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English Must Be Difficult!

If you grew up speaking English, be glad you did! The English language has so many subtle shades of meaning and idiomatic expressions, that people learning English as a second language have a really tough task. When we anglophones learn a foreign language we get a glimpse into how hard it is to master the intricacies of another language. When we anglophones try to teach our language to non-English speakers, we find many aspects of our language difficult, if not impossible, to explain.

I have made some horrible mistakes in French, German, and Chinese which usually resulted in laughter followed by an explanation. Such experiences are humbling, to say the least, but they have provided great opportunities to laugh at myself and to empathize with my students as they struggle to make themselves understood and as they make funny mistakes themselves. I'm sure that, as people from all over the world converge in Beijing for the Olympics and as they try to use Chinese phrases they've been memorizing, they will make some great mistakes. One of my best mistakes was when I was trying to tell someone I was from America (Mei Guo - roughly pronounced may-gwa) which in Chinese means literally "Beautiful Country." (Keep in mind that Chinese is a tonal language, that is, a change in tone often changes the meaning of the word.) When I pronounced it, though, I got the wrong tone on the second part of the word and said I was from "beautiful melon." I really think that some Chinese people just don't like my tone of voice.

That said, I am posting today some great examples of English mistakes or oddities from other countries. No one country or language is alone in finding English difficult!

English Must Be Difficult...

In a Tokyo Hotel:
Is forbidden to steal hotel towels please. If you are not a person to do such thing is please not to read notis.

Instructions in a Belgrade elevator:
To move the cabin, push button for wishing floor. If the cabin should enter more persons, each one should press a number of wishing floor. Driving is then going alphabetically by national order.

A sign in a Bucharest hotel lobby:
The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.

In a Paris hotel elevator:
Please leave your values at the front desk.

Sign in a hotel in Athens:
Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 am daily.

In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across the street from a Russian Orthodox monastery:
You are welcome to visit the cemetery where famous Russian and Soviet composers, artists and writers are buried daily except Thursday.

On the menu of a Polish hotel:
Salad a firm's own make
Limpid red beet soup with cheesy dumplings in the form of a finger
Roasted duck let loose
Beef rashers beaten up in the country people's fashion

Outside a Hong Kong tailor shop:
Ladies may have a fit upstairs.

In a Rhodes tailor shop:
Order your summers suit. Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation.

On the box of a clockwork toy made in Hong Kong:
Guaranteed to work throughout its useful life.

From the Soviet Weekly:
There will be a Moscow exhibition of arts by 150,000 Soviet Republic painters and sculptors. These were executed over the past two years.

In an advertisement by a Hong Kong dentist:
Teeth extracted by the latest methodists.

In a Swiss mountain inn:
Special today - no ice cream.

In a Czechoslovakian tourist agency:
Take one of our horse-driven city tours - we guarantee no miscarriages.

In a Copenhagen airline ticket office:
We take your bags and send them in all directions.

On the door of a Moscow hotel room:
If this is your first visit to the USSR, you are welcome to it.

How a sewage treatment plant was marked on a Tokyo map:
Dirty water punishment place

In a Budapest zoo:
Please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.

In the office of a doctor in Rome:
Specialist in women and other diseases

From a story in an East African newspaper:
A new swimming pool is rapidly taking shape since the contractors have thrown in the bulk of their workers.

In the window of a Swedish furrier:
Fur coats made for ladies from their own skin.

Sign in a Vienna hotel:
In case of fire, do your utmost to alarm the hotel porter.

Sign in a Hong Kong supermarket:
For your convenience, we recommend courteous, efficient self-service.

In a Tokyo shop:
Our nylons cost more than common, but you'll find they are best in the long run.

From a Japanese information booklet about using a hotel air conditioner:
Cooles and heates - if you want just condition of warm in your room, please control yourself.

From a brochure of a car rental firm in Tokyo:
When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor.

