Betraying A Little – A Blast From The Past From June 2011

*Sorry, but I’m just coming up — I hope — from bronchitis, and I’m so far behind work it’s not even funny.  Also, this post has a lot of food for thought and it’s something I often struggle to explain to people- SAH*

Betraying A Little – A Blast From The Past From June 2011

This post will seem to be about translation. It’s not. This is a metaphor. The post is a continuation of yesterday’s on writing minority view points: who should do it, how it should be done, and why the establishment gets it wrong, of course. (Also on whether there is some special virtue in doing it. And on who wants to read this.)

The discussion here and at Mad Genius Club yesterday reminded me of when I was sixteen and embarked on a class called “Techniques of Translation.”

Although I had studied French and English and German, the translations I’d done so far were of the “I took the pen of my neighbor” variety. I thought the class would teach me to smooth out the sentence to “I took my neighbor’s pen” and that would be that.

I was wrong. Oh, it taught that also, but that was a minor portion of it. The class mostly hinged on the moral, ethical and – most of all – professional dilemmas of being a translator. I know any number of you are translators, formal or informal, but any number of you are also not. So, for the ones who are not, let me break the news with my usual gentleness:

There is no such thing as translation.

The French have a proverb “to translate is to betray a little” – or at least that’s the closest meaning in English. It’s fairly close to the true meaning, but slightly askew, of course. Every language is slightly askew to other languages.

The idea that there exists in every language a word that is exactly the equivalent of other languages is sort of like assuming that aliens will – of course – live in houses, go to school, ride buses, understand Rebecca Black’s “Friday”.

Language is how we organize our thoughts, and each word, no matter how simple, carries with it the cultural freight and experience of the specific language. Oh, “mother” will generally mean “the one who gave birth to” – except for some tribal, insular cultures where it might mean “the one who calls me by her name” or “my father’s principal wife” – but the “feel” behind it will be different, depending on the images associated with “mother” in the culture.

So, when you translate, you’re actually performing a function as a bridge. Translation is not the straightforward affair it seems to be but a dialogue between the original language and the language you translate into. If you’re lucky, you meet halfway. Sometimes that’s not possible, and you feel really guilty about “lying” to the people receiving the translation. When on top of language you need to integrate different cultures and living systems (which you do when translating anything even an ad) you feel even more guilty, because you’re going to betray, no matter how much you try. At one point, a while back, I had my dad on one phone, my husband on the other, and I was doing rapid-fire translation about a relatively straight forward matter. And even that caused me pangs in conscience, because my dad simply doesn’t understand how things are done here. I had to approach his experience and explain our experience in a way he wouldn’t think I was insane or explaining badly. That meant a thousand minor lies.

Okay – now, what does that have to do with yesterday’s topic?

I am, as I tried to point out, a woman who grew up in a different culture. I am American – please don’t dispute it – because one of the wonders about America is that it doesn’t matter where you came from, you can be one of us. However, my past is Portuguese.

Portugal is one of those odd countries, about which most people know nothing while thinking they know a lot. Nine out of ten people think it’s in South America. Heck, a Yale liberal arts graduate once ARGUED with me about this. An international operator once informed me that it was a city in Spain.

People tell me we have ancient wisdom; that we’re standard white westerners; that we’re Hispanic (closer, at least when it comes to our experience in America because most of us ON SIGHT look Hispanic); that we’re passionate and hot blooded; that we’re (at least women) repressed and obedient, and a lot of other things I DON’T KNOW. I don’t know because it’s impossible for me to know, because a) everyone seems to have a different stereotype of what “Portuguese” means and b) because people assume I am this, without telling me.

Portugal is, in fact, obscure enough to be used for “hot strange minority” in comedies or “exotic place” in TV dramas. The way it’s used (a “swinger” couple in Friends, really?) usually makes me laugh my head off.

So right now, those of you who think that literature needs more minority view points or whatever are going “but, that’s exactly what we mean. Why don’t you write your amazingly different culture and enlighten us?” Oh, you’re so lucky you’re faraway enough I can’t hit you with a dictionary.

I’ve been taken to task on this blog before for not writing “about Portugal’s 900 years of history” instead of stuff set in Tudor England. (Portugal is very proud of 900 years of history, which reminds me of Heinlein’s dictum on people who are proud of their ancestry. Never mind.)

So, Chilluns, gather around and let me tell you a story. Imagine a Sarah newly deplaned from Portugal. I knew next to nothing about the US. I’d come here to do my 12th grade, so I sort of kind of knew what it was like to be a senior in high school. Sort of and kind of, because of course exchange students are a species apart. Even that was four years in the past, as I left after my exchange student year, went back, finished my degree, then married the nice boy who’d lived down the road from me in Ohio, thereby managing the feat of marrying the boy next door across the ocean, which is par for the course for my weirdness.

I wanted to write, of course. I particularly wanted to write because for the first time in my life I was living with someone – my husband – who not only didn’t disapprove of it, but encouraged it. On novelty alone, I wanted to write.

The problem is you can’t always write aliens. You can’t always write fairies. And I didn’t feel qualified to write Americans. And there’s only so many people without a past you can write. (I was hit over the head, I swear. I remember nothing but two minutes in the past.)

I decided to do the sensible thing and write stories set in Portugal and/or with Portuguese characters. It did not go WELL.

The BEST response I got (it was personal!) was a rejection informing me I was a narrowminded pain, who clearly had never been outside the US (this, btw, for a story I didn’t think was in ANY WAY critical of Portugal. Yeah, there are things that drive me nuts about the place, but I also love many of those things. Kind of like you’ll love the way your kid always looks scruffy. I thought that was clear in the story. The thing this person objected to? The fact that no one refrigerated anything and the fact that TO THEM the place sounded icky.)

It was that rejection that opened my eyes. I realized I was up against the “betraying a little” dilemma again. It wasn’t going to be as easy as writing WELL about Portugal. If I wanted to write about Portugal, I had to choose my lies carefully, but I was going to HAVE to lie. Or write non-fiction, dry as dust and twice as boring.

That is, to write about Portugal, I had to know enough about the US to know at least what was LIKELY to be in the editor’s head when the word Portugal was said. I had to know what they expected. This wasn’t as easy as say your picture of Australia (Crocs and big knives) because Portugal is not that well (mis)known. More importantly, I needed to know what people wanted to get out of reading about Portugal. Did they want to experience the exotic, in which case I should emphasize that? Did they want a sense of history, in which case I should push that? Or did they want the feeling that they were enlightened and kind for reading about this small, barely second world country, in which case I should emphasize the victimhood and struggle? What did they want?

It was a hopeless case. I realized I couldn’t cram the whole organic culture as I’d known it in there. I couldn’t even put in the warts (because Portugal is a small country, even if I come from there, if I put in the warts, publishers will perceive it as bullying and myself as a “narrow minded pain.”) Worse, I didn’t know what they thought were warts (what? Really? Lack of refrigeration? Mankind lived for millennia without it, you know?)

Worse, at best anything I wrote about Portugal to be halfway accurate would need to be between whatever Americans could accept (exotic, Latin, etc.) and the truth and I didn’t know America enough to get there. It was like trying to translate when all you know is classroom language on one side. You can’t do it.

So I gave up on that and wrote historical (mostly Rome and England because there the stereotypes I had weren’t that far off) and eventually became comfortable enough to write American characters.

I think at this point I could write Portuguese set/Portuguese characters. I’m accultured enough to reach Americans I THINK.

