agent, actually figures him out, making for a suspenful climax in the third act where she has to decide whether or not to arrest him or just kill the son-of-a-bitch him since the FBI hasn't figured him out yet. I won't tell you, but there's a crazy twist at the end that would make even M. Night Shyamalan giddy. Thank you, La Bodeguita del Medio, for inspiring more potential crap from Hollywood.

Who's really pulling the strings here?

Promo 8:
Spanish: "Filet de merluza con guarnición."
Me: This one would be a filet of hake with garnishings. Pretty straight forward. But if you've learned anything from this post (or M. Night.
, for that matter), nothing as simple as it seems...
LBM: "Chicken to the oven with salad." This is another one I'm going to attribute to forgetting to copy and paste the new promo, which ever one it may be, because no matter how horrible the crackpot translating service you used, it would never spit out "chicken to the oven with salad" after you put in "filet de merluza con guarnición". Both use the word "con", or "with", but that's where the comparisons end. And while Promo 6 inspired some future reconnisiance mission due to its low price, I would be afraid to eat a filet of fish when it only cost 10 pesos. They may be low, but I do have my standards.

Alright, so that's it for this edition of Lost in Translation. I will be sure to post any further translating mishaps, and please bring to my attention any other hilarious instances you've encountered. Sorry if this ran a little long, I hope it gave you the chance to have a few Santori times yourself.


Ann Behar said...

Josh, I LOVE this!! Please keep them coming!!

Shelley Rolf said...

I'd say that this restaurant needs you ! xoxo

Julia said...

mom, you should show this to hallie
or maybe i will...

Ann Behar said...

Are you kidding? I e-mailed it to her the minute I finished reading it.