Thursday, August 05, 2010

Lost in translation

Walking to the morning meeting last week, all I could think about was swimming in the school pool after work. Swimming laps certainly beats hitting the treadmill in the non-air conditioned gym, but I had a problem, I didn't have goggles. No goggles, don't be a baby, you might say... and for most people it isn't, but someone who is infamous for swimming across all four lanes in a swim team contest the summer before high school needs goggles. I am significantly stronger in my right side, and without the use of my eyes can never tell if I have started swimming off in the wrong direction. In our neighborhood pool a few years ago, I was swimming laps with Kyle and once again, predictably, I veered. I grabbed onto who I thought was Kyle's hairy arm, but once opened after wiping the chlorine from my eyes, I found that instead in my grip was a random strangers arm. I am not afraid to be silly or make a fool of myself, but swimming into strangers is just plain embarrassing. And doing it more than once, well... I don't even know the word for it.

To combat this predictably embarrassing moment, I asked a fellow Korean co-worker if she had goggles.
"yes" she said
"Do you think Kyle and I could borrow them?" I asked sweetly
She stopped for a moment and thought. Her face was one of consternation. Thinking I had made a culture faux pa I quickly added,
"If you aren't comfortable lending them to us, it is perfectly fine. I really don't mind if you say no."
"No, no" she said, "I will bring it after lunch"
"Are you sure?" I asked. Asians often will not say "No" even when they desire to, so I wanted to make sure that this was not something that she really didn't want to let us borrow.
After lunch I walked into the office to speak with the hubs. Kelly, the co-worker, sits across from Kyle's desk.
"What you asked for is right there." Kelly said pointing to Kyle's desk.
I glanced and saw a container filled with blue liquid, but as I was in a hurry and didn't have time for chatting, I thanked her and ran back to class.
After work, however, I was able to get a second glance at it. I had thought maybe these were special goggles kept in liquid but as I stared into the blue, I could see nothing.
Smiling, Kyle explained, "She thought you said 'gargle'."
"That's why she looked at me so strangely?" I asked
"She said she thought it was a strange thing to ask for but she brought it anyways."
It has become the current office joke. "gargle!"

Lost in translation round 2

We have had 6 weeks of Russian students. Four of the six of those weeks, I have been their teacher. The way our programs work is that morning time is grammar and nitty gritty study time, while the afternoon is typically all theme classes. One of the theme classes is called INSECTS. It sounds boring or gross depending on your reaction to insects, but it is a favorite because the activity involves drawing on a plastic film, melting and shrinking said film in a toaster over to a small hardened key chain. The kids love it. However as we were going through the names of the different insects, a picture of a lady bug came up. One kid yelled out "flying cow!"
"Seriously?" I asked "This looks like a flying cow?"
"No!" another kid corrected him "God cow."
It turns out, that is the direct translation for ladybug in Russian.

Another strange and rather fitting translation is "flying rat," which I would have assumed referred to a pigeon, but it is actually the name for "bat" in Russian.

Living in Korea certainly provides for many mis-communications and mis-translations, but never a dull moment.

2 comments:

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TeBags said...

Also 박쥐 (Bat in Korean) is literally "night rat".

And to be fair to your Russian students the word ladybug or ladybird is pretty strange, maybe even a bit sexist? haha