#Translation Can Be Stupid & Comical: #Chinese, #Spanish and #English Signs For Laughs

IMG_4510 2During the interesting and engaging discussions on my post Bilingual Readers: Do You Prefer to Read in English or in Your Mother Tongue?,  I got ‘chatting’ with many smart, multilingual professional translators on LinkedIn including Phyllis Eisenstadt. On learning that we both collect funny translations, she kindly sent me the following texts, which I want to share with my worldwide readers.

These are nominees for the Chevy Nova Award. This is given out in honor of the GM’s fiasco in trying to market the car in Central and South America. “No va” means, of course, in Spanish, “It doesn’t go.”

happy faces 2

1. The Dairy Association’s huge success with the campaign “Got Milk” prompted them to expand advertising to Mexico. It was soon brought to their attention the Spanish translation read “Are you lactating?”

Poisonous & harmful garbage

Poisonous & harmful garbage

2. Coors put its slogan, “Turn it loose” into Spanish, where it was read as “Suffer from Diarrhea.”

3. Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer, Electrolux, used the following in an American campaign: “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”

4. Clairol introduced the “Mist Stick,” a curling iron, into Germany only to find out that “mist” is slang for manure. Not too many people had use for the “Manure Stick.”

5. When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the US, with the smiling baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the labels of what’s inside, since many people can’t read.

6. Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a notorious porno magazine.

Chinese Year of Horse is not Year of Whores -  BBC, who did you use as your translator?

Chinese Year of Horse is not Year of Whores – BBC, who did you use as your translator?

7. An American T-shirt maker in Miami painted shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope’s visit. Instead of “I saw the Pope” (el Papa), the shirts read, “I saw the potato” (la papa).

8. Pepsi’s “Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation” translated into “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave” in Chinese.

9. The Coca Cola name in China was first read as “Kekoukela,” meaning “Bite the wax tadpole” or “Female horse stuffed with wax,” depending upon the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent “kokou kole,” translating into “happiness in the mouth.”

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Hotel for Foreigners; Ironing Room; Printing Centre; Rice & Flour

10. Frank Perdue’s chicken slogan, “It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken,” was translated into Spanish as “It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.”

11. When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to have read, “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.” The company thought that the word “embarazar” (to impregnate) meant to embarrass, so the ad read: “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.”

12. When American Airlines wanted to advertise its new leather first class seats in the Mexican market, it translated its “Fly in leather” campaign literally, which meant “Fly naked” (vuela en cuero) in Spanish.

Perhaps the funniest of all is a true story. My son has a Chinese friend whom he once had hosted in New York City. A few years later, this friend asked if my son would host a young female Chinese student, and said he would have her send him an introductory email. Evidently, she was using a dictionary when, in the closing paragraph, she wrote, “I would like to become intimate with you.” Obviously, she meant “good friends.” At any rate, my son replied, saying that she would be very welcome here, and he also (gently and tactfully) mentioned the perils of the word “intimate.” Unfortunately, the poor mortified girl never wrote back….

I hope you have enjoyed some of the translations above. Some of you have probably read my previous posts: How Good Are Your Translations? Hilarious Signs Around the World, and Have a Hilarious Holiday in Beijing Which You’ll Never Forget. As you know, China is hotbed for mistranslations hence I have selected more bilingual Chinese and English signs for this post, some of which are kindly pointed out to me by one of my Facebook friend Craig Reynolds.

Thank you, Phyllis and Craig!

All public toilets, or female toilet - how difficult can that be?

Entrance (3); public toilets, or female toilet – how difficult can that be?

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Jewels of #Yorkshire: #BrimhamRocks, #YorkshireSculpturePark and #TourDeFrance

Life mimicking art

Life mimicking art

Many years have gone by since I lived in West Yorkshire, followed by a short happy year in South Yorkshire. For me, those were seven interesting years in my life, and for John, it was longer, and as a matter of fact, he would identify himself as a proud Yorkshire man-despite being born in Derbyshire!

Last week we returned, briefly, tracing some of the footsteps that we had left behind.

Brimham Rocks , a National Trust property situated on the moors of North Yorkshire, was once my favourite summer outing place when I lived in Leeds. I frequented it with a number of friends; almost all of them have now flown away,  far away.

John and I in 1999

Old Album: John and I in 1999

That was me in Brimham Rocks, 1997

That was me at Brimham Rocks, 1997

With an amazing collection of wonderfully sculpted rock formations, eroded by water, glaciation and wind over the years, it attracts many tourists every year. I remember it being swamped by eager climbers and families back in the 1990s. I have pictures to show that I climbed various rocks myself.

This time it was on a Thursday afternoon, so it was less packed. John and I had a leisurely walk at ground level, breathing in the fresh country air (despite the relentless assault of  pollen making breathing hard work), and marveling at the magnificent views over Nidderdale and Menwith Hill.

