About ten years ago, a Dutch friend told me one of the most epic “lost in translation” stories I’ve ever heard. I re-told the story many times over the next couple of years, but hadn’t thought about it for a long time… until last week, when I suddenly found myself telling it twice in five days, both times in the context of a conversation started by someone else. Funny how that happens. Anyway, I realised that I’ve never shared the story on my blog, so here goes!
The story took place in my Dutch friend’s second year in Canada, when she and a Canadian colleague were invited to a mutual friend’s wedding. This was the first Canadian wedding my Dutch friend (let’s call her D) had attended, so she wasn’t sure of the dress code – specifically, whether she should wear pantyhose. Naturally, she asked her Canadian colleague (let’s call her C) for advice… although, unfortunately, her translation of pantyhose was not ideal.
This is the conversation that was relayed to me by D who, by the way, speaks almost perfect English, usually rather loudly…
Before the wedding, in the workplace:
D: “I’m going shopping this weekend to buy a dress for the wedding. I was wondering, is it usually expected that women should wear panties at Canadian weddings?”
C: “WHAT?! Um, yes, definitely!”
D: “Really? Even in the summer?!”
C: “YES. EVEN IN THE SUMMER.”
D: “I’m surprised, because the West coast is usually so laid back! But OK”
A few weeks later, at the wedding:
D: “Hey, C! You told me everybody would be wearing panties, but you’re not wearing any!”
C: “I most certainly am!”
D: “I can clearly see that you are not wearing panties! In fact, I think I’m the only woman here who is!”
Ten years on, and this still makes me laugh…
My second-best “lost in translation” story involved a very fun, vivacious and attractive Swedish friend, who was a good skier but decided to keep me company on the bunny hill when I just learning. Rather than be frustrated and bored on skis while all our other friends were off at the top of the mountain, blasting down the black diamonds, she decided to try snowboarding for the first time instead. She took some advice from a mutual friend who was a good boarder and took herself off to the rental shop while I was having my ski lesson. She met up with me later, already better at boarding than I was at skiing, and told me how confused she was by her experience at the rental place:
“[good boarder friend] told me to get a strap-on board rather than a step-on, so I went into the shop and I asked this really cute Aussie guy for a strap-on, and he just laughed and laughed and laughed at me! The next guy did the same! It was so weird! They only had step-ons in the end anyway!”
After I stopped laughing, I was able to enlighten her…
Oh, the joys of working with colleagues from all over the world!