Lost in Translation: L’Etat des Restos de Montréal.

Have you ever experienced an amusing “lost in translation” moment?

Let me preface mine with the assertion that I’m NOT making fun of Callaghan’s French accent. Honestly, I don’t even notice his accent most of the time, especially since some of our French friends’ accents are so thick that Callaghan’s is comparatively nonexistent (to my ears, at least). But there are times, usually when we’re with other people, when I realize that, yes, he does have an accent. Someone might ask him to repeat something, for instance, or something he says might be misinterpreted. This was the case when we went to my friend’s wedding last month.

We were sitting at a table with a few of my co-workers, as the bride was a friend from work. Callaghan wasn’t the only one with a foreign accent… we also had accents from Australia, Germany, and Ethiopia at our table. Such is the beauty of the States, right? So anyway, as conversation flowed lightly along, Callaghan mentioned that he’d heard about a new law up in Montréal. (It’s not uncommon for Montréal to come up in conversations with work friends, since our department maintains a strong historical, collaborative relationship with our Director’s former unit up there. It’s like our sister unit.)

“Apparently, in Montréal, they passed a law,” Callaghan told us. “Now it is illegal for a terrace to be across the street from a restaurant.”

Maybe it was the abruptness of his announcement that threw us off, along with the strangeness of the news and the quirkiness of his English as a Second Language syntax thrown into the mix… or maybe it was his pronunciation. Probably, it was a combination of all of the above that resulted in momentary confusion. On my part, while I thought I understood what he’d said, I was hesitant to believe it. Others at the table either didn’t hear him, didn’t understand him, or couldn’t grasp what he’d said. What ensued was a bombardment of demands for a repeat of the statement. We all needed clarification.

“Terraces can’t be across the street from restaurants in Montréal anymore,” Callaghan said.

There was a pause, and then, at the same time someone exclaimed, “I thought he said ‘terrorist’!” another person blurted, “WHAT? Montréal passed a law making it illegal for TERRORISTS to be across the street from a restaurant?”

Cue hilarity.

“No more terrorists across the street from restaurants in Montréal!!” exclaimed Callaghan. The rest of us were cracking up along with him.

“Calling all terrorists! You can no longer be across the street from a restaurant!” One guy boomed to an imaginary crowd of terrorists clamoring to get across the street from a restaurant in Montréal.

We couldn’t stop laughing, none of us, including me, and that was a blessing.

Because the date was May 16, and my beloved Wrah-Wrah hadn’t even been gone for 48 hours. When Callaghan and I walked into that wedding an hour earlier, I was in the worst possible place mentally and emotionally, utterly devastated and absolutely not in the mood to go anywhere or see anyone… but I wasn’t about to miss my friend’s wedding. She and I had been talking excitedly about her big day for a year, and there was no way I was going to fail to show up!

To complicate things further, Wrah-Wrah’s ashes had been brought to our door as we were getting ready for the wedding, so minutes before leaving, I was standing in the middle of the living room with his little urn held close to my heart, thinking, How am I going to get through a social event right now?

The answer was in the question. It was the social event that got me through the rest of the day, and that absurd and perversely funny “lost in translation” episode was a big part of it. I found myself reflecting on the keen truth of the cliché that laughter is the best medicine. A few moments of bubbling mirth that evening had granted me a much-needed respite from emotional pain, if only fleetingly.

It was also a blessing to be able to sideline my grief while focusing on the celebration of someone else’s pivotal life event, and sharing the experience with a fun group of people helped tremendously. I mean, it’s impossible to not smile and laugh while holding hands with others and running through the room during the Mexican wedding dance, let me tell you! Mexican weddings are good fun, and it was just a joy to see my friend looking so radiant and happy.

And what of that strange new law in Montréal? It turns out that Callaghan wasn’t remembering it correctly, anyway… the crux of the law is actually the space on the sidewalk between the terrace and the street, which Montréal says should be a meter and a half to allow for wheelchair passage. We had a case of a telephone game mix-up merging with linguistic misinterpretations! And that’s how you get from wheelchair sidewalk access to “no terrorists allowed in front of restaurants in Montréal.” Human communications can be a riot when there’s a glitch in the lines.

