September 12, 2015 -- In the same way that I disapprove of the news media reporting too much on themselves, I also don’t want this journal to call attention to itself. Nevertheless, today I’m going to reach out to Paris Journal readers in Venezuela, Indonesia, and Thailand. A little later, I’ll get to those readers in France, too.
|A Wallace fountain in the square in front of the town hall for|
the 15th arrondissement.
Blogger.com keeps statistics on the pageviews by country. That’s how I know this Paris Journal has readers in Venezuela, Indonesia, and Thailand. I also know that the Journal has readers in Ireland and Mexico, but I think I know who they are: my friends Carolyn S. and Debby H. W.
So, if you don’t mind my asking, dear readers in Venezuala, Indonesia, and Thailand, what do you like about this Paris Journal? What don’t you like about it? How did you learn of its existence? Why do you read it? Or do you just look at the photographs?
You can send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org . I’d love to hear from you.
I’m not surprised at all that the Paris Journal receives plenty of pageviews from France. But I am surprised at the number. I can only guess that some of these are from restaurant owners or managers in Paris. Since I write about Paris restaurants, photograph their food and dining rooms, am a senior contributor on TripAdvisor, and have achieved “gastronome” status on lafourchette.com (simply by dining out so frequently using the lafourchette.com reservation service), a few of them might be curious to see what I have to say, or show, in the Journal.
|Today, social service and other associations have an information fair on the square in front of the 15th's town hall.|
This is an annual event that happens every September.
So for those Parisian restaurateurs, I have a special contribution today: an explanation for why Tom and I prefer the menu in French to the menu in English.
English is a tricky language. Translating a French menu (carte) into English requires not only a thorough knowledge of the English language, but also a knowledge of cuisine and how we English speakers communicate about it.
|The mis en bouche given to us at Le Blavet, where we dined last night.|
Translations by those who aren’t up to the task can result in some amusing bloopers (mistakes). Sometimes, these bloopers are far more than amusing. They can be outrageously funny, just as funny surely as some of the mistakes that Tom and I make in French.
Richard Lederer, author of The Bride of Anguished English, has collected a sampling of some of these menu bloopers for one chapter of his book. If you don’t understand why some of these are funny, then please write to me (email address above) and ask; I will explain what's wrong and funny for each and any one of them. Here goes:
Gritty Balloons in Soup
Fisherman’s Crap Soup
Limpid Red Beet Soup with Cheesy Dumplings in the Form of a Finger
Soap of the Day
Salad, a Firm’s Own Make
Warm Little Dogs
Sir Loin Steak
Dreaded Veel Cutlets
Pork with Fresh Garbage
Sour Pig’s Fore Shamk
Special Big Leg
Beef Rashers Beaten Up in the Country People’s Fashion
Tortilla Topped with Chili, Melted Cheese, Sour Cream, and Glaucoma
Muscles in Sailor’s Sauce
Drunken Prawns in Spit
Shrimp in a Casket
Dead Shrimp on Warm Vegetables
Sea Blubber in a Spicy Sauce
Tart of the House
Chocolate Mouse Tort
Finest Moldy Cheese
Chocolate Sand Cookies
Pustache Ice Cream
Fire Pudding with Hard Sauce
Cock and Tail
Special Cocktails for Women with Nuts
By now, I hope all the journal readers who are native speakers of English are in stitches. Tom and I enjoyed reading excerpts of Lederer’s book so much that we’ve ordered a hardcover copy for our home. We’ll put it in the guest bathroom or bedroom for our visitors’ enjoyment.
|Tartelette aux tomates cerises, oignons confits, sardines grillee,|
There are additional reasons why we want the French menu, and not the English translation, when we dine in Paris restaurants. The main reason is that it is less confusing for us; we are accustomed to the menu in French, when it comes to French cuisine. There are many dishes I know well only by their French names, and I must think hard or do research to decide what these would be called in English. This is particularly true for fish, since species vary from one part of the globe to the other; there sometimes aren’t exact translations to American English.
Some of the English menus in Parisian restaurants are accurate enough, but they still do not convey the magic of French cuisine; the English words do not sound right, they just don’t feel right. As Tom explains it occasionally, when he asks for the French menu instead of the English one that’s been given to him, “Le goût est mieux en français” (the taste is better in French).
|Foie gras entier on spice bread with a roasted apple.|
On a very few sad occasions, we have noticed that the English menu at certain unnamed restaurants did not list the best specials, or the better values, at all. This is a blatant attempt to fleece the tourists, and we do not approve. Fortunately, this only happens rarely. [I think I have never seen this done in Florida, but the only foreign language menus I’ve seen there are in Spanish, and I don’t read Spanish very well. Most Spanish-speaking tourists in Florida are those from Latin America, and they tend to visit the east coast (Miami) area, not so much the Gulf coast, where we live.]
|Le Blavet's superb magret de canard with sweet and sour sauce, roasted apples, and scalloped potatoes.|
The pointy cracker in the middle is flavored with tapenade (olives) and anchovy paste.
We do have plenty of French Canadian tourists in Florida during the winter (peak season), but they are very accustomed to having to read English, and so menus translated into French are rare in Florida.
When we dine out in Paris with friends who do not speak French, I’m happy to explain the menu to them. Usually we will ask for English menus for our non-French speaking friends, but we stick with the French menus for ourselves. And I still need to explain the menu to our friends, because important aspects of some dishes can be omitted, improperly translated, or not really translated at all.
|Sole meuniere at Le Blavet, on the rue Lourmel. Our dinner there last night was superb, and reasonably priced.|
The best solution, in my opinion, is to offer French menus to English speakers, and forget about translating menus into English. English speakers will understand far more than you think; we already know about cassoulet and bouillabaisse, for example. Much wonderful French cuisine and language has worked its way into our culture through the centuries. And there is no need to translate “tarte” into “pie.” English speakers know what “fromage” is. They often know far more French than they realize.
(Remember when George W. Bush said, “The French have no word for ‘entrepreneur’”?)
I think it is better for a French restaurant to offer no printed menu translation to English. Instead, have a server available who can answer some questions in English. The blackboard listing daily specials, which is almost never translated into English, will still need some interpretation. Some of that is needed because European handwriting is very different from American handwriting, and to the uninitiated, those handwritten blackboards can be difficult to read.
In Parisian restaurants where we are known, we have been asked, from time to time, to translate a particularly difficult word for the benefit of a table of English speakers. For example, Chef Eric at l’Alchimie recently asked us to translate “pintade” when he was trying to explain his menu to a young American couple.
“Guinea fowl,” we cheerfully answered. But realizing that this translation wasn’t enough, I quickly added, “It is like especially delicious chicken.” This was necessary because many Americans still won’t know what “guinea fowl” is. So a strict translation would not have been adequate; a bit of an explanation was needed. We really don’t mind being asked to do this at all.
We aren’t just translating words; we’re translating culture and art.