Monday, August 06, 2007

In Search of Brilliance: Encounter in the Airport Gift Shop

I was browsing around an airport gift shop at Sheremetevo-2 in Moscow. A souvenir t-shirt that proclaimed, I (red heart) Russia caught my attention and on the back was this curious message. I proceeded to get out my camera and try for a decent photo of the shirt, not easily done with one free hand and fluorescent lights reflecting off the cellophane.

Odd behavior for a gift shop, I suppose and maybe that’s why the guy in a suit and tie was hovering nearby. The t-shirt display was just inside the entrance to the gift shop and chances are that over time, lots of t-shirts have evaporated. I had no such plans, of course, but I found the package quite amusing and as a self-appointed member of the grammar police – a la Eats, Shoots and Leaves, a best-seller on this very topic – I was feeling a bit superior linguistically, at least for one brief moment. That’s a feeling I have so rarely here in the Russian-speaking world.

So I acknowledged Mr. Suit, probably a store manager, and explained to him that the back of the shirt was so funny in English that I wanted to capture it. That seemed to satisfy him. Minutes later, however, as I was heading toward the exit, Mr. Suit and a handful of store personnel were huddled around the cash register examining the writing on an identical t-shirt package. They looked up as I approached and I thought maybe I should explain about the wording.

So I went through each detail, pointing out each little oddity, speaking in Russian of course. When I had finished, the cashier said, well, of course we deal with the same thing here. When we hear foreigners speak Russian they make a lot of mistakes.

And I thought, Good for you, young lady Рtouch̩! Her response was right on-target.

Now, if I were to translate the back of that package into Russian, my efforts would certainly need some tweaking. And that’s why it’s wise to bounce our translation efforts off a native speaker. That extra step ensures that not only do we look more brilliant in our spiffy new t-shirts, but sound more brilliant as well.

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