Untold thousands of English speaking tourists visit Rome each year in search of La Dolce Vita. Many of them speak no Italian. And although most food lovers (actually most food eaters) are familiar with the rudiments of Italian cuisine (pizza! pasta! pesto!), they probably need some help when it comes to comprehending the more interesting indigenous offerings. Italian restaurants often include English (and sometimes French and German) translations on their menus (when they have menus: sometimes the waiters will just fire off their list of 10-20 menu items in rapid Italian, which can be intimidating even when you speak the language!). I can’t speak for the French and German translations but I can tell you that the English descriptions of what’s on offer can leave quite a lot to the imagination. Here are some examples from various menus I’ve sampled recently:
- Cheese mochet salad (rughetta e grana=rocket–also known as arugula–and grana, a type of hard cheese)
- Mist contours (contorni misti=mixed vegetables)
- pork embers (braciola di maiale=pork chop)
- lamp cutlets (abbacchio=lamb chops)
And my favourite:
- 6 ostriches (6 ostriche=6 oysters)
While this is all very amusing, I feel embarrassed for the restaurants–and annoyed. I’ve already written about mangled museum English but this seems much worse. After all, isn’t eating in restaurants the main reason people come to Italy (okay, I realize I’m on shaky ground here)?
The population of Italy is about 60 million. I haven’t had much luck discovering the number of native English speaking residents but there must be tens if not hundreds of thousands of them here. You would have thought that, having decided to make the lives of non-Italian diners easier by providing menu translations, the restaurant owners would have thought to ask one of these friendly foreign residents to cast a glance over the translation rather than relying completely on Cousin Giulio who took one year of English in high school in the 1980s. It’s not like it’s difficult to find us: we eat in those restaurants too (we’re the ones chortling over the menu translations). And we’d be happy to help out for the price of a free meal, or a glass of wine, or a kind word.
Although this isn’t a mangled menu translation, it is one of my favourite signs ever as seen on a bar in Umbria last summer.