Let Inga Tell You: Lost in translation

LET INGA TELL YOU:

Having lived an aggregate of three years in foreign countries whose languages I did not speak when I got there, I am usually the last one to make fun of anyone's English language skills. I can assure you that I have provided many foreigners with a great deal of entertainment while I attempted to master their tongue.

Years back, when Asian-made calculators first hit the American market, it was a source of some hilarity to read the instructions written by people who had obviously scored in the bottom half of their English classes. But in today's global marketplace, English proficiency is so universal that it is really rare to find forms or manuals that are incomprehensible.

When Olof and I were moving to Sweden, we had to fill out a form for the belongings we were shipping to avoid paying duties and taxes on them. The Swedes speak English better than most Americans (and interestingly, can usually name all of our state capitals). Maybe translating customs forms is the job you get in Sweden to punish you if you failed to excel in your English language studies. The form was entitled:

Particulars regarding sojourn in a third country

A) Are you a so-called immigrant (i.e. a person who has had his/her normal residence in a third country for a continuous period of at least one year?)

Or:

B) Are you a so-called returner (i.e. a person who has residence in a third country for professional purposes for at least one year?)

C) Did you take any breaks for visits to the community?

WHAT third country? WHAT community? Never mind that being referred to as "so-called" made us feel so … so marginalized. Never able to figure out whether we were hapless returners or community sojourners, we ended up ignoring the form altogether. Fortunately, all our stuff got here, and we didn't get charged taxes and duties, although it would have taken them all of a microsecond's glance at either of our wardrobes to ascertain that we were not smuggling Prada into Sweden.

More recently, Olof's MP3 player broke and he ordered a new one on Amazon. Fortunately he already knew how to work it, as the instruction manual read as follows:

Statements:

1) Firstly, we deeply appreciate you for using our mp3 digital player in advance. The detailed specification should be based on our actual products. Information in this manual is subject to change without further notice.

2) Without the prior written permission of our company, it is strictly prohibited to copy, transfer, distribute and store our company's manual in any forms.

3) During the preparation process of the manual, we have been tried our best to keep the content correctly and completely but we can not guarantee there are not other mistakes in this manual, our company will not take any responsibility for other mistakes.

4) In order to follow the continuous development strategy, we reserve the rights to modify and improve the products which described in this manual without prior notice.

5) In any case, we will not be liable for any loss of data or income.

6) The final interpretation of the products is owned by our company.

This MP3 Player … supports lossless format, enthusiast listener essential artifact.

Button function: Short press the button to drop out.

Attention:

This section is for users to use the player properly to ensure a good life's habits.

1) Please do not thump the product.

2) The product needs to be kept away from the chemical benzole and diluent etc.

3) Please keep it away from the strong magnetic field, electrical field.

4) Please do not disassemble, fix and change it by yourself.

5) Do not listen to the larger voice, so as to avoid adverse effects on hearing.

6) The abandon package, battery, old electronics, please category compromised.

Obviously some of it is charmingly understandable. I know firsthand what trouble you can get into when you try to translate straight from a dictionary. Or even using an on-line translator. I tried using one to translate the directions in Swedish on a can of oven cleaner that had warning photos of flames, skulls and crossbones, serious burns and other peril. Here's what I got:

Manual: 1) jars the tin well. Spraya on approximately 25 cms distances an even stock shady on those surfaces that will be cleaned. 2) protect painted cabinets. N.B. no heating! Consequence pc IDS: Wide easy pollutant least one hour. 3) at harder fastbränning tune the mean seem over the night and when necessary up to 24-28 hours. 4) dries away skummet with a damp sponge or rag. 5) when necessary repeat the treatment. Prevents hard fast good bottom blots through regular treatment with oven Rengörare. For "alone cleaning spirit" oven — följ respecktive factory assuming instructions. IRRITATES THE EYES AND THE SKIN! IRRITATING EXTREMELILY BRANDFARLIGT!

I decided to leave the oven dirty.

 

Inga's lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in La Jolla Light. Reach her at inga47@san.rr.com

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