The problem is, I don’t really want to. We come up against those moral and ethical dilemmas again and it makes writing SUCH a pain.

First, we come up on the reason I moved here at all: I always felt like a stranger in a strange land. Part of this was me. Part of it, though, is that my family – I’m reminded of this every time I go back – is odd. Oh, not in any bad way, but I continuously meet other Portuguese who assume they know how… my family interacts; what I was taught at home; what we ate; what we believed. They’re wrong on almost every count. And the weird thing is they’d be right for ALMOST every Portuguese of my class, age, and upbringing at least as far as I can tell. I’ve come to the conclusion my family (and to an extent the village I grew up in) is just a bunch of outliers. Which explains why going to friends’ houses for vacation was like being an exchange student. No, I don’t know why or how this happened, but I know if I portray “real Portuguese” it will feel profoundly weird to me.

Second: Most Portuguese in the US – for the few people who actually KNOW Portuguese people – come from the Islands (Azores and Madeira) which makes them about as much like me (from the North of the continent) as a native of NYC is like a native of the deep south. No. Less so. In the states, you’re more likely to have had schooling rituals (prom/homecoming, etc) and chain stores in common.

Third: I have been away from Portugal for twenty five years, save for brief visits. In that time everything has changed, perhaps more so than in most places, due to integration into EEC, huge immigration from Eastern Europe, etc. I SIMPLY don’t know how things work now. Even the schooling system seems to have been reinvented from the ground up. There are a LOT of private universities, for instance, while in my day there were two and they weren’t taken seriously. There are also more grades and arranged differently. People’s shopping has rearranged with the introduction of supermarkets and not always in ways I understand. And NONE of it makes sense to me. For instance, my parents’ house was near a train stop. Not a station. Usually not listed in anything, just a place on the line where the train stopped. You could get in and get your ticket onboard from the conductor. Over the last twenty five years, the “stop” has acquired shelters, clocks and announcements. Also graffiti and loiterers. Okay fine. But this time, when I went back, I found out you now have automated machines where… you get a ticket to get a ticket on the train. Yes, that’s right. You buy a ticket from the machine, which allows you to buy a ticket on the train. Why? I don’t know. My mother couldn’t explain it, and the stuff on the machine made no sense. Even HOW to do it made no sense. My parents have started using the bus, which is more uncomfortable and takes longer, simply because they don’t get HOW to do it. I’m sure there’s a reason for this double-blind ticket purchase other than the Portuguese love for bureaucracy. Or maybe there isn’t. BUT I don’t know. And that’s a minor example.

I realized I knew nothing of Portugal when my husband, my kids and I found ourselves in a sizeable village at lunch time, starving, and I couldn’t figure out WHERE to buy food. (In villages it’s not necessarily marked, and besides you can buy food at any of the following: grocery stores; restaurants; taverns; coffee shops; improvised for-the-season cafes. Or all of those might NOT serve food. The ones I found I couldn’t determine if they did, and had no idea how to ask.)

I know you don’t believe that last, and that’s an example of why it’s hard for me to write about Portugal – because I don’t know what’s in your head and now half the time I don’t know what’s in Portugal, either.

So, to pull it all back – insistence that minorities only must be allowed to write minorities MIGHT seem like it makes sense. Kind of like translating “I got my son’s pen” makes sense. They know how their culture/lifestyle works, so of course they’d write it better.

But it’s NOT like writing it. It’s not an account. Because novels are – at least supposed to be – entertaining, it’s more like translating. What you write must not only be accurate. It must sound accurate to the reader. The two are antithetical. So at best it’s a compromise and a small betrayal.

Are minorities/foreigners/etc. capable of doing this? Of course. As I said, I think at this point I am at least for short stories (not sure about trying a novel.) But can they do it better than a non-native/non minority who studies it really well and writes about it?

Well… yes. No. Maybe. It depends on the individual writing and how willing they are to take out their own experiences, unpack them, and then betray them a little to match what’s in the reader’s head, so they can make sense of it all.

Portugal is hellishly difficult to research from the US – great regional variation, for instance (coming from the fact that it’s only in the last twenty years that they’ve started defeating tribalism, and that not well. Not real tribes, but the different regions ARE different ethnicities.) Also no one has written a “Daily Life In Portugal” – though there is a “Daily Life in Medieval Portugal” which I haven’t read, though I’ve bought it. Portugal is hellishly difficult to research from Portugal, too. I had trouble finding a good, comprehensive history when I visited. And because their distribution of books is insane (the concept of back list was alien when I was growing up at least) and there’s no, it’s very difficult to get history (or other) books on specific narrow topics. You might go to the story looking for an history of Roman Portugal, but what’s on the shelves right then is an history of Port Wine; an history of Celtic Portugal; and an history of shoe laces.

However, I think I’d at least consider reading the book if someone were dedicated enough to wade in and read all the books (many of them in Portuguese) you can read to get the complete-enough picture to write about Portugal and did it without either condescension or too much clean up (Portugal… well, dears, let’s just say when I was growing up there we considered Italians and Greeks organized. And Ireland has almost Germanic precision as far as we were concerned. And we were PROUD of this. We should be. Looking from the outside it’s a minor miracle anything works enough to keep up a technological society to the extent it exists. BUT I understand this – it must be genetic because not only do I fight it every day, but so do my kids. HOWEVER most people would, I think, clean most of it away) and without implying Portuguese are victims because they live in less materially comfortable circumstances (and have a guaranteed month of vacation in Summer, a week at Easter and Christmas, plus the most holidays of any country in Europe.)

Do I hunger for such a book? To be blunt, no. I worry that the betrayals made would spin the book even further away from my admittedly odd experience. I worry I would for the rest of my life be meeting people who go “Oh, you’re Portuguese, so you’re exactly like…” (I wonder if Greeks feel that way about “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”)

I prefer to read about interesting people, no matter where they come from. Oh, I’ll give a try to the exotic, if simply because it’s a change of pace. Stuff set in rural South Africa for instance. And I absolutely ADORED Paul Mann’s Indian mysteries, one of those series I don’t think lasted long enough.

HOWEVER if I start a book set somewhere and it’s all about “victimhood” it goes against the wall so hard it leaves marks. Oh, sure, some people have it really tough (Paul Mann’s description of the underclass in India was responsible for my donating more than I should to various charities) but for books to be entertaining they can’t just be about oppression and misery and taking it. Good authors get over plotting by dropping walls on character. And most readers don’t view fiction reading as an exercise in self flagellation where you must suffer to understand how bad other people’s circumstances are.

And when I say I’d read about exotic locales, those can be in Europe, too. Small town England in the present day would be fascinating. (The latest I’ve read set there was Agatha Christie.) It has nothing to do with stealing victimhood, only with me being an SF geek, forever looking for the alien – even when I’m aware it’s “translated” and “betrayed.”

So, that is the ultimate conclusion: I’d be willing to read anything, written by anyone, as long as it’s interesting. I don’t want to read about people “like me” and I’m not angry there aren’t more of us as characters. (One of my characters has a series about a woman with my background. I don’t want to know. No, seriously. I’d have to kill him in a horrible way. And don’t say “what do you mean one of your characters has…” Any explanation would land one of us in the loony bin.) I don’t object to reading about people like me, though, if done in a way I find entertaining. And I don’t care about the background of the author, provided he/she can write the story convincingly.

Exciting, uh? Aren’t you amazed? I know I am. That this is shocking to the establishment explains why they’re in trouble.

