Wed, Aug 02, 2006 - Page 13 News List

Found in translation

As globalization shrinks the world's boundaries and cheap airfares boost travel, opportunities for tourists to put their foot in it are expanding


One of the lesser-known effects of globalization has been the enormous increase in the number of European tourists risking life and limb by unwittingly swearing at their hosts.

Spaniards traveling in Russian-speaking areas are particularly at risk: the sound of a Spanish sigh — a breathy hui — is one of the most vulgar words for “penis” in Russian.

Russia can also be a dangerous place for speakers of Slovenian when pointing to the scenery. In Ljubljana, the word for “seagull” is sraka. In Moscow however, this means “arse.”

Dutch speakers, meanwhile, should exercise caution in Poland. The Dutch for “peanut” is pinda — a particularly offensive Polish term for female genitalia. And Poles themselves have to be careful in the Czech Republic, where the Polish for “to seek” — szukac — becomes the Czech for “to have sex with.”

Confusion between English- and German-speakers is also a danger. The English word “mist” — frequently used in the context of the British climate — translates into German as “poo,” while the German for “fat” comes out as dick.

The German word for “journey” — fahrt — also has rather different connotations for English-speakers. It is no worse, however, than the English post-prandial phrase “I'm full.” Translated directly into German, this means “I'm drunk.”

The problem of tourists unwittingly swearing in someone else's language is only the start of it. European brand names, place names and even the simplest conversational words can wreak havoc when placed in careless mouths.

The sound of a sneeze, for example, is expressed as “Achoo!” across the English-speaking world. This poses a problem for Lithuanians, for whom Aciu! means “Thank you.”

Similarly, the sound “ne” means “no” everywhere from arctic Norway to the Adriatic coast. This poses a problem for speakers of Greek, for whom it means “Yes.”

And the dialect greeting in the English county of Yorkshire, “Ey up,” is also the Swedish for “This escalator goes down.”

Some places, meanwhile, look set to become tourist hotspots as soon as Europe notices their existence. The continent's leaders are currently Condom in France, Wank in Germany and Lost in Scotland.

Next on the list for British revelers will probably be the Slovak town of Horny Bar. Russian tourists may prefer the small Scottish town of Drumnadrochit (in Russian, “furiously masturbating”), on the shores of Loch Ness.

French tourists might pick the English county of Shropshire, formerly Salop (in French, “prostitute”). And fans of the movie hero Shrek — a green-skinned ogre with iconic ears — will surely descend on Latvia in droves as soon as they discover the town of Ogre.

While there, they may be startled to learn that despite all rumors to the contrary, “Santa” is actually a common Latvian woman's name. Such women, if they marry Estonian men, might well carry the surnames “Tiits” or “Poopuu.”

Travelers who for some reason miss these delights will still be able to amuse themselves with European brand names. For some reason, the Polish mineral-water brand of Fuks has not yet become a European phenomenon, though it's probably only a matter of time.

Swedish chocolate brand Plopp is also likely to be a contender, though the Swedish word for “biscuit” — kaka — may prove a turnoff.

Daring diners could wash such a biscuit down with a drink from Spanish coffee producer Bonka — a hit in the Anglophone world.

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