Uit de interculturele hoek…
Lost in translation? Somewhere, somehow

Vincent MerkTime of the year to reflect on passed events while soon opening my kerstpakket (how does this translate completely?), that very Dutch tradition at the end of each year. I remember once the accompanying letter. At the bottom there was the wish to all plezierige feestdagen, a neutral Dutch phrase with no religious connotation, a good fit for the international community we have at TU/e. Surprisingly, these 2 words were translated in English into (enjoyable) Christmas, a clear religious reference to Christianity. Interesting, if you consider that there were many international readers who have no special link to Christmas, knowing about it of course (Indians for ex. also have a holiday on Dec. 25), but not celebrating it in one way or the other. Lost in (intercultural) translation? Somewhere, somehow one could argue. Indeed, what about using the similarly neutral holidays/ holiday season in the English version?

Another example, quite obvious this time, is a well-known sign in some buildings at TU/e about when to turn the lights off that put the visitor in a dilemma. Indeed, turning the lights off while still being on the toilets as urged by the sign “Don’t forget to turn off the lights on the toilets”. Or using common sense and turning the lights in the toilets when leaving? So lost in translation? No doubt here. But no blame for it, because prepositions are tricky. Consider in time vs on time or in the street(s) vs on the street(s). Any example you’ve seen or heard at your local Flemish or Dutch institution? Tell us more!

Anyway, we all have difficulties from time to time to translate our thoughts. It has to do with knowledge of foreign languages and the intercultural high or low context we all operate in. To keep the discussion going on, let me suggest a few words that are so typically Dutch they can hardly translate into English or another language: the well-known gezellig, but also the less common uitbuiken or uitzieken, gedogen. Not to mention the differences in meaning between some Dutch and Flemish words… Let’s mention just one, so beautiful:  Schatje, ik zie u graag! Lost in translation?

Vincent Merk – v.merk (at) tue (dot) nl,
trainer intercultural communication at University of Technology, Eindhoven