172 thoughts on “Betraying A Little – A Blast From The Past From June 2011

  1. There was a story about Clarence Thomas that said as a law student he wrote a paper on Affirmative Action and how it was bad for Blacks.

    One of the people grading it made a comment that Thomas “didn’t understand the struggles of Blacks in the US”.

    The Grader removed the comment after he learned that Thomas was Black. 😈

    IE people who “want to support minorities often don’t really understand the so-called minorities”. 😦

    1. This is why I will accept “mansplaining” as a term when it is used properly, as in “someone condescendingly explaining something to a person who is an expert in that something.” Other uses are beyond the scope of the original definition, and unfortunately definition creep has already taken that term over.

      I mostly don’t do arguments or explanations, because people find me pedantic when defining terms. But without a proper understanding of terms, you end up with noise, not language.

      1. Of course, my dad, a CPA’s CPA, told me my mom’s sister was determined to explain to him how accounting worked, so “man”splaining isn’t really fair. 🙂

        I do get that, when we’ve been told something is “thus and so” all our lives, and a knowledgeable person says something that’s completely different, it’s not an unusual response to blurt out all the “thus and so” as a reflex action.

      2. “someone condescendingly explaining something to a person who is an expert in that something.”
        I have raised 5 children into reasonably successful and pleasant adults.
        My unmarried sisters and childless brother always had very firm opinions on how I should do it.
        Mostly wrong opinions.

    2. Often, people who claim to want to support minorities really want to use minorities. On top of not understanding them.

      (And, it’s not the comment that should have been removed, but the Grader.)

  2. The archetypes and stereotypes are useful, for selecting a starting place for understanding a culture. But, they are useless for getting deeper into that tribal swamp (and, ALL cultures are tribal, whether 1st or 3rd world, no matter what the continent, educational background, or religion).
    I’m sort of halfway convinced that writers are alien spawn that were shoved through a dimensional doorway at an early age, because they just didn’t fit into their birth culture.
    No effort to find a fit for that strangeling, just thrust it through an opening, and briskly wipe responsibility from your hands.
    At least, that’s my best explanation for how well we fit into our world.

    1. They’re useful because they have enough broad accuracy to work on large scale. Individuals will vary widely across the human scale, and it’s highly likely you will not ever find someone who fits the stereotype *exactly* with no left over bits or missing parts. Often, the stereotype is useful only to a particular audience… which brings us back to the problem of translation.

      If the stereotype/archetype is sufficiently accurate for a given population (i.e. *enough* individuals exhibit some/many of the characteristics the stereotype describes), then it can be even more useful for disambiguation. Most Irish are drinkers, but Sean does not; most Americans love freedom and liberty but Hillary does not, etc… One can narrow the class “Placeians” down to “Regioners” and “Localites” down further to things not geographically fixed. Sex, age, occupation, and so on.

      There are twists and generalities all the way down. Say, a fortiesish male electrician from Ohio residing in South Carolina. Say he’s a card carrying union man (yes, the electricians union is a thing, as opposed to independents), that’s another one. Say he’s a Catholic by upbringing, lapsed, married to a Baptist, two kids, so he’s a father, recovering alcoholic, fishes on the weekend and does a little hunting…

      Still generalizing, stereotyping in a smaller frame, but writing-wise, he’s almost a character. You probably know the type. Give him a bit of personality, say he’s a good ol’ boy, easygoing type, always kind to the ladies, brooks no cussing around children, usually willing to lend a hand but not in a hurry to go anywhere. Take that Yankee accent and soften it with a decade or more of living in the country South, a bit faster cadence than your usual fellow but a bit of Southernisms creeping in despite his roots.

      There ya go. Completely generalized, but would only take a few touches to make him an individual, something to live and breathe in the reader’s imagination. That’s all the generalization is, like sculpting- you knock off the bits that don’t fit until it’s recognizable. Then add in the details. It’s an important and useful thing to use, once you know you’re doing it.

  3. I don’t want to read about people “like me”…

    Oh drat. There goes my heroic novel featuring Sarah as protagonist.

    But seriously, I’ve never met anyone who genuinely wants to read about himself. (Oscar Wilde may have been an exception.) Mostly we want to read about people who are leading more interesting lives, where Interesting is interpreted in the Chinese manner. We want to read tales of struggle, of derring-do, and above all of consequence. We’d rather not read dreary meditations on the unfairness of life and how little anyone can do about it.

    I write heroes. Larger-than-life types who know themselves to be special, even if they’re confused and somewhat bashful about it, and unsure whether it’s “right” to employ their specialness in some situation I’ve hurled them into. That’s also the sort of thing I like to read. When a reader writes to me about one of my stories, it’s almost inevitable that he’ll mention how hard it is to find genuinely heroic fiction on the shelves. I’ve heard that gripe from India and Australia, so it’s not just we Americans who are frustrated by it.

    1. I’m not special. Well, maybe the only thing special about me is I’m the first one that steps up to do something whenever something crops up, that nobody wants to do, but needs to be done. If it involves dispensing violence, breaking bad stuff, and saving other people’s bacon; they slap a label of “Hero” on you and expect you to keep doing it, assuming you survived the first time. Those who don’t survive get a nice obituary, and maybe a plaque on their grave, regardless of whether their body is buried there or not.

      I think it makes a nice opening paragraph. Non-sexist, non-racist, non-nationalist. I haven’t the foggiest idea if the Portuguese translation makes any sense or not.

      Não sou especial. Bem, talvez a única coisa especial sobre mim é que eu sou o primeiro que se esforça para fazer algo sempre que algo surgir, que ninguém quer fazer, mas precisa ser feito. Se envolve dispensar violência, quebrar coisas ruins e salvar o bacon de outras pessoas; Eles tapam um rótulo de “Herói” em você e esperam que você continue fazendo isso, assumindo que você sobreviveu pela primeira vez. Aqueles que não sobrevivem recebem um obitutivo bonito, e talvez uma placa no túmulo, independentemente de seu corpo estar enterrado lá ou não.

      The German translation sounds about right to me; but then it’s been more than two decades since I had to use German at all.

      Ich bin nicht besonders. Nun, vielleicht ist das Einzige, was an mir besonders ist, dass ich der Erste bin, der etwas tut, wenn etwas auftaucht, das niemand tun will, sondern getan werden muss. Wenn es darum geht, Gewalt auszugeben, schlechte Sachen zu brechen und den Speck anderer Leute zu retten; Sie schlagen ein Etikett von “Hero” auf Sie und erwarten, dass Sie es weiter tun, vorausgesetzt, Sie überlebten das erste Mal. Diejenigen, die nicht überleben, bekommen einen schönen Nachruf und vielleicht eine Gedenktafel an ihrem Grab, unabhängig davon, ob ihr Körper dort vergraben ist oder nicht.

      Most of the machine translations still seem to be doing mere word substitution and very minor grammar, if any. Actual context? Forget about it. And I don’t see IBM with a Watson-level translator.

      1. Putting the German through an internet translator came out pretty darn close.
        I am not special. Well, maybe the only thing that’s special about me is that I’m the first to do something when something comes up that nobody wants to do, but has to be done. When it comes to spending violence, breaking bad things and saving other people’s bacon; You suggest a label of “Hero” on you and expect you to continue, provided you survived the first time. Those who do not survive will get a nice obituary and maybe a plaque on their grave, regardless of whether their bodies are buried there or not.

