Sunday, February 24, 2013

Batmilk and Other Bloopers

Anyone brave enough to try it?

Like it or not, when you interact with people who speak a language other than your own, you are going to gather a collection of bloopers - some will be mistakes that you make yourself as you speak the foreign  language and others will be mistakes that those around you make as they attempt to speak your mother tongue.  It wasn’t too long ago, during elections in the States, that a Brazilian asked me what it meant when Americans called so and so politician "spineless". I thought about it and answered that it means he doesn’t have any "espinhas". The words "spine" and "espinha" have similarities, and at that moment I was pretty sure their definitions were also similar. The Brazilian looked at me with a puzzled expression on his face and asked if I was sure. I thought about it a bit more and said "yes". The man left, and approximately fifteen minutes later I realized that I had said that the politician in question didn't have any pimples. "Espinha" I remembered means pimple and "coluna" means spine.  As so many others are, this slip of the tongue was embarrassing!! However, the best thing you can do is laugh at yourself and go on.  

Translation jewel on a toy box.
I wish I could honestly say that the above mistake was one of the few I have made, but the truth is that it joins a very long line of mistakes that I and my family have made over the years. My Dad, poor fellow, often speaks in public and so many of his Portuguese mistakes are made in front of an audience. The Portuguese word for calf is “bezerro”, while the word for beetle is “besouro”, and their pronunciation is differentiated by the sound of one vowel. Dad has often slipped up as he preaches and said that Moses came down the mountain and found the people of Israel worshipping a golden beetle. The audience chuckles or sometimes even laughs out loud and Dad knows to rewind a little bit and exchange the word “besouro” for “bezerro”. A missionary wife we know once confused the word for hand with the word for mother and taught a group of children that Moses held up his mother and the Red Sea parted leaving dry land. Then there was the time that Dad and my brothers had cleaned up a river bank in preparation for a baptism, and they were telling some folks about what all was involved  in that and they jokingly added that they had skinned all the crocodiles, except they said “shaved” instead of “skinned”.

House of News - That's a strange name for a clothes store!
The mistakes that Brazilians make as they speak English are also priceless. One of my Dad’s first English students used to tell him all about her neggyboris. Her neggyboris did this and her other neggyboris said that, and Dad finally understood what she meant when he asked her to spell neggyboris. She spelled n-e-i-g-h-b-o-r. There is also an English teacher who honestly thought that when you speak of your left foot you use the word “foot” and when referring to your right foot you should use the word “feet”.  The Portuguese word “entre” means “come in” in certain contexts and in other contexts it means “between”. There was one fellow who very hospitably encouraged his English speaking guest to “Between! Between!”. A myriad of funny English mistakes come into being, when Brazilians run something written in Portuguese through an online translator. We had one man back in April, who kindly ran his email through an online translator before sending it to us. Here is what we received:

Hello friend how are you?
    Salute you…when will yousend an email to your friend? Lo, I am waiting brother.

   Friend’s new berth on the new worker who comes to Ramos Nereus? I know he’s hiding a lot from me, but I look forwardto the patience friend to write something.

                             Awaiting the big news,
                                Mr. Alviçareiras
                               …and to the next.

We promptly wrote the man back in Portuguese  and asked how we could help him.

Our collection of bloopers also includes a few mistakes that we have found in hotels and restaurants along the way. There is one restaurant in São Paulo near an airport that translated their menu into English for any English speaking patrons that might wander in. The menu includes among other things:
-         Italian Salad (which includes lettuce, rocket, black olives, buffalo cheese, and sun dried tomatoes)
-         Steak with garlic butter, rice, vegetables, and potatoes of paprika
Following your meal you might enjoy one of the following:
-         Three icecream scoops with chocolate syrup, cream, and biscuit
-         Coffeepot, milk, tea or hot chocolate
There is also a hotel which offers a number of complimentary hygiene articles. The list includes: cottonballs, Q-tips, disposable razor, and sandpaper…huh….Sandpaper? We thought and thought about this one, but couldn’t imagine what they meant to say until we looked at the Portuguese version of the list. The Portuguese list included fingernail files and no sandpaper.

Penkwives are hazardous and prohibited on airplanes!
We learned years ago that Brazilian food companies like to include English in the names of their products. That is how “Batmilk” came to be sold in the dairy aisle at our grocery store. The dairy company, Batavo, wanted a catchy name for their new yogurt and they came up with “Batmilk”. I have no doubt that to Brazilians “Batmilk” brings to mind a good quality strawberry yogurt, but to this American that name produces a mental picture of a shiny, clean dairy with nocturnal mammals hanging from the ceiling. Many food companies also include the English translation of the list of ingredients, nutritional value, and other info on their product’s packaging, even if their products aren’t exported to English speaking countries. There is an instant coffee label that assures you that if you add two spoons to a cup of hot water and stir, you will have a nice cup of hot coffee.  One cookie company informs you in Portuguese on their rolls of filled cookies that these are “bolachas recheadas” which means “filled cookies”, however, when they translate that into English they call them “cream sandwich biscuits”.

I personally prefer non-music songs :)
The icing on the blooper cake, though, in my opinion is the box of seasoned peanuts that my sister and I found one day at the grocery store while waiting in a long line to checkout. In a bright splash of yellow on the upper corner of the box, the company informed us that their peanuts now come in an “intelligent box”. A little further down the box, we learn that “one who eats never forgets”. Little do they know, but there is an American family out there who has never eaten their peanuts and yet they have never forgotten them.