A fine day in June 2014

A fine day in June 2014

Another of my old haunts was Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where I used to take visiting friends for a weekend outing. Within the open-air gallery in Yorkshire its collection included works by British and international artists, including Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

Sculpture by Ursula von Rydingsvard

Sculpture by Ursula von Rydingsvard

More than a dozen years since I last visited it, we were greeted by fine June sunshine, as well as exhibitions of American artist Ursula von Rydingsvard and Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei. While we happily snapped away at the fabulous works by other artists aforementioned, Ai Wei Wei’s exhibition in the Chapel was off limits for the lens lovers.

Our nostalgic trip to Yorkshire came at an appropriate time when we drove past a number of towns and villages, all excited and ready for the forthcoming Tour de France. As a big fan of the Tour as well as dedicated cyclist, John was especially happy to see signs of the big Event everywhere we went, especially the historical market town of Knaresborough, where yellow bicycles and colourful flags and banners adorned the streets, pubs and shops. When we stopped at our dear friend Nancy Reynolds’ house, she cooked us lunch, and proudly showed us her treasured multi-page guide to the Tour de France.

With Nancy in Leeds, and Sheffield City Centre

With Nancy in Leeds, and Sheffield City Centre

One of the main purposes of this visit was to see friends whom we have not seen for quite a while. Following our short stop in Leeds, we stayed with another couple of old friends in York. I have known Lihong and Chunwei since my Leeds student years. Despite her busy work and badminton schedule, she cooked us a lovely Chinese dinner – being also a spice girl from Chongqing, I expected no less from her :)!

Fabulous reunion with meal and walk in evening sun

Fabulous reunion with meal and walk in evening sun


More sculptures of YSP

On Friday night when we stayed in John’s favourite city in the UK, the place where we first met and fell in love, and shared our first home, we hooked up with John’s former colleague Dee and her musician partner Klive and daughter India. We enjoyed fine dining in a Thai restaurant on Ecclesall Road and caught up on various aspects of our lives.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the pictures I’ve selected – do come back soon as I have more travels and stories to share with you.

Ai Weiwei and his Exhibition

Ai Weiwei and his Exhibition

Roses from Beautiful York :)

Roses from Beautiful York :)


Posted in Arts & Culture, Travel Logs, UK, USA & Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bilingual #Readers: Do you Prefer to Read Books in English or in your Mother Tongue?

Reading is my fav pastime

Reading is my fav pastime

As a bilingual person myself, fully competent in my mother tongue Chinese and English as a foreign language, I am curious. Given the choice of reading in English and your own language, whatever that may be, which would you pick?

Obviously I was brought up reading Chinese, and I have been reading in my native language as long as I can remember, and I have lost count how many Chinese books I have read in my life. In my late teens when I started learning English as a foreign language, especially after I started University specialising in English Language and Literature, my love for reading English and by association English words blossomed, so much so that now I read at least one book of fiction in English every week, on average. Consequently I have lost count how many English books I have read, given that I have continuously read in another language for more than 30 years.


Which do I prefer, reading Chinese or reading in English?

Well, nobody has ever asked me that, as far as I remember, although people have asked me whether I dream in English or in Chinese, which by the way, is a secret, unless you are my friend :).

When I think about it, it is actually not an easy question to answer, and it’s not simply a matter of choosing one over another. Overall, I have probably read more English books than Chinese, largely because in the last 26 years I have lived in the UK where English books are more easily accessible than Chinese. That is why I am so pleased to be able to access so many Chinese books in the new Library of Birmingham.

The Collection of Chinese books in the Library of Birmingham

The Collection of Chinese books in the Library of Birmingham

What I can tell you though is that I read Chinese faster, despite all these years living in another country. Maybe it’s because Chinese characters are more compact, therefore packing in more words in each page, and maybe it’s something else all together. Overall, I am a pretty fast reader, just like I do other things quickly, including consuming food :). I am just a Sichuan spice girl who possesses a quick temperament, an insatiable appetite for knowledge and hunger for good things in life, which in my case finds the written word top of the list.

580422_493938127346535_101289894_nPerhaps I should explain that not all English books I read are written by English people, or Americans or Canadians. A great many English books I read are translated from other languages, such as Russian, French, Spanish, German and Scandinavian languages. Without English translations, I would not have the fortune to read many of the books I love, especially given my ‘obsession’ with anything Scandinavian these days.

The same is true with the Chinese books I have read. China probably translates more books from overseas than any other country on Earth. I read “Gone with the Wind’ in Chinese while studying in China decades ago, and so far I am still planning to read the original but I don’t know if I ever will, as my reading list is so long that I may never reach it.

