Got a personal story about mistranslation you want to share? A funny mistake you made in a foreign culture? A professional translation project gone wrong? Send it to us and we will publish the best ones. In the meantime, here’s one from our in-house French expert:
On my very first day in the US, a friend came to pick me up at JFK Airport. As we drove through neighborhoods leading to his house, I noticed a sign on a house that read “GARAGE SALE.” That sign plunged me into an abyss of perplexity. What prompted these people, I remember thinking, to advertise something about their house in my language — and wrongly so, on top of it? Indeed, I assumed they had been ripped off by some dishonest salesperson. After all, I thought I understood that perfectly correct French phrase. To me, it read, “DIRTY GARAGE.” Not only did I not know that the word “garage” was used in English, but since France has flea markets but no sales from one’s home, I lacked some cultural data as well.