Detour sign in Japan:
Stop. Drive sideways.

Sign in an Austrian hotel catering to skiers:
Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension.

An Italian hotel brochure:
This hotel is renowned for its peace and solitude. In fact, crowds from all over the world flock here to enjoy its solitude.

Menu at an Athens hotel:
Chopped-up cow with wire through it (shish kebab)

A Polish tourist brochure:
As for the tripe served you at the Hotel Monopol, you will be singing its praises to your grandchildren as you lie on your deathbed.

Two signs from a Majorcan shop entrance:
- English well speaking
- Here speeching American

4-star toilet

fall carefully please

please die elsewhere

practice dog etiquette

dont fall down

monkeys in the forest

offer your seat to the needy

Chinese Olymepic Cmmittee

begin with me

no stuff only

very suspicious market

wealth dream

And here's one that we've been told about and have suspected was true all along...

hot dog

Have you seen any examples of English obviously written by a foreigner?

By the way, this Friday is an Ultimate Bonza Bottler Day - 8-8-08!


"If it's big enough to make me worry, it's big enough to take to God." - Dr. Drew Conley

=^..^= =^..^=

Did ancient Roman paramedics refer to IV's as "fours"?

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9 Comments on “English Must Be Difficult!”

  1. #1 Michael
    on Aug 8th, 2008 at 8:24 am

    If I saw a passenger on foot heaving I would probably tootle with vigor.

    And, the take out menu from my favorite Chinese restaurant (creatively named “China” by the way) has some interesting mis-translations into English. One example is where the customer is told to “be adventure” and order something different.

  2. #2 Vikki
    on Aug 8th, 2008 at 8:39 am

    Even in the good old USA you can find it. When we lived up north a new Chinese Buffet restaurant opened up near us. We decided that English wasn’t their first language when, at each table, there was a sign that read, “Children age 9 must supervise at food”. After a couple of weeks, someone must have pointed out the error because the signs were replaced with new ones, “Children age 9 and younger must accompany parent to food”. At least now we had a vague idea of the requirements of the restaurant, but all of our kids were over 9, so we broke the rules and went up by ourselves to get some food.

  3. #3 Jonathan
    on Aug 8th, 2008 at 9:47 am

    In the Philipines, I saw a sign that said, “No Smoking Food or Drink.”

  4. #4 Rob
    on Aug 8th, 2008 at 9:52 am

    Michael, are you trying to say that you are never an adventure?

    Vikki, your experience with the sign about being accompanied by your children reminded me of the graffiti in a bathroom that I used once as a signature line to a blog post: Under a sign that said “Employees Must Wash Hands,” someone had scribbled “I waited and waited, but I finally went ahead and washed them myself.”

    Jonathan, I wonder if that means their ham is unsmoked in the Philippines. Now as to smoking drinks … maybe without that dash or two of Tabasco?

  5. #5 Jessica
    on Aug 11th, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    My favorite is the sign I saw on a McDonald’s bathroom in Spain: “This restroom is only for use by consumers with consumption.”

  6. #6 Rob
    on Aug 14th, 2008 at 6:59 am

    Jessica, thanks for the great sign. Is consumption that common in Spain?!

  7. #7 Jenni
    on Aug 26th, 2008 at 2:38 pm


    I have a picture on my blog that I took in a hotel in Narita, Japan a couple years ago.


  8. #8 Rob
    on Aug 28th, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    Jenni, that picture on your blog is wonderful! Thanks for sharing it with my readers!

  9. #9 Jenni Ertl
    on Jan 9th, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    I was back in Japan recently and have a new one to add! I received a glass photo frame as a gift. Some of the warnings on the back read as follows:

    *Please avoid excessive force when you use it.
    *Please pay more attention to the product which will be broken under the situation of flop down.
    *Please do not throw and cast it, in order to avoid injury and damage to the goods.

    The second one is my favorite! What is a “situation of flop down” anyway?