      2. Back-translating the Portuguese was also close, but look at the interesting difference in how “dispensing violence” was rendered in the two other languages.
        I’m not special. Well, maybe the only special thing about me is that I’m the first one who strives to do something whenever something comes up that no one wants to do but needs to be done. It involves giving up violence, breaking down bad things, and saving other people’s bacon; They cover a “Hero” label on you and expect you to continue doing this, assuming you survived for the first time. Those who do not survive receive a beautiful obituary, and perhaps a plaque on the grave, regardless of whether their body is buried there or not.

        1. Oh boy. Can you imagine a really cheap editor and publisher taking a book and only running it through the mechanical translator before publishing someone’s story written in another language? Come to think of it, maybe I have seen some of those on the one-for-a-dollar paperback book racks.

          1. When I buy a widget, I always try to compare the “instructions for use” in the various languages that I have any hope of understanding. Usually there are only variations of expression, but occasionally there are some astounding differences.

            1. I forget from whom I’ve heard this, but he encountered instructions whose grammar was so mangled they were completely unintelligible. Someone there realized this was a bad translation from Russian, and so read the mangled English in a heavy fake-Russian accent—and everyone listening could understand them now.

              1. That sounds like a joke– but I can totally “see” it working.

                Somehow reminds me of that meme of Yoda with a bass and the logo:
                Mean a thing it does not
                if the swing it has not got.

                Read it, it’s nonsense; sing it with a Yoda accent, it’ll be in your head all day.

  4. One of the attitudes about Germany I encountered growing up was that Germans were all cold and emotionless. Well, having had all my experiences in Bavaria (which is a bit like Texas in its relation to the rest of Germany), that just didn’t jibe. Because Germany is not monolithic in personality or culture.

    One of the advantages of writing about the future is you only have to appeal to those prejudices/assumptions, you don’t have to write for or against them. You can build worlds based on a caricature of one or more cultures (as long as it isn’t too caricatured). Because a lot of changes can happen in 100 or 500 years.

    1. A lot of my co-workers here are Germans, and you get to learn the differences. You have Russian-Germans, Bavarians (Hillbilly Germans, as they explained it), Eastern-Germans, and the Swiss.
      And none of them are all that German-German, the way we Americans think of it.

      1. And Austria has several sub-flavors of German, with some Celto-Slavic-way-back-when-but-we’re-really-Germans-now just to keep things confusing.

      2. The regional differences in German “personality” were even more pronounced early in the unification of the formerly-independent nation-states, and some serious rivalry was still functioning in the First World War.
        One story I read was of a restful “truce” between the British troops and their German counterparts, which started when a “dud” shell was dropped into the Brits’ trench with the message inside: “We are Saxons, and you are Anglo-Saxons; let’s be friends.”
        After some weeks of peace and quiet (with a little mock aggression when the brass of either side showed up), another dud with a message came over the lines: “The Prussians are replacing us. Give them hell.”

    2. From a Peter Bowen mystery, paraphrased,

      When a Frenchman wants to stab you in the back he will explain to you in exhaustive logic why he must do so

      When a German wants to stab you in the back he will cry about it

      An Englishman will just stick it in and say “What knife?”

      This is from the POV of a Metis Indian, btw.

      So the stereotypes shift.

    3. Germany is a funny country, in a lot of ways. The Hessians and Prussians are probably the ones who got the rest of ’em stereotyped with that humorless-stick-up-the-fundament image the rest of the world has, but… Even that isn’t that accurate, if you’ve ever been around Hesse during fasching season. Holy carp, but for that short period? You’d think they were all a bunch of party-mad, sex-mad drunken funtime happyguys. Rest of the year…? Yikes; you can see why the Hanoverian Kings hired their mercenaries there.

      To an outsider that pays attention only to the surface detail, Germany can appear very simplistic, very surface-oriented. It’s only when you spend some time there observing things that a bunch of interesting things surface, like the tendency not to describe oneself by one’s occupation or trade, but by one’s hobby–And, for that hobby or avocation to be the sole focus of life outside work, to the exclusion of all else. Americans confuse the hell out of Germans to a degree, because we tend to identify with our work, and we’ve got so damn many hobbies. Typically, an American, if asked for a hobby, would say “Well, I like the outdoors, so I camp, hunt, fish, shoot, and ski…”. Your average German, hearing that in conversation would be going “But…But… Which do you do…?”.

      And, do note that the depth to which the German will be engaged in his hobby is going to be a lot greater than the average American will be in his multitude. I knew a couple of German guys who worked for the US Army over there, and they were world-class mountain climbers who were set on bagging climbs around the world, while most of the Americans I knew who climbed were more interested in the casual “Yeah, we went out bouldering last week, instead of going out to the lake to fish…”.

      And, I don’t think it’s so much an economic thing, because it’s more an attitudinal difference. The American is usually a lot more identified with his work, and the German is more identified with his avocation, seemingly–If that makes sense. Even the seemingly casual things–An American interested in butterflies will say “I’m a mechanic, and one of my favorite hobbies is hunting butterflies…”, while a German will typically say something like “I’m a lepidopterist who works as a mechanic…”.

      1. I see the German viewpoint as the reasonable one. Much of my working life has been spent doing things I cared little about, for money to support the things I wanted to do.

  5. In Terry Pratchett’s novel Hogfather, he has a character named Teatime, who insists it’s pronounced “teh-ah-tim-eh.” Apparently, when they translated it into French, the word for “tea time” could be mispronounced in a useful way, so the translator had him insisting that the pronunciation was not “Mr. Teatime,” it was “The Dreaded.”

    A good example of doing translation right—Pratchett could not have known that pun when he wrote it in English, but the translator knew that any pun would be mercilessly taken advantage of.

    1. A similar case is in the Asterix comics, when translated to English. The dog, “Idéefix” in French, is translated to “Dogmatix” in the English.

        1. I have noticed that not only are the onomatopoeia sound effects different in different languages (compare Obelix slapping a Roman, for example) but there are noticeable nonidiomatic differences between translations into British and American English.

          1. The ones I love are “what do animals say.”
            From some website:
            Catalan: Meu
            Chinese: Mao
            Danish: Miaav
            Dutch: Miauw
            Finnish: Miau or Kurnau
            French: Miaou
            Greek: Naiou
            Hebrew: Miau or Miya
            Hungarian: Miaaau
            Japanese: Nyan
            Korean: Yaong or Nyaong
            Norwegian: Mjau
            Portuguese: Miau
            Spanish: Miau

            and when I’m talking to the cats, it’s more like “mmmmmaaarrr” with a rolling R.

            1. My cat is part Russian. You can’t write his meow in English. “Mer” is not “Мэръ”. Trying to say it in English is even difficult. It usually comes out as “Merp”. That “r/hard stop” just doesn’t work.

        2. I first read many of the Asterix comics in German only, and was astounded to learn they were originally French.
          Now, that’s good translation.
          I acquired copies in English, Spanish, and Welsh, and they are all good (Oldest Grandson just took home 2 of the English ones).
          It helps that there are pictures, and the stories are hilarious in any language.
          We had big stick-on decals of Asterix and Obelix on the sides of our VW bug until it went the way of all student cars.

          1. I too originally read Asterix in German, then English, then found out they were Belgian/French bande dessinee (I don’t have accented letters atm); I think though some of the humor was better in German and English to me; some of the idiomatic jokes made little sense to me in French. Oh well, it was loads of fun and I still want to get a whole collection of the things. I am so happy though that they have omnibus formats now – Must Obtain.

