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Adventures in Mistranslations From Around the World

Examples of the Pitfalls of Translation That Will Make You Laugh


Adventures in Mistranslations From Around the World

Expanding internationally is a goal for most growing small businesses, yet the misuse of simple words can sabotage even your best border-crossing efforts. Just as one size doesn't fit all in importing and exporting, one word doesn't fit for all cultures, either. In fact, if used erroneously, it can cripple the most promising of international deals.

By and large, it is a country's language and cultural differences-not similarities-to our own that make it a more intriguing and challenging conquest.

Businesspeople need to develop cultural awareness, listen more, be accepting of local cultural norms and understand how important cultural sensitivity is for navigating your way through complex business transactions.

These accidentally humorous translations from around the world are for your enjoyment and offer a powerful learning lesson. We also hope they bring a chuckle or two to your day.

  • A sign posted in Germany's Black Forest: "It is strictly forbidden on our Black Forest camping site that people of different sex, for instance, men and women, live together in one tent unless they are married with each other for that purpose."

  • In an advertisement by a Hong Kong dentist: "Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists."

  • Advertisement for donkey rides in Thailand: "Would you like to ride on your own ass?"

  • In a Copenhagen airline ticket office: "We take your bags and send them in all directions."

  • In a Norwegian cocktail lounge: "Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar."

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

  • In a Tokyo shop: "Our nylons cost more than common, but you'll find they are best in the long run."

  • From a brochure of a car rental firm in Tokyo: "When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor."

  • In Bangkok temple: "It is forbidden to enter a woman even a foreigner if dressed as a man."

  • In a Tokyo Hotel: "Is forgidden to steal hotel towels please. If you are not a person to du shc thing is please not to read ntis."

  • In a Bucharest hotel lobby: "The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable."

  • In a Paris hotel elevator: "Please leave your values at the front desk."

  • In a hotel in Athens: "Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 a.m. daily."

  • In a Japanese hotel: "You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid."

  • On the menu of a Swiss restaurant: "Our wines leave you nothing to hope for."

  • Outside a Hong Kong tailor shop: "Ladies may have a fit upstairs."

  • In a Bangkok dry cleaner's: "Drop your trousers here for best results."

  • In a Rome laundry: "Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time."

  • One company in Taiwan, trying to sell diet food to expatriates living there, urged consumers to buy its product to add "roughage" to their systems. The instructions claimed that a person should consume enough roughage until "your tool floats." Someone dropped the "s" from "stool."

  • How about the Canadian importer of Turkish shirts destined for Quebec used a dictionary to help him translate into French the label "Made in Turkey." His final translation: "Fabrique en Dinde." True, "dinde" means "turkey." But it refers to the bird, not the country which in French is Turquie.

  • From a brochure of a car rental firm in Tokyo: "When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootie the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootie him with vigor."

The bottom line is that having a healthy global attitude and an ability to look beneath the surface to discern the human strengths and weaknesses of people different from ourselves can only foster more meaningful personal and professional relationships worldwide.

Note: You might also enjoy this complementary piece which shows signs in Chinese paired with unusual and often funny English translations: Strange Signs From Abroad.

Photo courtesy: stock.xchng

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