Browsing for presents the easy way

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

If you’ve browsed this space a dozen times, you may recall my addiction to words and syntax. In Germany there are probably three bookstores per block in every town of any size at all, and what amazes me is that they are invariably packed with customers.

Yes, they scan books and magazines, enjoy what I grew up calling comic books, sometimes even sit and read a book.

But they also buy, which is all that matters to the proprietor.

Our “German” daughter Mary loves to lose herself in bookstores. She rarely wastes time. If her train isn’t due for nine more minutes, she’ll duck into the nearest bookstore for at least eight minutes without ever leaving the station. Bright cities pulse to their own beat under the surface world of trains and tracks. Restrooms are usually immaculate, and bookstores or newspaper stands may be mixed in with flower shops, small groceries, and boutiques.

Her browsing last fall yielded a couple of books for my Christmas present. One is “Still Lost in Translation: More Misadventures in English Abroad,” which suggests there’s another out there called simply “Lost in Translation.” If it’s half as clever as this one, I know I’d love it too.

The point of this little volume by Charlie Croker is that our mother tongue is often used on foreign signboards or marquees to make English speakers more comfortable, not to patronize. Yes, he’s going for the laugh, but gently.

The first section has to do with travel. Like this caution on a French train: “Do not push yourself out of window.” And this one in Japan: “Caution on passing over pedestrians.”

Croger’s imaginary Bill of Fayre, Starters, included “Half a lawyer with prawns,” “Pee soup,” “Goulash two cats,” and “Soup of noodles to the chicken,” among others.

A hotel in Delhi admonishes “Beware of your luggage.”

A small hotel in Cornwall, U.K., posts: “Will any guests wishing to take a bath please make arrangements to have one with Ms. Harvey.”

And in Bali, “You must be welly dressed on the road otherwise you will be arrested and confiscated.”

A hotel in Punta Umbria posts the following: “The use of the swimming pool is forbidden, while contagious disease is suffered…It is forbidden to enter in the swimming pool with animals, instead of that settled down in the law 5/1998, of November 23, relative to the use in Andalusia of dogs guides for people with poor vision.”

In Cala D’Or, “The swimming pool water is tasted twice a day by the Council.” And in Egypt, “Breakfast is obligatory.”

All rooms in a Beijing hotel received this notice: “The glass exterior window will be cleaned tomorrow. As our Visual Enhancement Team is a bit shy please keep your curtains closed.”

“In your room you will find a minibar which is filled with alcoholics,” advises a hotel in Munich.

And in Merida, Mexico a hotel warning: “In case of fire in your room or any hotel area advise immediatly to the operatore or receptionist.”

At several French campsites: “Please do not throw matter in the sink because it constipates the outlets.” And a Prague hotel cautions: “Be careful of your pick pockets especially where is lot of people (metro, tram, shops, in front of historical objects etc.)

The same hotel solicits a critique: “Could you have a reason for which, due to our fault, you would not like to be accommodated again in our hotel?”

I’m running out of space as well as time, so let’s come back to this another time. Meanwhile, it dawns on me that Mary wasn’t milling about in a bookstore. She was doing it the easy way. I found an invoice in the book box – from

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