            I was sooooo excited as a kid when I got my hands on How Obelix Fell Into The Magic Potion As A Kid; it got lost though and it was YEARS before I ever, ever got a copy again.

            I don’t know where that is as well. It probably got destroyed in the 2009 flood along with all the Asterix comics we had collected.

          2. Bittersweet– I found out why I started looking for the books again.

            The author, who was 86 at the time, came out of retirement to do two little drawings in honor of those slaughtered at Charley Hebdo. One with a terrorist vanishing upwards at Asterix’s fist, and one with Asterix and Obilix bowed in mourning while Dogmatix was puppy-whimpering.

            Hadn’t even realized there WERE more than one or two books in English until that.

  6. Reminds me of the Jewish Sages dictum that “He who translates literally is a fool, and he who translates idiomatically is a liar.”

      1. All fiction writers are covered under The Lawful Lie statute employed by the Kencyrath bards in P.C. Hodgell’s stories. 😉


          “Now and henceforward serve unshod, through wet and wakeful
          A present and oppressive God, but take, to aid, my gifts–
          The wide and windward-opening eye, the large and lavish hand,
          The soul that cannot tell a lie–except upon the land!”

          In dromond and in catafract–wet, wakeful, windward-eyed–
          He kept Poseidon’s Law intact (his ship and freight beside),
          But, once discharged the dromond’s hold, the bireme beached
          once more,
          Splendaciously mendacious rolled the Brass-bound Man

    1. Of course it’s “betraying a little”: a snapshot is not a movie, and a movie is not life. Nonetheless, a snapshot has value, and to those who understand its limitations, the collection of snapshots contains some useful truth. Why expect more?

  7. I see you wrote this back in 2011 and have to assume you’ve added a modicum of maturity and experience to your translation abilities since.
    Makes me even more eager to see how you handle Grant’s adventures in Portugal in that book you keep teasing us with.

  8. Because I sense a deplorable lack in knowledge of Heinlein quotes in some of the younger generation I include the following full excerpt:

    This sad little lizard told me he was a brontosaurus on his mother’s side. I did not laugh, people who boast of ancestry often have little else to sustain them. Humoring them costs nothing and adds to happiness in a world in which happiness is always in short supply.

    From ‘The Notebooks of Lazarus Long’ as contained in Time Enough For Love by Robert Anson Heinlein.

    1. They’ve also determined that attitude is the driving force behind white supremacy/racial supremacy groups. They have nothing else to be proud of. (Query: could you subvert potential supremacists by giving them a challenge, so that when they achieve that, they have something else to be proud of?)

      1. While I have little time for White Supremacists, I suspect that these days the driving force behind them is the very real sense that the dominant culture (at least in the Media) despises White working class folks. So the Klan types despise right back.

        The thing is, Kipling’s WHITE MAN’S BURDEN was real, and still is. Much of the world is an utter toilet, and if that is to change it will be because of Western culture spreading. Quickly, please, before the Progressive imbeciles can kill it. Did that culture rise because of some special merit of white skin? I doubt it. Does the superiority of that culture mean that the kind of White Trash that professes White Supremacy has any merit? No. They are the other side of the coin from the Black Quislings like Sharpton.

        1. The culture is the key. Culture has no color, despite all folks do to try and give it one. It is colorless, odorless, and often tasteless… But enough about the eighties (I can say that, I’m a child of the eighties myself. *chuckle*). The good virtues of hard work, dicipline, fair dealings, and honoring one’s word are Western- I’d say American, more than that. These things result in the greatest good for the greatest number, but that isn’t why we do them.

          These virtues are practiced because that is how we were raised- our culture. It involves bits from Christianity (okay, it involves a lot from Christianity, but the religion as it is practiced today grew along with Western culture, viz. Coptics, Greek Orthodox, and Baptists…), the Enlightenment, World Wars, and more. All of that, the good and the bad and the in between, has molded and shaped our culture. Fathers and Mothers raising sons and daughters the best they know how have all of that influence on what they teach through word and deed.

          I could say we keep our word when we give it because it is right- and it is- but it isn’t just a chain of logic that brings that heavy weight of guilt when we don’t or can’t. It is the knowledge that the people we respect and look up to would be disappointed in us as well. This isn’t exclusive to ourselves. It is happening in all of those cultures that are trying to bring us down as well.

          When a young black man is accused of “acting white” by someone, there’s a culture there too. There is a twisted sort of logic to it- riddled with false premises- that can easily be backed up by a weight of guilt. It’s how a boy who is raised to think that people of darker skin are inferior has that idea reinforced in the most bizarre (to us) ways. Translating even common English between the two groups can be… difficult. There is a danger here.

          Both of these cultures are a part of America today, among many other harmful ones. A poor person in a third world country may look at us and see the wealth and freedom and want these things for himself. Before, as has been discussed here (and I think Dave Freer has mentioned it a time or two), you either fit in or got left out. And fitting in meant acculturating.

          It meant not stealing your neighbor’s lawnmower. It meant treating those dirty stinking bad-people-with-funny-names as fellow citizens as long as they tried their best to be Americans just like you were, at least trying to be. The rule of law, and good food. We appropriate the heck out of anything good. And the occasional bad thing working its way through the national alimentary canal (and the sooner this Marxist crap gets the boot, the better).

          Some cultures *are* better than others. Else, why aren’t Californians taking risky little boats made out of tires and scap wood to get into Venezuela?

          1. “Some cultures *are* better than others. Else, why aren’t Californians taking risky little boats made out of tires and scap wood to get into Venezuela?”
            Because the rest of us keep their weirdest craziness in check? This might change.
            Also, Venezuela wasn’t that bad till socialism.

            1. Dunno if we keep them all that well in check. Though there are hints of good stuff, like paring down bureaucracy and regulations burdens. Almost wrote “I do hope it changes for the better,” but hope and change have got a bit of bad odor still stinking from the last eight years.

              And very true. Venezuela is what I worry in my more pessimistic moments our country could become should we fail to keep our own socialists in check.

              1. I am not so much concerned over keeping our own socialists in check so much as the fact we don’t keep them in dungeons.

                1. Chessboards, my good man. Check is but a step away from winning the game. Or prison, etc. Wouldn’t do to compromise our priciples by bending the laws to get at them.

                  By all means, let them speak, let them agitate. Let them make bloody fools of themselves if they must. Our job is provide sanity and preserve the Constitution from these domestic threats.

                  And to teach our children well. On that note, I have concerns- more than the usual, I think. I’ve noticed that the ones that turn away from something- a faith, for example, or a cult, much like Progressivism has become- they tend to swing wide in the opposite direction, and become the most vocal and adamant opponents of it. Absent things like, well, the ethics and morals we live by, the tactics and methods of the Left used *against* the Left are no cleaner.

                  I’m thinking of those who fled Communist countries, only less willing to acculturate. This concerns me because of the backlash *against* the Left once it becomes widely known precisely *how* badly they screwed the generations that are coming after. Viz. Weinstein, reactions thereof, etc., only worse.

                  That’s pessimism, I think, though. Not worst case, but bad. More likely it will be the same old fight against creeping evil our sons and daughters inherit. It’s always there. May how we meet it in this life be a good example for them to follow and take up the banner in our stead.

          2. I do not want to engage in an extended discussion over this, but just wish to point out that the virtues you ascribe to Western Culture resonate remarkably with certain components of Reciprocity in Game Theory — a topic on which I acknowledge my knowledge is shallow.

