The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Tuesday 15 December 2015

By the rivers of Babylon ...

As I have mentioned previously, I love working in Geneva, not only because of the stunning scenery but also because it is a multicultural city, with all the added benefits that that brings.  A real Babylon.

Picture Cornelis Anthonisz
Switzerland has four official languages (bet ya didn't know that).  It is principally Swiss-German speaking (around 70% I think, maybe a little more), followed by French and then Italian.  The fourth language is a language called Romantsch, which is spoken in a very small part of the Grisons area of Switzerland.  In fact, here in Geneva, signs are pretty much written in either three or four languages (German, French and Italian, and very often English is also added).  Signs like "do not use the lift in the event of an emergency", for example, would most likely be written out in those four languages. Thankfully (for me), Geneva is French-speaking, as my German is "iffy" to say the least. But, with Swiss-German being so prominent, there are a lot of Germanic names, with lots of "zeit", "stein", "hoch", etc. in them.

Recently my company held a large meeting with different "interests" being represented from all over the world.  One particular European company had recently changed its representative, and we were trying to find the name of the new person representing them so that the Chairman could have the name available, if necessary.  I started looking through lists and had to stifle the giggles. There was one person whose Germanic-sounding name - had I had to read it out loud - I would have pronounced as "horse-shite".  My colleague took one look at the name and immediately came up with "oh shite"! I don't know what we would have done if this had turned out to be the new rep - luckily for us, it wasn't him.  Phew.

In a similar vein, many years ago I was on a training course in Geneva when I got talking to a woman who worked as an interpreter.  She told me that during meetings dealing with the Palestinian situation, the Palestinian peoples were referred to as the Palestinian population of the West Bank - forgive me if I got that wrong but it was quite some time ago.  Anyway, she explained that during simultaneous interpretation you simply don't have the time to refer to the "Palestinian population of the West Bank", so the interpreters had to shorten it to "West Bankers".  She was in the interpreters' both one day when one of her colleagues came out with the supreme Malapropism of "Best Wankers" - she said they didn't know where to put themselves but had to forge on and hope no-one noticed!

And finally, as my mom is Welsh I spent most of my summers up in Betws-y-Coed with family, and it was fascinating (to me at least) to see things such as signs written out bilingually in English and Welsh.  Of course not everyone speaks Welsh so when information was available in English and they needed an official translation into Welsh the text would have to be sent off to the translation department.  The sign below made the news some years ago and certainly gave me a chuckle.

The English text is self-evident.  The Welsh, however, apparently reads "I am not in the office at the moment ....".  Ha - lovely.  So it's not just me then!

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