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Menus that Mangle foreign Languages


markk
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I'm not pretentious or stuck-up or any of those things - I'm really not, and I don't know how to ask this without running the risk of coming off like that. My crime is that I've studied some foreign languages (back in college a million years ago) and have what you'd call more than a passing knowledge of them (and use them all the time when I travel in Europe, not that I don't think people cringe, at least a little, and probably severely in France, when I speak their language to them).

So I cringe when somebody on TV asks "Care for a biscotti?", because that's the plural of the word "biscotto" - but then, I realize that TV has worse stupidities than that, and I give it up.

But how about restaurants that serve a particular nationality of food and then bungle the language?

I'm looking at the menu from a recently opened Italian restaurant - it's not a spaghetti parlor, but rather they offer Osso Bucco, fish in parchment, grilled veal chop - it reads very nicely. And the categories are named in Italian: "Antipasti", "Primi", "Secondi", "Contorni" and so on.

The problem for me came from a notice printed at the bottom of each page that made me really cringe: "Sharing Charge for Split Secondi's and Split Primi's Without Ordering a Secondi" [sic]. I trust that anybody who is Italian or knows the language will cringe as well. (Primi and Secondi are the plurals of "Primo" (as in Primo Piatto) and "Secondo" (as in Secondo Piatto), and with that sentence they've just gotten out of hand. I don't for a moment think that you have to be Italian to cook good Italian food, but when you go playing around with a language that you obviously don't speak... well, does anybody else get my point? (For the record, I think that that notice on their menu would have to read "Sharing Charge for Split Secondi and Split Primi Without Ordering a Secondo").

I'm absolutely not drawing any conclusions about the food from this; I'm sure that whoever put that sentence on the menu has nothing whatsoever to do with the chef. Still, I'm sure that in this day and age I can't be the only person cringing from this, and wonder what take everybody else has on it ? If you are familiar with a foreign language, how does it strike you when you see that language mangled on a menu by somebody who obviously doesn't speak the language and didn't check with somebody who does?

edited to add the "[sic]" when somebody questioned whether they had used the apostrophes

Edited by markk (log)

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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It drives me wild, yes.

But I try to cut people slack for most instances, particularly things like biscotti (I just order more than one, so everybody's happy). And I'm very happy when I find that a restaurant's made absolutely no errors (and yes, I do look) in either English or another language.

It's the mixing of languages (combined with spelling and grammar errors) that really bothers me. One place in the Napa Valley (I'll think of the name in a minute) was so bad about this that I had difficulty figuring out what was actually being offered. Yes, it was fusion sort of food, but the menu read as nonsense.

Can you pee in the ocean?

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I see this almost daily here in Japan, as a foreigner I often get handed an English menu in restaurants or many restaurants have menus written in both Japanese and English, some of the translations are so funny I can't stop laughing. I have often thought about offering my service (for a fee of course) to help them fix their menu.

Though it wasn't a menu, the other day I passed by a truck that said "Flesh Meat" on the side of it, I think they misspelled fresh.....

On the other side of the world I have actually run across menus/recipes that say saki, the word is sake and it is pronounce (sah-kay). I can understand the mispronunciation, but the misspelling?

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Torakris -

You just have to share some of the best ones you have seen now.

I think this brings up an interesting point though. To make fun of a local Chinese place for ridiculous English on the menu is considered being ethnically insensitive, and not cutting any slack for the hard working business owners trying to make it in a foreign land.

However, if someone who is primarily an English speaker opens up a foreign place and botches something, they are seen as the one who doesn't have a clue or a care about the foreign culture.

Seems like a lose-lose situation for anyone who is primarily an English speaker.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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"Sharing Charge for Split Secondi's and Split Primi's Without Ordering a Secondi"

Do they actually use the apostrophes to make the already plural words plural?

YES.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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I see this almost daily here in Japan, as a foreigner I often get handed an English menu in restaurants or many restaurants have menus written in both Japanese and English, some of the translations are so funny I can't stop laughing.

No - I wasn't talking about English translations of foreign menus - they are indeed always uproariously funny. I was asking about menus for a restaurant featuring a particular nationality of cuisine where they mangled that language on the menu, as in, if somebody opened an "American" restaurant in Japan and then bungled the English, giving away that they weren't of that nationality at all.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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There's a vague area where a word stops being a foreign word and starts being an English word. I would say biscotti, like sushi, is an English word. We've borrowed the plural as a singular, but it should follow English grammar now.

There's no excuse for the Primi's and Secondi's, though. Those aren't accepted English words, and even if they were, it's still wrong. I think you don't need to be ridiculous about it -- hummus does not need to be listed as chickpea dip with tahini -- but in general, you should put the menu in a language your clientele can read. Especially if you don't speak the language of the cuisine you're aping.

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"Sharing Charge for Split Secondi's and Split Primi's Without Ordering a Secondi"

Do they actually use the apostrophes to make the already plural words plural?

YES.

Hmm... actually, apostrophes never make plurals - they simply indicate the genitive case.

Mangled language (any that I know) is one of my pet peeves too. I figure that I am an average person, with an average education, and if I can spot a mistake somewhere it means that the business AND the clientele are less than average.

