Back in 2003, it was a fad for white people in England to get tattoos of Chinese characters, for words like “peace” and “tranquility.” Unfortunately, the people getting those tattoos were often completely ignorant of the language they were getting indelibly stained into their skin, with hilarious results.
The internet is littered with examples of these. Apparently, people haven’t learned their lesson that if you’re not truly fluent in any given language, you shouldn’t get it stamped on your body where people can see that you really love sesame chicken. But then, some people get tattoos of boyfriends or girlfriends who they break up with before the ink has dried.
One particular mistake people make is that there are no literal translations between Chinese and English. Why? First, our sentence structures are vastly different and second, Chinese tends to use a lot of metaphorical language in everyday situations, and so does English, but both languages use different metaphors, and apply them to different situations. For example, in English, we might use “it’s left field” but that would translate directly into Chinese as “it is in a field to the left”.
It seems utterly bizarre to me that you would get these sort of things as tattoos unless you are actually Chinese and it’s your own language and you know what you are getting. But I wouldn’t say it’s cultural appropriation because that implies that getting dodgy mistranslations of Chinese characters as tattoos was a Chinese cultural practice in the first place. And it isn’t.
What they do instead is exactly the same but with English. Or Chinglish, as it’s sometimes referred to when it goes a bit wrong.
Meanwhile, in China, there is a huge trend for things with English lettering on, which doesn’t always go the way they thought it would, either. I didn’t see any tattoos, but there were funny non-words and mistranslations everywhere.
And that’s aside from the fakes. I did once go past the “Rolmex” factory in one city which shall remain nameless. I suspect whoever translated the sign thought the crown above the “Rolex” lettering was part of the word. They put the crown on top of the logo anyway, which I think might have been a “there I fixed it” moment. Sadly, I don’t seem to have a photo of this one anywhere.
So, we should bear in mind that the cultural exchange between England and China is longstanding and there are many misunderstandings on both sides. I think we all need to laugh about these and not get outraged when we see them (cough American companies taking Chinese names cough).
Here are 9 times people got English wrong in China… with hilarious results.
1. Flight delay? No worries!
In the translation of this flight delay poster, the human body is on the radio. Please inform us of any change in main population. Is that a translation of something like, “this is the sort of long queue babies get conceived and born in”?
2. You have water come all over your face
Apparently water come is a purifying cleanser. Would you put water come on your face?
3. Forget the lonely Starbucks lovers
In this snapshot from a Karaoke bar, the lyrics to Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” are even funnier than “lonely Starbucks lovers”:
4. Stock up on Good Dad
That’s a pretty good price for 2.38 kilograms of Good Dad Kis. Mwah.
5. These vegetables have imposter syndrome
Listen up vegetables, you are not allowed to take meat. Unless you are a fake vegetable. In which case, you probably can:
6. I don’t think you should put it there…
The lavender belongs WHERE???!! :O
7. Forget love, all you need is…
I don’t think this one is a mistranslation, but I thought it was a funny slogan anyway. All you need is bottle. With lid.
8. Sorry, WHUT??
This one looks like someone just hit “paste” and made a hat out of whatever random word salad they had just copied:
9. A very important life lesson
And this last one is something we could all learn from. Pregnant women are not to be consumed:
Seen any funny Chinglish recently? Let me know in the comments.