From 2011—2012 I studied Spanish and Linguistics in Granada, an authentically Andalucian city and a popular tourist destination in southern Spain. As they catered to such a high flock of visitors, many restaurants in the city center featured menus and signs in English as well as Spanish, which was much appreciated so one didn’t mistakenly order a pig’s hoof when wanting a slice of cured ham.
The problem with all these translations, however, was that they allowed for some God-awful mistranslations.
In one particular restaurant in the city center, I sat down with a visiting friend for a nice seafood meal. As I’d wanted to challenge myself to some Spanish immersion, I’d asked for the Spanish menu while she opted for the English version.
The choices looked promising, featuring my favorite grilled shrimp and fried calamari. My American friend, on the other hand, seemed to object to a dish three-quarters down the page, and I wondered what could be so utterly repulsive about a mild white fish accompanied by some clams and muscles—“rape a la marinera,” in my Spanish menu.
The problem was, it didn’t sound half so appealing in English. The translators kept the name of the fish in its original version, instead of switching it to the English equivalent of “monkfish.” But they did switch the second part of the phrase, “a la marinera,” to its English counterpart. Thus her menu read:
We enjoyed a cold beer instead, our appetites sufficiently squashed, and kindly offered our services in English translation should they choose to reprint their menus in the future.
Jenny Marshall is a language and culture fanatic. She’s based in Spain, where she teaches English to rowdy middle-schoolers and attempts that sexy Spanish lisp. She can’t decide which is more fun, travel or grammar, so she frequently jaunts around Europe and picks up cool new words from each destination. Read and participate in a life translated by travel at her blog, A Thing For Wor(l)ds, To miss none of the fun, tweet along with her at @AThingForWords, and like her Facebook page, www.Facebook.com/athingforwords.