Lost in Translation
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One of the pleasures of living in France is the language and the numerous bookstores. It is a bit of a surprise, therefore, to find out how little respect the French have for languages other than their own. On French radio and television. Anglosaxon names are regularly tortured beyond recognition, and every foreign word – no matter what its origin – comes out sounding French. All English-language television programs are dubbed, with famous drawlers like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood speaking in staccato French. The French love American movies as long as they are in French.
Yet, France is still the first tourist destination in the world and in cities like Paris and Aix-en-Provence a timid effort is being made to accommodate non-French-speaking visitors. This can have surprising results, sometimes missing their intended goal but all the richer for it.
To see what I mean, take a look at the computer-translated menu at the restaurant of the TGV train station in Aix-en-Provence. Let your eye wander over the long list of “plats” which are proposed in French and translated for our Anglosaxon visitors. Those visitors soon realize that what looks like English at first sight is … eh… well, eh… It’s funny, is what it is. Judge for yourself:
JAMBON CRU (which you all know as Raw Ham) is helpfully rendered as “BELIEVED HAM” to our English-speaking friends.
CROQUE-MONSIEUR = CRUNCH MISTER
HERBES DE PROVENCE = GRASSES OF PROVENCE
SALADE A L’HUILE D’OLIVE = SALAD TO THE OLIVE OIL
ANDOUILLETTE (a rather strong-flavored sausage) remains untranslated but ANDOUILLETTE ARROSEE DE SON JUS DE MOUTARDE A L’ANCIENNE becomes SPRINKLED ANDOUILLETTE OF ITS MUSTARD JUICE TO OLD
BROCHETTES DE VOLAILLE GRILLÉE, servies avec une sauce barbecue becomes ROASTED POULTRY SKEWERS, been useful with a sauce barbecue.
The ASSIETTE AMERICAINE which is your familiar “Hamburger on a sesame bun” becomes ROUND LOAF WITH SESAME SEEDS FURNISHED WITH A CHOPPED STEAK.
Moving right along to NOS POISSONS (“Our Fishes”), we find PAVE DE SAUMON NAPPE DE SAUCE TOSCANE which turns into NAPPE TUSCAN SAUCE SALMON PAVING STONE I admit that the paving stone I had was very tasty.
DOS DE COLIN MEUNIERE becomes HAKE MILLER BACK
Perhaps the best category of all is the Desserts:
NOS DOUCEURS, translated as OUR SOFTNESSES (!)
Here we find an English translation for brownies (little did you know you needed one). BROWNIES AU CHOCOLAT becomes BROWNIES WITH THE CHOCOLATE. Explained as: (Un biscuit chocolat aux noix nappé de sauce au chocolat chaud, et bordé de crème montée) or (A biscuit chocolate with nuts nappé of sauce to the chocolate hot and bordered of assembled cream)
TARTE TATIN = TATIN TART
(Pate feuilletée au beurre recouverte de quartiers de pommes fraiches poêlées au beurre et caramelisées, servie avec chantilly) or (Puff pastry with butter covered with districts of fresh to butter and caramelized apples, served with chantilly)
COUPE DELICE = DELIGHT COUPE
(3 boules chocolat, vanille, rhum raisin, Chantilly avec son biscuit) or (3 balls chocolate, vanilla, rum grape, chantilly with its biscuit)
Once we stopped laughing we ordered one Fish and one Softness each, and enjoyed:
– 1 Hake Miller Back
– 1 Tatin Tart with extra districts of apples
– 1 Salmon Paving Stone
– 1 Brownie nappé to the chocolate hot, but not bordered with assembled cream
The computer had not translated the wine list, for which I was rather grateful.
Anne-Marie Simons has had a long career as a sometime secretary, translator, teacher, journalist, sportswriter (covering Formula One races), realtor, and Director of Corporate Communications, which included writing an international newsletter. Now happily retired, Anne-Marie and her Argentine husband Oscar live in the South of France where she writes and Oscar cooks.
TAKING ROOT IN PROVENCE by Anne-Marie Simons is available on Amazon.com.
If you’re coming to France (or for that matter anywhere) you can reserve your hotel here. To rent a car, Bonjour Paris recommends Auto Europe.