A few years ago a fellow named Charlie Croker published a book in England titled “Lost in Translation.” In the book, Croker served forth a banquet of delightful instances of meaning gone amok in the process of conversion from one language to another.
Such miscues serve to brighten otherwise stressful journeys and serve as a bond between weary travelers. Who can stay dejected after reading the sign in the Zurich hotel announcing, “We have nice bath and are very good in bed.” Or the one in Africa that says, “You may choose between a room with a view of the sea or the backside of the country.”
After Croker’s book appeared, hundreds of travelers sent him examples of similar linguistic perplexities, and he continued to gather dozens on his own, such as the ticket on a ferry to La Gomera in the Canary Islands reading, “Keep this ticket up the end of your trip.”
Of such delights are sequels born. His was titled “Still Lost in Translation.” Now, as the better-stay-at-home warnings of COVID fade and the prospect of renewed travel beckons, a dip into Croker’s collections seems timely.
Writes Croker, “Who cares that the stewardess won’t smile when the brochure promises: ‘Wide boiled aircraft for your comfort.’ Why worry that the hotel room is tiny - just enjoy the sign that says, ‘All rooms not denounced by twelve o’clock will be paid for twicely.’“
Keeping in mind that the rest of the world is far better at English than we are at Dutch or Thai or Mandarin, it still seems hard not to laugh when your hotel in Greece promises, “Tonight dinner will be served in the swimming pool,” or the sign on the beach in Spain proclaims, “Beach of irregular bottoms.”
From Munich, Germany: “In your room you will find a minibar which is filled with alcoholics.” Sign on a door in Sana’a, Yemen: “Physio the rapist.” From a printed guide to Buenos Aires: “Several of the local beaches are very copular in the summer.”
In Toledo, Spain: “Frozen ice available here.”
In a small hotel in Cornwall, England: “Will any guest wishing to take a bath please make arrangements to have one with Mrs. Harvey.”
At a wadi in Oman: “Drowning accidents are now popular.”
In Egypt: “Bring your wife to look like camel.”
As Croker notes, menus are a constant favorite, with many restaurants working hard - perhaps too hard - on their descriptions: “Salad a firm’s own make; limpid red beet soup with cheesy dumplings in the form of a finger; roasted duck let loose; beef rashers beaten up in the country people’s fashion.”
From a restaurant in France: “Fish soup with rust and croutons.” From another: “A confection of plugs and geysers.” From one in Switzerland: “Half a lawyer with prawns.” From Yaroslav, Russia: “Lorry driver soup.” And from one in China: “Dumpling stuffed with the ovary and digestive glands of a crab.”
And then, of course, there are the many varieties of warning.
On a sign next to a swimming pool in Shanghai: “Bottom of pond very hard and not far from top of water.”
In Budapest: “Forbidden to hang out of hotel window. Person which do so will be charge for clean up mess on footpath.”
A sign in a Prague hotel: “Water is officially drinkable (but not for sucklings), but we don’t recommend to drink it.”
And from a hotel brochure in Copenhagen: “In fire, the bells rings three times. There is a fine escape on each floor. For other amusements, see page 3.”
Collections of Craig Nagel’s columns are available at CraigNagelBooks.com.