Monday, October 16, 2006

Lost in Translation

Author's note: This is a partial copy of today's post on Bloody Marvellous! As I'm sure you've guessed by now I'm having a bit of a schizophrenic moment between the two blogs. This story should really belong here by rights but it's also compatible with the "mission statement" of Bloody Marvellous, so I'm taking the path of least resistance and posting it twice, because I don't want readers who only read one of my blogs to miss it. I'll try not to do this again...much.

Outside of Ramadan the shops close four times per day for prayer time, re-opening after about 30 minutes. Every store or mall has either a mosque nearby or a prayer room with mats facing Mecca so that the staff can pray. During prayer time the shutters come down, new customers are not admitted and no business can be transacted, but in some shops customers already inside are allowed to remain there and browse until prayer time is over. We regularly time our supermarket shopping trips to coincide with "lock-in", so that we can work around prayer times and still get our weekly food shopping done. It's quite nice being shut in a large supermarket: the lights dim, the staff all disappear and you are more or less alone in the store (there are others partaking in the lock-in, but in a superstore the size of Carrefour you're not likely to see them).
This happened to Karen and me the other day, when we had almost finished our shopping, forcing us to spend the half-hour of voluntary captivity browsing the non-food section.

At times like this and when we've got nothing better to do (and there isn't much better to do here), we like to amuse ourselves by reading signs and labels that have lost something in the translation from Arabic to English, such as this message on a little wooden sign sticking out of the ice on the frozen fish counter:


Even funnier are the children's clothes. The Saudi budget clothing market seems to have latched on to the idea that it's cool to have children's T-Shirts, pyjamas etc. with slogans printed on them in English. Sporting an English slogan on your chest must tell fellow Saudis: "Hey, look at me. I'm sophisticated and cool because I'm into English fashions!" This is quite sad because, not only are these the worst taste garments imaginable - with fringes in places that should be a fringe-free zone (i.e. the entire garment), and colours that I never knew existed let alone should be allowed out in public - but they also bear the most bizarre legends that have obviously been written by someone who cares more about spattering the front of the shirt with English characters than delivering a meaningful message. Here then are some examples of real phrases that you can buy printed on bad-taste clothing in Riyadh (and I guarantee there are NO typos here - every one appears exactly as I've written it):

On a girl's T-Shirt (bright orange with the slogan down the left and a Bratz-style cartoon chick down the right)

On a toddler's T-Shirt (various dayglo colours available):
how nice you look
a friend is

On a teenage boy's shirt:
hip hopchaofa boys king

On a small boy's shirt (age 5):
Served hot wateroff
Should be served
toooed off
Morning Pleasu
Hot water esoresso served
This was obviously once about espresso being served with hot water and topped off with something, but somewhere along the line the tails of the "p's" were lost and no-one noticed. The same no-one also noticed that it is complete gobbledegook.

On girl's pyjamas
All the splendour in the world
is not worth a good frinds

And my personal favourite, on a pair of boy's pyjamas:
The darkest
Three days old
Has trod fish smell

It's like each phrase began life making some kind of sense to somebody, but got hideously mutilated during its journey from conception to hanger. I have a picture in my mind of the phrase's epic journey, beginning in the mind of a "designer" in the clothing company, then travelling to the place where the slogan is printed via a tortuous route of fag packet scribblings, coffee-stained faxes and muffled telephone instructions.

Whatever slipshod, half-hearted, error-check-free process they follow, the end result makes us giggle in supermarkets.


Scott McLean said...

Yes, it is rather interesting that people in many countries wear all kinds of T-Shirts in english. When I was in Thailand, I couldn't believe a shirt from a not-too-large Northwest town. Then, I tried to tell the individual that I'd been to that town, and ask if they had visited there. Really, it turned out they didn't even know the name of the town on the shirt, and possibly didn't even know it was a town. Lots of football T-shirts in other countries, too, so maybe I should write about that sometime.

Chris said...

Thanks for commenting Scott.

The same is true here of football shirts. You can buy yourself a nice Argentina football shirt in yellow, red, green or purple, but there are none in that national team's actual colours of light blue and white stripes. Another example of image carrying more weight than content!

laura said...

I am crying with laughter. Do you think Lucas is their adviser? After all. H O R N is 'sweetcorn' in his world!