Speaking of terraces, Callaghan (being French) refers to our back patio as a terrace (la terrasse); the other day, we rearranged our small signage collection out there and hung our handy zombie warning sign prominently in the center of the main wall (with a nod to my zombie experience last week):

 

It should say, "TERRASSE INTERDITE AUX ZOMBIES" (NO ZOMBIES ALLOWED ON THE TERRACE)

It should say, “TERRASSE INTERDITE AUX ZOMBIES” (NO ZOMBIES ALLOWED ON THE TERRACE)

 

Like this:

 

To match the "NO DOGS ALLOWED ON THE GRASS" sign beneath it.

To match the “NO DOGS ALLOWED ON THE GRASS” sign beneath it.

 

I’ve always enjoyed this sign, but I have a whole new appreciation for it now.

Callaghanisms

I’m coming at you at 2:10AM because weird schedules are weird. Alors, bonjour, mes amis Français! Ça va bien? Il est onze heures dix du matin là-bas… vous avez fait de beaux rêves?

I’ve said this before: Callaghan’s English is excellent, and his French accent is so slight that I usually don’t even notice it. But every once in a while, he makes mistakes, and when his accent does reach my ears, it’s often to amusing effect. For instance, he says “fuckus” instead of “focus” (I think I’ve mentioned this in the past), and “bitch” instead of “beach.”

The examples I’m providing below all came directly out of Callaghan’s mouth verbatim, and in complete seriousness. I wrote them down after he said them. Yes, I’ve been keeping a file of the Callaghanisms. They’re priceless.

Let’s get started!

 

Focus:

“My friend Christopher had a Ford Fuckus.”

“I’m tired today. I can’t fuckus.”

 

Beach:

“When we’re in Antibes, we can go see the bitch.”

“Tomorrow we’ll visit the bitch of Normandy.”

 

And other words with the long ‘e’ vowel sound, such as…

 

Sheet:

“I need a shit of paper.”

“Let’s put the shits in the laundry.” (my personal favorite!)

 

I’ve started picking up on some patterns. Here are three, with examples:

 

1). Combining non-American word usage with a French accent results in dialogue like this:

“In high school, my nuts were great!”

“Your NUTS?”

“Haha! My notes. My grades.”

“Oh.”

School grades in France are called “les notes.”

 

2). Direct translations don’t always work:

“That spider is waving at us with its paws.”

“Paws? Haha! That’s so cute!”

“Spider paws.”

“Spider legs.”

The French call spider legs “les pattes,” which is also their word for “paws.”

I love this mistake. I wish we said “spider paws” in English.

 

3). Some words are easily confused:

“Sorry I’m eating like a pork.”

I giggle.

“What’s so funny?”

“The expression is to ‘eat like a pig’.”

In French, the word “le porc” refers to the meat of a pig, just like in English… but it can also be used as slang in reference to a person. Unlike in English.

After I wrote this post (which pretty much wrote itself, since I had all the Callaghanisms saved in a file), Callaghan decided that it was lacking a drawing of a French superhero, so he offered to whip one up for me:

 

French superhero Super Dupont in progress!

French superhero Super Dupont in progress!

 

And now, a bonus! I’ll sign off with a French film recommendation for your weekend… because I’ve been glancing up at this DVD while writing about humorous French-to-English accent and translation goofs, and the two things somehow go together. This film is a quirky black comedy, and I think it’s brilliant. It’s been my favorite French black comedy since I first saw it back in the 90’s.

 

My favorite French black comedy. Notice I've leaned it up between Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe.

My favorite French black comedy. Notice I’ve leaned it up between Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe.

 

Delicatessen was directed and co-written by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who directed and co-wrote the more well-known film Amélie about a decade later. Both comedies are off-beat, but Delicatessen is quirky and dark where Amélie is whimsical and light. Both are quite funny in their odd little ways. Hey! These two complimentary Jean-Pierre Jeunet films would make for a great movie night double feature, n’est pas?

Bonsoir, et bon weekend à tous!