Expat Life: Lost in Translation

by Miss Footloose

Still feeling gloomy after reading my latest post? Oh, get over it! Read this and see if it will give you a few chuckles and cheer you up.

Expats often have the wonderful opportunity to (attempt to) learn a new language. I hear your groan from various corners of the planet. I personally know people who easily and fluently speak 3 or 4 languages. No, I am not one of them. I can mess around in a few but I’m only good at two (Dutch and English). Right now I am trying to improve my school-French with an online course since I’m hoping to spend some time in France in the future, inshallah, and my brain is getting a serious workout. Trust me when I say that I have the utmost respect for people who are trying to speak and courageously corrupt foreign languages, but at the same time I enjoy the fun that happens when translations go wrong. I’ve gathered a few of those lost-in-translation gems for your entertainment. If you’ve come across these yourself already, my apologies for wasting your time.

In a Bed & Breakfast in France: The genuine antics in your room come from our family castle. Long life to it.

In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian orthodox Monastery: You are welcome to visit the cemetary [sic] where famous Russian and Soviet composers, artists, and writers are buried daily except Thursday.

Danish airline: We take your bags and send them in all directions.

An ad by a Hong Kong dentist: Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists.

In an East African newspaper: A new swimming pool is rapidly taking shape since the contractors have thrown in the bulk of their workers.

A Finnish hotel’s instructions in case of fire: If you are unable to leave your room, expose yourself in the window.

In the window of a Swedish furrier: Fur coats made for the ladies from their own skin. (Ouch.)

Dutch Politician: We are a country of undertakers. (He meant entrepreneurs.)

In a Paris dress shop: Dresses for street walking. (Dress for success.)

In an Austrian hotel for skiers: Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension. (I had to read this twice.)

In a Czech tourist agency: Take one of our horse driven tours—we guarantee no miscarriages.

Moscow hotel room: If this is your first visit to the USSR, you are welcome to it.

Budapest zoo: Please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.

A sign on the lion cage at a zoo in the Czech Republic: No smoothen the lion.

Notice in a Zurich Hotel: Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose. (Go Switzerland.)

Spotted in a safari park: ELEPHANTS PLEASE STAY IN YOUR CAR.

Of course even native English-speakers can botch it up . . .

In a Los Angeles clothing store: Wonderful bargains for men with 16 and 17 necks.*

In a New York medical building: Mental Health Prevention Center.

On a New York convalescent home: For the sick and tired of the Episcopal Church.

Doctor’s note in US Hospital Chart:  Discharge status: Alive but without permission.

Photo by Loren Sztajer | Flickr | CC

Enough already. I’ll get back to my French course. I now know the words for 1) manhole cover, 2) rocking chair, 3) dust bunnies, and 4) turnip. Clearly, I’m well on my way to being able to have a Meaningful Discussion on an Important Subject without making any funny translation mistakes. Sans doute!

*16 and 17 are neck sizes in inches.

* * *

Your turn. You know any funny ones? Make me laugh.


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not so much a mistake as a misinterpretation, but when i first got to denmark, i saw a sign by the side of a highway that said “fart kontrol” and i thought, “damn, the danes are even more organized than the germans if they think they can control farts!”

turned out it was warning of a speed trap ahead (danes are very proper about things like that).


Too funny! When are you heading to France and will you be anywhere near the Swiss border?

I hope I won’t be making too many mistakes in my new language Norwegian. So far, I have been able to get by reasonably okay!

I can´t decide which one is funnier, great translations. Once when visiting Turkey I took a photo of a sign outside a butcher serving “fresh flesh”!

At the tender age of 14 I went to stay with my French penfriend for 2 weeks. No one in the family spoke English except my penfriend, so it was a full immersion experience. I’m sure they still laugh of the memory of me solemnly announcing at the dinner table that after we’d eaten I was going to wash “mes chevaux” (my horses) rather than “mes cheveux” (my hair). 🙂

guyana gyal

Some of the mistakes foreign students make when learning English can be hilarious. I wonder if we do the same when learning a foreign language. Nahhhh. We don’t 🙂 haha.

Love the complexity of the Austrian ski sign. Bless.

Ha, I loved, ‘no smoothen the lion” – an apt warning!
Here in Korea, due to differences in verb conjugation, word order and syntax issues (as with most Asian languages) translation is fraught with so many perils that it’s almost a byword. In fact, there are entire blogs dedicated to ‘Konglish’ that you see almost everywhere. It’s almost impossible to choose just one! Our gym actually has this little sign taped to all the cardio machines: “Please wipe the sweat on the machines when you are finished.”

Haha, you succeeded. In making me laugh. Thanks for that.
This is a little different as it involves kids, not foreign languages, but similar: My then 10-year old asks me one day, when we are at a baseball game and sing the national anthem: So who is this Jose guy? Jose who, I ask. You know, says he, the Jose in “Oh Jose can you see, by the dawn’s early light…?”

guyana gyal

Joburg, now every time I hear the American national anthem…

That’s so funny 🙂

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