LIAM MACKEY: Joys of being lost in translation

SO farewell then Yerevan, and apologies to sensitive newspaper readers and television viewers at home who might have been exposed to disturbing glimpses of the milky white thighs of the travelling Irish press corps over the past 48 hours.

Blame the intense heat which prevailed during our brief visit to the baking Armenian capital and just be grateful that you didn’t have to see as much of our pale flesh as the put-upon locals did.

And, no, I don’t mean it that way, missus, although, come to think of it, things could have been a whole lot worse for all concerned had we taken literally the sign which greeted us at immigration control upon arrival in the Yerevan. “When presenting passport, please remove cover and everything else,” it advised.

This set a few of us to thinking about other misadventures in English abroad. A colleague recalled the time that a pair of his shorts, which he’d left drying in the sun, blew off the balcony of the house in which he was staying in Greece. He only learned about the drama when he returned from a day at the beach to find a hand-written note – clearly penned by someone armed with an archaic English-language dictionary – which gracefully informed him: “Your pantaloons hath fallen”.

My own favourite is to be found in the endlessly hilarious compendium ‘Lost In Translation’ by Charlie Croker.

A lyrical piece of road safety advice contained in a car-hire brochure in Japan, it charmed as follows: “If passenger of foot heaves into view, tootle him. At first, trumpet him melodiously but if he still obstacles your passage, tootle him with vigour.”

And there’s plenty more where that came from: Sign on a bendy road in the Himalayas: Be mild on my curves.

Small hotel, Cornwall: Will any guest wishing to take a bath please make arrangements to have one with Mrs Harvey? Hotel in Munich: In your room you will find a minibar which is filled with alcoholics.

A wadi in Oman: Drowning accidents are now popular.

Hotel in Czech Republic: We like 2 please our customers but if ur unhappy please see the manager who will give you complete satisfaction.

On snack handed out on China Southern Airways: Airline Pulp.

Sign next to Shanghai swimming pool: Bottom of pond very hard and not far from top of water.

Hotel brochure, Copenhagen: In fire, the bells ring three times. There is a fine escape on each floor. For other amusements see page 3.

Back in Yerevan, you can only imagine the delight of the Irish visitors when they discovered that the local currency is called the dram. Four hundred and fifty drams for a euro is the kind of the thing the Green Army dreams about, although they seemed happy enough with the more meaningful exchange rate which saw one euro buy a brimming dram of the liquid kind. There may be no easy games in football anymore but there are still cheaper countries.

As the world game, football is a great way of broadening the mind. Always has been. When I were a lad, my specialist subject in geography class was the industrial output of English cities. Not because I had the faintest interest in the subject, obviously, but simply because I could surreptitiously use my burgeoning football knowledge to give the teacher the false impression that my head was never out of a school book.

So I knew that Sheffield was a steel city because I knew that Sheffield United were called ‘The Blades’.

And I knew Northampton was famous for its footwear because Northampton Town were nicknamed ‘The Cobblers’.

My education continues, thanks in part to the beautiful game. Prior to the draw for the European Championships, for example, I might have been able to roughly locate Armenia on a map but wouldn’t have had a clue as to the name of its capital city, even if Cork Celtic and Derry City have been visitors down the years. Now, I feel I can speak with authority on Republican Square and Opera Square (um, one of them is actually round) and can tell you that the supposed resting place of Noah’s ark, towering Mount Ararat – much loved as an Armenian national symbol though long-since located on the other side of the border with Turkey – looks mightily impressive with its snow-capped peak shimmering through the heat haze. And on warm September nights, before the intense cold of winter can exert its grip, downtown Yerevan is a place that buzzes with outdoor bar and café culture until the wee, wee hours.

This time next year, it will be the turn of the Armenians to visit Dublin, by which time they too will presumably know a little more about us.

Or at least, one hopes, enough to realise that the match posters they put up in Yerevan for last night’s game were a tad misleading, in so far as the visiting team pictured was that of those other boys in green, Norn Iron.

Oops. Talk about lost in translation. Still, après Gibson, Duffy and the rest, I’m sure the IFA can see the funny side of it.

- Contact: liammackey@hotmail.com


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