        2. Much of the world is an utter toilet

          Toilet is too sterile a term; I think what you wanted is “shithole.”

          The White Supremacists are a logical response to the Left’s identity politics, as you note. Amusingly, as Thomas Sowell observes, the “authentic” “Black Culture” advocated by such as Sharpton is actually based on “White Trash Culture” so, of course, it is responded to by its mirror reflection.

          1. It’s pretty bad when you have to use the “useful idiots” of the White Supremacists to counterbalance the Progressive Left. Kind of like trying to use the Plague to kill an Anthrax infection.

            1. I remember back in the Eighties when HIV-AIDS first broke big in the news and they were experimenting with using malaria to fight the virus. The theory was that malarial fever would cook the AIDS … and they knew how to treat malaria.

        3. “Did that culture rise because of some special merit of white skin? I doubt it. ”
          Correlation but not causation.
          Successful social habits are successful regardless of the ethnicity of the practitioner, as attested by pretty much every productive middle-class in the world.
          Only, there are people in the world that are not interested in creating successful productive societies, so trying to tie those habits to a single ethnicity-aka-race, and thus con others into denying themselves the benefits thereof, IS their goal.

          1. True. The fact that those with the more successful social habits were predominantly white was more of an accident. And it seems that a large number of oriental societies have some social habits that are even more successful when combined with traditional American social habits. Emphasis on schooling and work ethic for their children. Unfortunately, that seems to come with a higher risk of suicide for their kids when they reach middle to late teens; so obviously all the bugs haven’t been worked out yet.

      2. See, here’s the dangerous thing about dismissing a lot of the various flavors of supremacist groups as being deluded wannabes with nothing to be proud of… Some of them aren’t. Not entirely.

        For every former chicken farmer like Himmler, there was a Heydrich. No matter how delusional or outright insane either one of them was, the one thing you can’t say about Heydrich was that he was incompetent or ineffective. The sonuvabitch was also ferociously, attractively cultured, too. Much in the same way that Speer was, he was one of the unfortunately competent Nazis, and when you start thinking of these types as all being delusional wannabes, you’re setting yourself up to get blindsided by the ones like Heydrich or Speer who most emphatically weren’t.

        Yeah, there’s a risible component of Heinlein’s “sad little lizard” to a lot of the lower ranks in many of these movements, one that enables you to discount a lot of the crap they’re saying at the beginnings of things. The problem is, not all of the movement is like that, and some of them do have some real intellectual chops to cover their madness with. Look at how long the Progressives ran rampant in our own culture, from Wilson on down. Many of these types can pass for intellectual heavyweights, even today. Look at all the “brights” we have running the game in our own popular culture, their attitudes towards anyone who doesn’t agree with them, and then carefully consider whether or not this “pitiful attitude” towards former greatness is really something we should discount when dealing with them.

        These are dangerous people, with dangerous ideas. Discounting them or their ideas because of a surface quality of ridiculousness is something to avoid, unless we wish to be overrun by them. I’m sure there were a lot of decent Germans who looked around themselves at what the hell happened as the Nazi Gleichschaltung took hold, and were muttering the same dismissive words we do, when looking at the various flavors of SJW around us. How many of those same Germans were unable to take the Nazis seriously, right up until the bombs started falling back on Germany?

        1. Watched a little bit of Genius in NatGeo when it was running over here, and Einstein apparently had much the same attitude of “that’s ridiculous, that will not happen” … until it did. Virtually overnight attitudes changed on the streets – because the intellectuals ignored the warnings – and it shocked him to the core.

          1. > will not happen

            I’ve read biographical accounts from both CIA and KGB agents who were stationed in Tehran when the Shah fell. They were experts, duly trained, experienced, years in the job and in Iran, and it was their *job*, with all of their official and unofficial intelligence sources, to know what was going on in that country.

            Fail rating: Spectacular.

            I’ve not seen any “but we saw it coming, neener-neener” exposes from MI6 or other intelligence services, so I expect the revolution took them *all* by surprise.

            1. Do remember that a huge part of why the Islamic Revolution succeeded in the first place was largely due to the Carter administration telling the Iranian generals to stand down in the face of the revolution, or we would cut them off for military aid, which left those generals sitting on their hands and their troops in the barracks. The local CIA types did not know that was coming, and did not factor that into their appreciations or reports.

              The whole thing was much like the fall of Turkey to Erdogan. The generals in the Turkish military reportedly were going to do the usual Turkish general thing and stage a coup back during the early days of the Bush administration. The idiots told them “No, we don’t want to endanger Turkish democracy, and if you do, we will cut you off…”. Erdogan remained in power, and rumor has it we even gave him the names of the generals who had come to us, who were promptly purged. Then, the morons in the State Department had the balls to act all surprised and butt-hurt when the Turks told us we were not going to get transit rights to invade northern Iraq–And, we are now dealing with a rapidly radicalizing Turkey. Had we done the realpolitik thing, instead of the idealistic one….? Yeah, millions of people would likely still be alive, and the history of the last thirty years would look a great deal different.

        2. Amen, amen and AMEN.

          Let’s flip it around a little– we can all agree that the plan “slaughter a ton of people, take over a huge area and then lose it so that we trigger the end-times” is really bad tactics, yes?

          Does that stop ANY of us from keeping our eyes open for suicide bombers and other terrorists?


          I also dislike argument based on sneering; much better to demonstrate that something is false. Yeah, you run the risk of answering a fool according to his folly and he’ll think himself wise, but you have a better chance of saving those who are standing next to him.

      1. Whereas bootleggers, tax cheats, and pirates seem to hold a place of honor, at least from a long distance of many years removed.

        1. I have a distant relative in Australia also named Geoff Withnell. I tell him that I am descended from the successful sheep thieves, since obviously his ancestors were caught and mine weren’t. (big grin)

      2. Hey! My father always said my mother’s family was descended from horse thieves! Which my genealogy searches have not been able to confirm. Cattle, on the other hand (sorry Orvan) could very well be since they’ve been dairy and generically farming since before the Revolution.

        1. Cattle. A tradition that seems to have been brought from the Scottish Border and nurtured until the 20th century. Or so I’ve been told. Why they married into a nice Jewish family from New Orleans (or vice versa) is still a bit fuzzy.

            1. Probably. My father’s family also spent some time in New Orleans, but apparently the families never crossed paths (not hard, back then, when they were all in different businesses).

      3. I for one got a kick out of learning that my Grandfather was a moonshine runner back during Prohibition.

          1. Ah, yes, Prohibition. One of thr shining examples of how representative democracy should work. We tried a law, and when it made a mess, we repealed it.

            Wish we’d do that more often.

        1. *chuckles* Brother, so was mine. Also the richest man in the country for a while, on account of those profits. He supplied folks in five counties across three states! *grin*

        2. May be distant kin to Champ Ferguson. I only know that the old matrons dropped their voices in discussion that branch of the family, and heard the name “Champ.” They didn’t seem proud of that. A distant ancestor may have come to South Carolina to escape a lawsuit. A grandfather had a drinking problem and would fight, and that’s by his own words.

        3. My grandfather was a meter reader in a town on the Canadian border. Whenever he went over to customs, he wore big boots and always came back with two bottles of confiscated stuff.

