Friday, 18 November 2011

When translations just don't work

Switzerland is a very multi-cultural country. Well, it would have to be, considering it has 4 official languages (German, French, Italian and Romansch).

The fact that there are so many official languages means that the vast majority of products sold in Swiss shops and supermarkets have names and descriptions in at least two different languages. Coming from the UK where all products are packaged with English descriptions, this can be both a shock and a source of amusement.

Sometimes I come across items in shops that I think look interesting, such as a sandwich in my local Coop supermarket. When I turn the packet over to see what's inside, I find that the ingredients list is written entirely in German. Scheisse - ich spreche keine Deutsch! This means I have to take a leap of faith and hope that the contents of my sandwich don't contain too many e-numbers or unmentionable animal parts.

On the plus side, some product packaging can be very entertaining, as sometimes the translations don't really work. This is particularly prelevent when it comes to the use of English words, or words that in the local language are perfectly acceptable but their English counterparts have an entirely different effect.

My favourites are shown below.

This is fairly innocuose, simply being the producer's way of showing that the type of carrots in the tin are baby carrots. The reason why I found this so funny was because I imagined someone asking "What's in the tin?", with the response being "It's carrots, baby!". Oh how I chuckled...

This really doesn't sound like an appropriate flavour for a packet of potato chips. The chips themselves are shaped like people (hence the "dancer" element), with a kind of cream cheese taste, but the choice of wording is most unfortunate. This type of snack might interest Madonna, but I'll pass thanks.

It wasn't as bad as it sounds... I saw this over in Basel, in the German part of Switzerland, and found it highly amusing to think that the first lager I drank in the German part came straight from hell. I saw it more frequently on beer afterwards and came to realise that "hell" in German means blond, light or pale, so generally it means this was the equivalent of a standard lager in the UK. Still made me laugh though.

This is a truly ironic choice of wording if you look at it from an English-speaking point of view. I know there is only a miniscule chance of winning the lottery, but you are unlikely to tempt people to buy tickets if your advertising tells them they will lose. In fact, "lotto lose" in German roughly translates as "free lotto", which means this advert was telling people they can play online for free (still have to pay for a ticket but no extra charge to play).

To find this one funny you have to look at the different names for turkey. "Dinde" is the French word for turkey, and "pute" is it's German translation. However, "pute" also has a meaning in French - "prostitute". That's why this is funny, as you can pop into your local supermarket here in the French-speaking part of Switzerland and pick up a frozen prostitute.

This one is not that funny, but more perplexing. In English, "mini" means small and "max" means large. So a "minimax" is a small large...? Huh?

I don't know if this is an English product or not, but this made me chuckle - after reading the name all I could think of was "Oggy, oggy, oggy". Also, I have no idea what a baby bag is... maybe it's to keep the baby fresh in the freezer next to the frozen prostitute?

This one only works if you know a little bit of French slang words. It's an imported candy product from Eastern Europe (not sure where, exactly), called "ki-ki". In French, kiki is a children's slang word for penis. Yes that's right, penis. Can I interest anyone in a penis candy? No?

Last, but by no means least, this English cat food product. This is one of the rare occasions where an English word (albeit a made up one) can be misinterpreted when spoken in French, with hilarious consequences. "Dentabits" is essentially harmless in English, making reference to bits of chewy things that can have dental benefits for our feline friends. Pronouncing this word in French, however, has an altogether ruder outcome; here they would pronounce this as "dans ta bitte", which means "in your dick". Personally the fact that there is a pussy on the packet only adds to the hilarity.

I'm sure there are hundreds more mis-translated products out there that can cause offense and/or laughter, and I'll be sure to keep collecting photos to produce another article on this in the future.

Has anyone else spotted any other examples of this?

If so, let me know - I'm always up for a good chuckle!


Steph said...

Malika has enjoyed some of those cat treats before! :)

Paul Reed-Peck said...

I bet you'll never look at Whiskas Dentabits the same way again! :)

love2type said...

nyahah. kiki is related to food stuck between teeth in philippines

amf8 said...

Ahhah, these are hilarious! :)

Gillian Campbell said...


Absolutely hilarious!

This is another set to add to College Marketing Courses!

They always tell you about Nova - the Chevrolet car from General Motors that was introduced in Spain...

But in Spanish, No va means, "doesn't go", so you can imagine what sales were like. :)

For reference (car #5) on :

Paul Reed-Peck said...

@love2type - haha, looks like "kiki" is not a word to use too often in polite society!

@amf8 - thanks! :D

@Gillian Campbell - thank you! "Nova" is a brilliant addition to the list! Did they actually manage to sell any in the end? Definitely more market study needed! :D

MissPeaches said...

Hehe! Some of our packaging is indeed not meant for English speakers... :)

Btw, "Lose" means lottery tickets...