Thursday, 31 July 2008


The best way to confirm that translation isn't just shifting sense from one word to another but wrestling with, and reflecting, cultures is to take a look at packaging. We've just picked up two fabulous new Bialetti pans from our local supermarket - yes, we collect the points - and I was reading the instructions. They're what you'd expect. Prepare the cookware, cook over moderate heat, etc. There are seven of them and they're presented in seven languages: Italian, English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese. Looking at them it's clear that what we do with our cookware in all these countries is pretty much the same. With two exceptions, both of which appear in the English version.

The first, small but significant, is the instruction: DO NOT USE UNDER BROILER. This one isn't that hard to explain, although there may be British cookware users who don't know that grill and a broiler are the same thing. But it's interesting that this should be the only instruction in CAPITAL LETTERS, as though English-speaking readers needed that kind of emphasis to grasp an essential point.

But the really interesting difference comes at the end of the English text. It starts CAUTION (also in CAPS) and continues: For safety, please keep pet birds out of the kitchen. Birds' respiratory systems are sensitive to many kinds of household fumes, including the fumes from extremely overheated non-stick pans. This appears only in English.
What can it mean? That allowing pet birds into a kitchen filled with excessively overheated non-stick pans is a practice so quintessentially English that the information needn't be given in any other language? Who else but a Brit would have parakeets among the pots and pans? Or is it that the budgie lobby in Britain and the States is so powerful that Bialetti is obliged to add this warning?

PS The sad-looking bird in the picture won the Wet Budgie Contest. I know no more.

PPS I can't not italicise cookware. I'm sorry.


Rob Spence said...

It's got to be Americans with aviaries in their kitchens, surely?
Or maybe they're thinking of oop north, where of course we have serried ranks of pigeons in every room?
At least their cages provide somewhere to store our flat cap collection.

Charles Lambert said...

Plus you can use their feathers to wipe the coal dust off your hands after you've filled the bath...

Jane Holland said...

Hilarious! Thank you for that.

Charles Lambert said...

It was a pleasure, Jane. Thank you for commenting!