      4. *chuckle* I had a couple of friends when I was in high school; good friends. Came from very lineaged families in the Philippines. They were discussing bloodkin and so-and-so was this big muckety-muck and so on and so forth, and they noticed I was keeping quiet. Thinking they were leaving me out, they asked me about my lineage. I don’t keep track of such things (apparently our family clans are pretty freaking massive, and I have blood ties to some large, wealthy clan in China as well, but I haven’t got any idea what the name of that family is, other than ‘it starts with D’) but I replied that I have very little awareness of our family heritage; but my paternal grandfather fought in the second world war and later became a teacher; my maternal grandfather was a man-slut of the highest order (rumor has it there are almost 50 half-aunts and uncles thanks to him; I kind of wish I’d met them all because it would have been SO MUCH FUN to have so many cousins to play with! And I don’t consider them ‘half’ anything); but my maternal grandmother was a very good woman and raised 5 children to adulthood while working as a senior doctor in the province hospital until she retired in her mid to late sixties. Which, incidentally, is why the whole NO WOMEN IN STEM never made sense to me. If my grandmother, who was born in the earlier half of the previous century, could become a doctor in benighted Philippines, why are women in the US in the current era ‘having difficulty’?

        Lineage / family history is fun to know; but I didn’t attach the importance to it (as part of my identity) the way some folks seem to. It’s more fascinating to me that my youngest brother apparently inherited paternal grandfather’s understated yet mischievously intelligent humor; we all got the love for puns, and we got maternal grandmother’s no-nonsense ‘work needs to be done, roll up sleeves time’ attitude. I rather wish I got her Chinese Lady of Steel demeanor though; I got my dad’s fiery temper.

    1. I wager more Americans have experienced “small town New England life” through the lens of Jessica Fletcher than have any direct experience.

      Tom Stoppard has a wonderful entr’acte, New-Found-Land — a travelogue of cliches about America imbibed by Europeans over the years. Many Americans are no less full of false knowledge, imagining the Los Angeles depicted in so many movies and television shows accurately reflects the real city when, in likely fact, the shows were probably filmed in Portland or Vancouver..

      1. Many people on hearing that I was from Brooklyn thought that I spoke like the Dead End Kids. My maternal grandmother was horrified at that. So I ended up sounded like a gently reared Ottowan young lady. I. E. mild British accent.

      2. Heh. I fenced in Bucksport, Maine this past weekend. It does a FINE job of embodying small town New England life. So much so that you look around wondering where Angela Landsbury might be lurking.

  9. In the states, you’re more likely to have had schooling rituals (prom/homecoming, etc) and chain stores in common.

    Which counts for less than one would wish, as any Texan or West Virginian interacting with a New Yawker or San Franciscan would acknowledge.

    And, of course, our Texan’s or West Virginian’s expectation of a Californian or New Yawker would be equally tainted.

    Writing is often a matter of catering to your (anticipated) readers’ stereotypes, hopefully subverting them.

    1. “Writing is often a matter of catering to your (anticipated) readers’ stereotypes, hopefully subverting them.”

      But with dignity. Always dignity.

  10. “The Unit” had an episode set in PNG, and boy… it was a real mess. Like a 1930’s jungle movie, but worse. It’s easier to recount the thing they got right- one of the supposed native characters spoke Tok Pisin.
    The rest was just painfully wrong, insultingly wrong. Like they wanted an episode set in Haiti, but were told that was too un-PC, so they worked in PNG instead.
    -No, feathers, face paint, and grass skirts aren’t part of the regular daily dress.
    -No, a tattoo of the Cross isn’t going to cause consternation among the superstitious natives.
    -No, a pistol isn’t going going to cause consternation among the superstitious natives. They’re better armed with modern automatic weapons anyway, especially in Mendi.
    -No, alligators don’t live in the mountains of Mendi either.

    1. Hell, alligators don’t live in the mountains ANYWHERE.

      In the mountains? Really? Find out what the writer was smoking and have an ounce of it sent to my rooms.

      1. Central Arkansas only qualifies as “mildly hilly”, but Faulkner County has an alligator problem. They’re infesting a friend’s property, making hunting and hiking dangerous. Turns out the Game & Fish people have declared them “protected” and you can’t kill or even relocate one.

        Why they’re protected is a mystery; they’re an invasive species. There were no alligators anywhere around here a few years ago.

          1. ‘Gators were reclassified from Endangered to Threatened in the 1980s. I’ve never heard of not relocating a ‘gator before. The Fish and Game folks here do that quite often. That sounds like something Arkansas or the Fish and Game people there are doing.

            1. The ARG&F are “Law Enforcement Officers” and quite aggressive about it. An inferiority complex with guns, and they’re empowered to make up their own regulations as they see fit. Which are *probably* posted somewhere, if you know the right place to look.

              Fortunately they seem to devote most of their attention to checking deer tags and busting pot plantations.

    2. Oh my gosh… I’m sorry, but that is too funny. Right up there with TV shows trying to do geek culture, or folks who don’t know even that old cartoon or a novelization of D&D talking.

      1. Back when I worked at a convenience store one of the scratch off lottery tickets had a Betty Boop theme to it. Often I’d start humming or quietly singing the theme song from the Max Fleischer shorts. One morning a, shall we say chronologically gifted, lady came in and bought that… asked what I was singing and I told her. “I didn’t know there was a cartoon.”

        Well, evidently even for her that meant something that had been on TV on Saturday mornings or weekday afternoons.

        1. Growing up in the backwaters of the Ohio in the Fifties, my Saturday mornings routinely involved watching many of the Fleischer cartoons; not only Betty Boop but Koko the Clown, Popeye the Sailor and various other Out of the Inkwell classics. We also had the King & Odie, Mighty Mouse, Ruff & Reddy, George Pal Puppetoons, such as John Henry and the Inky-poo, before eventually moving on to the adventure of Sky King, Sgt. Preston, and Roy Rogers.

          1. That’s what rather puzzled me. Granted, I saw them more from C-band satellite rather than any local broadcast, but meant that such would have also been on cable at the time. I will not claim that she was old enough that she might have seen them in the theater. Still, it boggled me just a bit. Rather like how not thinking of the Lone Ranger when hearing some Rossini seems a very strange thing.

    3. Great moments in geographic ignorance. Episode of “Bones” that starts in …. Roswell NM. Our fearless heroes climb a ridge near the town and can see El Paso, TX. (That’s over 450 miles and two mountain ranges away, straight line.)

      1. But you can TOTALLY see the Sydney Opera House from the top of Uluru / Ayers Rock! NO REALLY. And find drop bears everywhere, superscary things they are, worse than dingoes!


        Speaking of Oz, have a gorgeous spider.

      2. Argh, even ignores the city’s pride and joy, since it’s the closest thing to a real mountain in the freaking area.
        (Seriously, they use the outline of the little ridge here on the BRIDGES! It’s kinda pretty, but it’s right between most of the city and the US, which is why the city is THERE and for heaven’s sake, the city’s NAME looks like a bad Spanish joke “hey, we’ll name it pass. Where is…el… pass-o.”)

        *brings it up on a the simplest thing she can think of, Bing’s map*

        ….yeah, they didn’t think at all. There’s even visible mountains halfway between the two, so you can’t hand-wave that they somehow were climbing something in the Lincoln National Forest.

        1. Note: I grew up in the Cascades. As in, literally, no less than halfway up a mountain. Driving through the Badlands is both awesome and feels kind of homey. I realize that NORMAL people do not have the same standard of “real mountain” as I do. 😀

          1. One night a fellow we knew and his relative, a London Bobby, stopped by the office. The Bobby was most impressed at the tornado he’d experienced. We didn’t have the heart to tell him it was just a standard thunderstorm.