I give it a wide berth.

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Oh, the painful theme of misspelled menu items :rolleyes:

As an Italian living abroad you can imagine how often this happens to me, I've stopped counting. It still angers me but I try to take it with a pinch of humor. If the owner is not Italian, well, it can happen. Still they could run the damn thing through a spell checker.

What makes me really mad is knowing there are Italian restaurant owners who willingly misspell their menu. A very common example here in Germany is, instead of "penne all'arrabiata", "penne alla rabbiata" or spaghetti written as spagetti (reads the same in German).

Trying to understand why it is so I discussed with the owner of a local place about this. He told me that, had he used the right spelling, many customers would not recognize the dishes as the know them. I can see his point , but think nonetheless that, as an Italian abroad, he should make an effort to educate his clients instead of consolidating their erroneous knowledge of Italian food terminology.

"Biscotti" is something that bugs me. All these modern biscotti you see abroad today are a modification of "cantucci" aka "biscotti di Prato". Calling them only biscotti ignores the fact that the term simply means biscuit in Italian. The same goes for panini, which are just stuffed rolls, which can be grilled but do not have to be.

But wrong names aren't as bad as wrong dishes. If the name is spelled wrong but the dish is made properly I'll go with that. It's much more annoying if the name is spelled right and the dish is wrong. Don't get me started on carbonara :laugh: .

Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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It can be a source of great fun. Once I had to order a "Pizza Qualtro Striagiani" (= "quattro stagioni") :laugh:

Funny, the biscotti thing. In German, we say "Keks" (derived from "cakes") which is a plural already. But then, several Keks are called "Kekse", which is obviously a further pluralisation. :wacko:

Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

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"Sharing Charge for Split Secondi's and Split Primi's Without Ordering a Secondi" [sic].

Grrrrrrr. I am a jack-booted grammar policewoman from way back. I've been known to carry a black sharpie and X out errant apostrophes whenever I see them on the street. And yes, the plural plural does bother bother me me. And I don't even speak Italian.

On the other hand, I occasionally visit a restaurant called BBQ Corner, and their awning reads, "Chineses Restaurant." Similarly to a place called "Teh Pagoda," I think they commissioned the awning and then got ripped off and were unable to ask for their money back or have the error fixed, because they are immigrants who don't speak English well enough to make the proper fuss about it.

I also feel deeply for the owners of Tongnan Fa, a restaurant supply store that is listed in the phone book as "Restaurant Surprise." Really, I should get around to making some phone calls on their behalf.

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I don't know about foreign languages being the only culprit (assuming that your first language is English), pedant that I am I always check for accuracy of spelling and grammar in a menu and have to report that the 100% correct menu is a very rare beast indeed, even if the menu is all in English. When it then tries to incorporate dishes with "foreign" names the fun never stops. My personal favourite was a small restaurant offering, as soup of the day, Ministroni.

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My personal favourite was a small restaurant offering, as soup of the day, Ministroni.

Well you could always order it and then complain that it's only one minestrone :wink: .

Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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I'm only speculating here ... but the people that seem to be challenged(?) by this are those of us here in North America, or more to the point, regions where there really isn't a second language (Quebec and regions like it noteably excepted).

Innocent spelling and grammar errors I will forgive. I can't speak their language, so I shouldn't ridicule their attempts at mine. The ones that make me cringe are attempts to appear more sophisticated ... Primi's & Secondi's would fall into this category. Most people sniff these out. But even if you don't, if the food's good who cares?

A.

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I used to try asking for one biscotto, but after getting several blank-bordering-on-hostile stares from coffee shop worker kids I pretty much gave up. Literacy in general is in an atrocious decline, and I see menu faux pas as being just an aspect of a much more serious problem. I do always point out spelling errors on menus (my current pet peeves that I see all the time are marscapone and chipolte), but when it's a blatant error where the menu is trying to be pretentious and gets it wrong, I sort of figure that it's a lost cause.

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Spaghetti noodles doesn't look that out of place to me though.

The word Spaghetti to many people means the entire traditional dish, the pasta, the red sauce, and maybe some meatballs. Tell any cross section of Americans you are going to be having Spaghetti, and then invite them over for dinner, and you will get probably a majority of surprised looks if it ends up being anything other than the traditional spaghetti with red/meat sauce.

So, if you wanted to make sure that you were talking only about the pasta, I don't see a problem with saying 'Spaghetti noodles'.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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"Soba noodles".  Drives me nuts.  That's like saying udon noodles, macaroni noodles, or spaghetti noodles.

I'll see your tautology, and raise you a "chai tea".

Shrimp scampi.

Everyone is right to be annoyed, of course, but I hope no one's losing their appetite over bad grammar in foreign languages. I'm more worried about how the "primi's" taste than how they're spelled.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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My personal favorite cocktail at one of the local "hip" lil joints is the

HAIRY NAVEL!! :blink:  Hairy/ Fuzzy all the same thing I suppose

They're actually separate drinks.

A Fuzzy Navel is Peach Schnapps with OJ. A Hairy Navel is Peach Schnapps and Vodka with OJ.

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