Throughout my travels, I’ve come across a heady amount of signs, ads, and menus lost in translation. Though it’s more fun when I’m able to read the original language, too, it’s very easy to bowl me over with copy that was clearly pasted into an online translator, and then pasted verbatim onto whatever deliverable for which it was being prepared.
Having spent much of my overseas time in East Asia, I can cheekily say that Japan and China share the gold medal for the volume and quality of their Engrish. However, if I had to nominate two favorites – one from each country – I think it would be these.
Let’s start with China.
In Guangzhou, one of my favorite places to wander and dine is the neighborhood of Xiaobei, known for its population of folks from all around Africa, as well being a de facto hub for Islam. The extraordinary amount of trade and commerce that occurs in this area, the seething relationship between African expats and locals, and the diverse food options all contribute to making it a unique part of the city, nay, country to visit.
In general, I would go there when hungry, either to get a bite of something Turkish, or for some superb Uyghur bread, called nan, covered in sesame or sunflower seeds:
To get back on topic, on the second floor of the same restaurant where I’d buy the nan, I would get mixed noodles with a cumin-laced soup, and a couple of kebabs.
The menu, however, had already made up its mind about who I was:
First of all, this one is so amusing in that they even got the Chinese wrong. Whereas the Chinese says 馄饨 (húntun), or wonton, their translation is of the word 混沌 (hùndùn), which alternatively refers to a chaos that existed before earth.
In other words, mentally dense.
For you see, the character 混 means to mix/blend, and the character 沌 is chaotic/murky. Somehow, when you combine the two, you get sucked up by Chinese creationist theory. —
As for Japan, it’s a shorter story, but no less risible.
After arriving in the port city of Takamatsu, I started to feel peckish. Yes, I would eat their famed Sanuki udon later that day, but for the time being, a Japanese bakery was in the cards.
For twenty years, I’ve been a fan of Japanese bakeries, starting with the corn kernel-stuffed buttery loaves, and right up to the tingly “mapo” roll found last year.
But then, I’ve never encountered this:
Even at a bakery named after a Scottish nursery rhyme, I’m still confused.
Is there an explanation? Yes. Somewhat.
The name of the bread is – wait for it – translated correctly. クリーミ (kuriimi) is creamy, and ソフト (sofuto) is shorthand for software. But, ソフト also means soft. Of course, the folks who printed up this label – whose description reads as a “moist and soft bread with custard cream folded inside” – would have chosen more wisely – though less memorably for marketing purposes – if they had gone with the Japanese word for soft,
Would you have put these two entries in your pantheon of Engrish? Which would be your two candidates?