Friday, January 18, 2008

Belly rumbles, belly laughs

As part of Beijing's 'modernizing for the Olympics' drive, more and more restaurants are starting to keep an English menu (often just the one, because, you know, there's really not that much call for it). Or at least a picture menu. In fact, there seem to be some standardized ones that are now popping up in many different family-run restaurants - I wonder if this is an initiative sponsored by the municipal government?

While one welcomes such a development in principle, it is, of course, as with most of China's attempts to improve the quality of its bilingual signage, being done on the cheap, with no attempt to involve native English speakers in the process.

My new favourite Xinjiang restaurant has recently acquired one of these menus, which tends to make me laugh so hard that I almost lose my appetite.

A hotpot dish, for example, is labelled the beef is stewed arbitrarily. Well, is there any other way?

And that old standard, gong bao jiding (that's Kung Po Chicken to my American friends), is chicken piece goober.

I am not making this up.


Jeremiah Jenne said...

I've always wondered at the reluctance to ask for help. I mean, if I opened a restaurant in the US catering to a Chinese clientele, I'd take the simple step of asking a native reader/speaker of Chinese whether or not my menu, at the very least, didn't provoke guffaws of laughter from the diners.

There are literally thousands of native speakers of English running around this city, why not ask one or two something like: "Hey, I've got this sign. Does it make me look like an idiot or not?"

Is this pride? cost? Or what?

Great post.

Froog said...

I think it's partly cost and partly pride, J - certainly whenever it's a government project.

They do ask for help sometimes. In my first couple of years here I knew a couple of girls who were working in a newly-created department of the municipal government called the 'Beijing Speaks English!' program (yes, with the exclamation), which was intended to promote English learning by the general public and tidy up all the English on public notices around the city. It was four people in one tiny office with a negligible budget. They operated entirely by badgering good-hearted English teachers like myself into doing translating and polishing for them for free. It was quite fun sometimes; and I got a lot of free tickets to gala concerts at GHOP, etc. But I don't think we really made too much of a dent in the great Chinglish mountain.

The British Cowboy said...

I sometimes wonder if some of this is done deliberately to look amusing. Maybe I am hoping for too much order in a world of chaos, though...

Froog said...

No, sorry, Cowboy. Give it another 20 years.

At the moment, the accidental humour is one of the great beauties of the place.

Tulsa said...

ah, no, defn not done on purpose.

i've actually pointed out obvious errors to owners before, only to be told, "but according to the dictionary, this is what I mean to say"... yes, well, you can't just go willy nilly translating things based only on dictionary defintions! it just sounds silly. They insisted they were right and kept their Chinglish... !!!

omg said...

Haha! That's great stuff!