Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Rose by Any Other Name ...

As a Purveyor of the English Tongue, I know that I must be mindful of showing intolerance - by which I really mean side-splitting humour at the expense of others' imperfections - at the language faux-pas non-native speakers make from time to time. In a word, it's culturally insensitive (two words), if not smacking of cultural hegemony (four words) which I'm not supposed to evoke (it's in my job description). But for anyone who has passed through passport patrol at any airport or border crossing, you know that such spelling and grammatical peccadilloes are rife - especially in restaurants - and especiallier (that should so be a word) on menus.

Now, to be fair (to me), I have shown remarkable restraint over my past 5 years overseas by not mocking the misuse of English running amok in non-English countries. Indeed, I have been a Paragon of Politeness.

*Sigh* - no more.

A few weeks back, Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad and I were feted at the Marina, a rather swanky Lebanese restaurant in Erbil, complete with ambient lighting, a sound stage for the requisite warbling Arabic female chanteuse, and oddly, a stuffed seagull mounted on a pedestal at the front door. And although the food was great and the company congenial, let me share with you a few items from the menu:

* cheese rools (presumably rolls)
* tongs (presumably either of the kitchen utensil variety, or an organ extracted from the mouth, probably with tongs no less. Having said that, tongue leaves a better taste in my mouth).
* fish fee lea (presumably fillet - kudos though for transcribing it from the French. Fish fee let doesn't have the same je ne sais quoi.)
* klmary (presumably calamari ... ahhhh, those foreign words are so elusive, n'est ce-pas?)
* pizza cocktail (presumably ... nope. I have no clue)
* BBQ sheep bools (presumably balls, but admittedly bools sounds more gastronomically refined and less, well, testicular)

... and my personal favourites, all of which were listed on the Seafood page:
* sparrow (presumably a close relative of Chicken of the Sea)
* frogs (presumably a close relative of the Great Atlantic Sea Frog)
* BBQ bird (presumably a close relative of the stuffed seagull at the front door and the aforesaid sparrow).

... all of this can be washed down with a nutritious glass of Cantlops Juic and topped off with a nice narghile. How about Gum flavour? I fear that the latter is not a typo.

Bools and tongs notwithstanding, the highlight of the evening was the pure delight - nay rapture - which lit Mr. This Cat's face up like the proverbial Christmas tree when he saw Guinness on the menu. After all, it had been many many weeks since he last had a perfect pint of stout (it is chockful of antioxidants). But always the Doubting Thomas and so susceptible to disappointment is he that he drilled the waiter mercilessly. Are you sure? Yes sir, Guinness. Really? Guinness? Yes sir, Guinness. I'll have a Guinness.

Yes, yes ... I am a shit for doing this because, after all, the food was good and clearly, I was able to decipher everything on the menu (apart from the pizza cocktail). But after all these years of being good, something ugly buried deep within me - something which I had struggled to keep far far away from the light of day this blog surfaced like a beachball. Or a beachbool.

As an addendum, let me say this of the Marina: Iraq is a landlocked country. Any hopes I had of watching the yachts gently bob in the ochre wash of the setting sun were quashed immediately upon remembering that I am in Iraq and Iraq is a landlocked country. Perhaps the time has come to change its name. Like the Sandbox. Much better.

Oh ... and the Guinness (so chockful of antioxidants) which Mr. This Cat ordered? Well of course there was no Guinness. Why on earth would Guinness be served at a Lebanese restaurant in northern Iraq? Yes, the waiter promptly brought Mr. This Cat a refreshing but slightly less healthy 7Up (but with no shamrock design in the head because 7Up has no head) and without any reference to the 'substitution' he so deftly made with no thought of consulting the customer. Perhaps he thought that Mr. This Cat would not notice. Well, at least the can was green.


Cath said...

Mmmmmm ... klarmy!

Snowflake said...

Cath, what the heck does klarmy mean? Anyway, I have known you (This Cat's Not...) for almost 3 of those 5 years. 'Remarkable restraint' is not a term I would associate with you OR Mr. This Cat's.... Guiness, as you know, is pronounced Gwinness, huge - hu-gay, etc., etc., etc., etc.....
You did provide me with a really really good laugh though!

Miss Footloose said...

I understand the enormous pressure you suffered under to stay PC, but am delighted you succumbed and gave us this entertaining tale of the English Language Massacre.

Having been around the globe a few times, I've come across these fun atrocities many times, but this is the question I cannot find an answer to:

Why do these restaurant owners and other business people with their English language print work not find a footloose English speaker to have a quick look at their efforts and fix the errors? Plenty of them who'll be happy to oblige for free.

Anonymous said...

Will someone please tell me how you get 7-up from the word Guiness?And Cathy, please translate klarmy. I bet you just made that up.

Mr This Cat said...

We plan on going back there soon because there is a huge rumour that they have Gwinness.

And what goes better with sheep boools then a Gwinness!

This Cat's Abroad said...

I'm assuming that by klarmy, Cathy means klmary - or calamari ... but really, who knows?

And Snowflake, kindly keep your comments to yourself. I *always* show undue restraint (except when I don't).

Miss F: the idea of being a consultant and 'fixing' menus and such overseas has long been a business idea I've entertained. If it required less effort, I'd probably do it.

Anonymous: getting 7Up from Guinness(or Gwiness as our former Italian students were wont to say)is about as linguistically logical as our friend who ordered spaghetti in a restaurant in Istanbul & got bread rolls.

Mr. This Cat: I believe tongs go better with Gwiness.

Anonymous said...

I am SO onboard with Miss Footloose about the need for business owners to have their marketing material double-checked by a native English speaker before putting it into print! I am originally from Vancouver, BC, which many Canadians will recognize as a city having a huge population of English as a Second Language speakers (primarily those from the Pacific Rim countries). There, we have an inordinate amount of business posters, awnings, menus, etc. all with major mistakes in English grammar and spelling - do these budding entrepeneurs know NO-ONE who can speak English fluently, and who might want to save them ridicule and embarassment? However, I do not recall seeing anything with as many humorous examples of English language abuse as the menu you have detailed for us here. Thank you for throwing caution to the wind, and giving us a good laugh for the day:) I guess we gotta give these folks credit for trying to cater to an English-speaking clientele!