        2. “Pick a name most of our viewers will recognize and we’ll go with that.”

          Meanwhile, they probably had multiple committees spending days over proper footwear selection for the actors. You know, *important* stuff…

  11. “You buy a ticket from the machine, which allows you to buy a ticket on the train. Why? I don’t know.” THIS is what show you didn’t grow up here. The answer to “Why? I don’t know.” is “THIRD BASE!” Which comes from the old Abbott and Costello routine, “Who’s On First.” Which is about the players’ nicknames.

      1. I’ve never understood the fascination with any “sport” that involved balls. Feetball, basketball, bowling, soccer, tennis, baseball. Well, I’ve been known to watch girls’ volleyball, but I wasn’t watching the ball.

        I still support PJ O’Rourke’s suggestion of no-wing sprint cars as an Olympic event, though.

    1. I can kind of see how it might have gone with the tickets. Some slick ticket machine salesman sold the idea to somebody in power as ‘modern’ and ‘money saving’. Then somebody else pointed out that the money being saved was from reducing the number of conductors…and that would piss off the conductors’ union. So they had to keep the conductors and to do that they cobbled together both systems, and they didn’t fit too well.

      Sound plausible?

      1. My guess would be accounting. Suppose rider gets on at stop A, intending to go all the way to stop Z. Without a “boarding” ticket the customer could convince the conductor to only charge him for riding from R to Z, splitting the savings of the A to R stretch with the conductor.

    2. Dear God, but I’ve been cudgeling my brain to remember the explanation I once got for that bit about buying a ticket to get on a train to buy a ticket…

      It was one of those “legacy system” things that only makes sense if you know the background, and it was a really simple explanation, too. I want to say it was something along the lines of buying a general ticket to get on the train itself, which was going from “A” to “D”, but you were getting on the train at “C”, which meant the station machine ticket was pro-rated to charge from “C” to “D”, and if you were going on to “E” or “F”, you had to buy an additional ticket on board the train, because the machines at the stations were only set up to do from “C” to “D”.

      It made sense when it was explained to me by someone who knew how things worked, which not everyone did, even back then. There was a logic to it all that only a select bunch of “train nerds” fully understood…

    3. Ticket from machine –> ticket from conductor. Totally speculation, but I suspect when they “modernized” the train stops, they wanted to copy the kiosks found in German train stations – but the conductors didn’t want to stop selling tickets, so they ended up with both. Sound reasonable to you?

  12. I watch ice speedway races, commentary and rider interview translations, are done in post production, and the (I’m fairly sure) Lithuanian riders translations are very much shorter than what the rider is actually saying.
    It sorta reminds me of the old Robin Williams bit about Nadia Comaneci and her “translator” (Soviet handler) doing an interview.

    1. Just read your blog post and you make good points.
      ” But some of it is wondering just how much cultural difference the average monolingual American reader is going to hold still for, especially when dealing with differences in naming patterns and forms of address that are similar but not identical to those familiar in the English-speaking world. And the culture is just well-known enough that I find other writers’ mistakes intensely grating when I hit them, because it’s trivially easy to find an explanation of the correct forms on the Internet.”
      Familiar-but-wrong is also a problem writing historical fiction.
      IMO, the combination of problems you identify (plus the entire thrust of Sarah’s post on “minority writes”) is one of the reasons for the meteoric rise of Fantasy (more so than even SF): nobody can accuse you of either error or inappropriate appropriation if you made up the Culture and all its rules yourself.

  13. Oooh, anime has a LOT of “translation” stuff that is rather nifty– for example, Okinawans are usually voiced by someone with a nice, thick southern accent.

    According to the folks who pay a LOT more attention to the culture stuff than I do, it’s actually pretty close! Although there’s a sub-trope of “can drink alcohol almost like it’s water” that is a bit different.

    1. Okinawa is kinda Ireland to Japan’s England. Insert rambling about the Scotch-Irish in the South.

      1. They’re almost ornery enough, for sure.

        *carefully doesn’t say which one she is putting as less ornery than the other, some fights are not worth picking!*

    1. BLINK.
      No, that no, but doing the village as in the stories grandma told (various people and families were supernatural, the priest was a werewolf, the old abandoned manor was inhabited by ghosts of the family that used to live there, whose name was weirdly Beyond. (Alem))
      Those stories I will write someday. She told me a different one every night, from about 3 to 10 or 12.

      1. Sounds good.

        But I still think you could something like Guareschi did. Not a priest and a mayor, but someone like your grandma, and maybe a mystery thrown in. Not necessarily dead bodies, but the kind of social whodunits of village life.

        And it would be AWESOME.

              1. Not seeing an issue, here– especially if you put a little note in the front that says something like “when I was little, I was frequently ill. My grandmother would spin stories about the village. This is my attempt, in her honor, to share some of the wonder and joy that she imparted. It is not a documentary.”

                Then you can have werewolf neighbors!

  14. If Sarah can’t hit them with a dictionary, she simply needs to ask R&D for the appropriate launch and targeting systems.


  15. The BEST response I got (it was personal!) was a rejection informing me I was a narrowminded pain, who clearly had never been outside the US

    IIRC, Chesterton in a moment of silliness threw that one at Kipling. The result was… rather predictable. :]

    1. A moment? He liked Dickens, IIRC. He found the American Democratic Party of his time more sympathetic than the American Republican Party.

      Taken in isolation, these are sufficient to condemn his whole like as seriousness. 😛

      1. “of his time” covers a good deal of ground, and there were unquestionable problems with the Republicans of that era.

        Not that I am a fan of Bryant’s passion for Free Silver, much less Wilson’s agenda, but the Republican support of high tariffs, much less the antics of Teddy Roosevelt (the Trump of his time) could have easily paled in contrast with the policies of Grover Cleveland…

        Cleveland was the leader of the pro-business Bourbon Democrats who opposed high tariffs, Free Silver, inflation, imperialism, and subsidies to business, farmers, or veterans on libertarian philosophical grounds. His crusade for political reform and fiscal conservatism made him an icon for American conservatives of the era. Cleveland won praise for his honesty, self-reliance, integrity, and commitment to the principles of classical liberalism. He fought political corruption, patronage, and bossism.*

        … whose administrations would have been among Chesterton’s earliest possible awareness of American political life.


        1. Grover Cleveland was the last good Democratic president. Actually, I’m not sure there were any other good ones, though Harry Truman at least rose tot he level of mediocrity.

        2. This was something like the 1920s or 1930s. (IIRC, it probably would have been, per wiki, What I Saw In America, 1922. Which book mentioned a trip to Oklahoma, and the Tulsa race riot was in 1921.)

          Obviously a big fan of violent white supremacism.

  16. This column’s proving very timely for me; I’m running into a translation problem in a rough draft I’m working on. Only it’s not languages or cultures, exactly; it’s mindset, specifically neurotypical vs. neurodivergent. Trying to accurately portray how someone with severe social difficulties sees what’s going on is apparently… not coming across well, in some cases.

  17. There’s an Italian saying: “Traduttore, traditore,” (“Translator, traitor.”)

    As to writing about another culture:

    There’s an American who writes crime novels set in contemporary Britain. Only Americans buy them, because she severely annoys Britons with continual minor errors about Britain.

    OTOH, Dean Koontz wrote a noir thriller set in Tokyo. He got fan letters from people in Japan praising the authentic atmosphere of his setting – and he’d never set foot there.

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