Part of my holiday is reserved for reading

Part of my holiday is reserved for reading

Without dedicated Chinese translators, I would not have been able to read Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas, Balzac and Leo Tolstoy, and I would have missed many literary classics as well as modern greats, such as Anna Karenina and Les Miserables and the Count of Monte Cristo. Imagine how miserable that would have been!

I LOVE translated works. I often hear readers complaining about the quality of translated works, and I thought: How do you actually know that these translations are not as good as you expected them to be? Unless you happen to be highly literate in both languages, how easy it is to judge and blame others for your own dissatisfaction.

I am a translator, although not a literary one. Translators, like many other professions, have specialisms. As an insider, I appreciate how hard it is to translate a book in another language into your own or vice versa. I admire literary translators immensely. They can’t just be a translator, they must be great writers too, with a knowledge base and cultural understanding far beyond that of the majority of mere mortals.

Those who enjoy reading are trading their loneliness into moments of great pleasure

Those who enjoy reading are trading their loneliness into moments of great pleasure

A few friends have asked me why I haven’t translated my own books into Chinese. Perhaps many are even wondering why I chose to write in English in the first place? The answer is simple: I feel comfortable writing in English. I have had so much training writing in English, and even though it’s not perfect, it is the language that I now use on a daily basis.

As for my books, if they are ever to be translated into Chinese, they will have to be done by literary translators.

My book covers are bilingual - now who is going to translate the contents?

My book covers are bilingual – now who is going to translate the contents?


Posted in Author Support, Book Reviews & Excerpts, China & East Asia, Reading & Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Where Were You 25 Years Ago? #RememberTian’anmenSquare

Tian'anmen Square, Summer 1994

Tian’anmen Square, Summer 1994

Every year on the 4th of June, I remember. I remember, back in 1989, ten months after I arrived in the UK, a pro-democracy movement in China raged on a land I held dear even though I was thousands of miles away. In my semi-autobiographical book of fiction The Same Moon, the protagonist Pearl Zhang recorded where she was that day and how it had impacted on her life.


Shockwaves of Tian’anmen Event

On returning to Warwick, I found it difficult to concentrate on my studies, or anything else in my immediate environment. Since Chairman Hu Yaobang’s death, student demonstrations for democracy had started in Beijing and quickly spread all over China. The news made daily headlines, gripping the British TV audiences. I wrote frequent letters to my family, conscious that they might not reach them, with nation-wide disruptions. Neither was I getting any letters in return.

On a warm pre-summer evening, I invited a few friends for a meal in my flat. Feeling despondent and with an urge to distract myself from what was happening in that part of the world – far in distance yet close to my heart – I spent the afternoon preparing some hot and cold dishes. My guests included Yulian, an engineer called Xiao Fan, and his roommate Lao Wang.

We drank wine, and I proposed a toast: “For the brave students, for Democracy!” I suddenly choked and my voice quivered. The thought of those students in Tian’anmen Square, and the fate of my relatives in China proved too much. What would happen to them? The memories of the Cultural Revolution had hardly faded, and now what would the Chinese government do to the new rebels?

Despite my general reluctance to engage in politics, and indifference toward whatever power struggles going on within the Chinese leadership, I fell into a discussion about the most recent turmoil savaging our motherland. The meal turned into a political debate.

Lao Wang, a staunch Communist Party member, was reserved in his criticism of the government’s approach toward the students, not wanting to show disloyalty to the Party. Yulian, who was the youngest and therefore probably the one who was least influenced by the Communist ideals, attacked Premier Li Peng and the conservative gangs, who, in her eyes, were the ones who were afraid of change and reform.

Xiao Fan, despite being brought up in a deprived area of countryside in Anhui Province, was able to succeed in entering a prestigious university in Shanghai and subsequently progressed to be a top UK university researcher. He was grateful to the Communist Party. Together with Lao Wang, they joined forces in the heated debate on the current situation in Chinese politics.

Yulian and I formed an alliance, supporting the students and praising their courageous movement, while the male camp insisted that the students were being immature and rash. “They have no real foundations for their pro-democratic demonstrations,” Lao Wang and Xiao Fan argued vehemently.

As time passed, my fears for the student demonstrators were confirmed, and the news broadcast highlighted what was happening in China. Never before had China been such a focus on the British news, and never before had I felt so strongly about my national identity and the heavy burden of being Chinese.

Chinese Student Demonstrations in London in 1989

Chinese Student Demonstrations in London in 1989

1988, the year I arrived in the UK.

1988, the year I arrived in the UK.

PS: A quarter of a century has gone by and I still remember the tears I shed and the restless nights when I prayed for China. For those of you who do not have any knowledge of it, check out this BBC News on YouTube.

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Posted in Book Reviews & Excerpts, China & East Asia, Politics & History, Reading & Writing, UK, USA & Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment