Tourists and lost in translation

The story of a European couple (Swiss, French, who knows?) who were called ‘swine’ and ‘infidels’ during what was supposed to be a romantic renewal of their wedding vows during a holiday in the Maldives has been making its rounds on the air, in print and in cyberspace.

Of cos they weren’t abused in their own language but in a langauge of the Maldives which the BBC calls the “Dhivehi language”. And of cos the couple weren’t aware they were being abused, instead assuming it to be a blessing!

The Vilu Reef hotel where the incident was said to have taken place initially identified the victims as Swiss, but a senior tourism source in the Maldives told AFP they were French. Maldivian authorities declined to confirm their nationality.

Everyone and his daddy have had an opinion about this “event” as can be found if you go here.

I shan’t take sides as to whether the couple was asking for it; whether they provoked the ceremony organiser and his assistant and whether the “culprits” have any acceptable defence for what they did.

Instead, all I will say is that this reminds me of an incident which remains vividly in my mind although it took place years and years ago in London, when the city was far less cosmopolitan than it is today, just like many cities.

I was eating in an upmarketish Chinese restaurant.  In Queensway. Not shriekingly expensive but not your regular fish n chip shop prices either.

Into the crowded restaurant one week-end lunch time came a small group of Brits who won’t be out of place in Billingsgate, thick Cockney accent and wot not.

Anyway, that wasn’t a problem for their fellow diners but their behaviour was, nit-picking over everything, in particular the helpless wait, perhaps FOB.

The quick-thinking restaurant manager sized up the situation quickly, took over and was all bowing, obsequious and obliging. Although he spoke only the Charlie Chan type of English, he was able to understand everything the group wanted and was swift to oblige, uttering soothing words in Cantonese all the while.

The dining louts were suiftably pacified and visibly enjoyed the verbal kow tows as well as their meal.

The only trouble was what the restaurant manager uttered repeatedly and soothingly wasn’t “We are sorry, we are sorry” but “When are you going to die, when are you going to die” — in perfect Cantonese: Nay gay si sei? Nay gay si sei wor?

There’s a moral for all of us in this as well as in the Maldive wedding fiasco!

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6 thoughts on “Tourists and lost in translation

  1. Areya, whenever I retell this story, pple laugh themselves silly! Tho, given the opening up of China and the massive influx of ang mo’s there, chances of that restaurant manager being found out r nowadays higher, even without Youtube!

  2. LOL reminds me of when my children were younger! Whenever we visited SIN and when they misbehave, here I was saying to my relatives that they are not used to the heat and in my smiling voice telling them in Norwegian that I will beat the crap out of them if they continue with their nonsense!

  3. Hehe, Amy! Exactly! Dat’s why when in Italy or any country foreign to us, if tour guides/service staff etc greet one with a wide smile, obsequious bows etc and say eg “Bella mia … followed by a string of words one doesn’t understand”, one better be careful! Actually, even in HK, I’m a bit wary becos their Cantonese is so cheem I’m not sure if it’s a compliment or an insult 😛

  4. Hence the universal rule: when learning a foreign language, the first thing one shd know is always the swear words!

  5. Hence the universal rule: when learning a foreign language, the first thing one shd know is always the swear words!

    Merde? Merci? LOL!

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