On The Late Show last night, Harry Connick Jr. discussed a recent trip to Istanbul
(not Constantinople) and showed off a No Smoking ashtray like the one above. I was reminded of the title of David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed in Flames, an essay collection in which Sedaris discusses trying to quit smoking in Japan, named
for a chapter in an amusingly translated instruction booklet from his hotel room
on what to do in case of fire.
That reminded me in turn of the list of similar malapropisms tacked up in the language lab the summer I studied Japanese. I don’t know that they’re even malapropisms, really, being translations for English-speaking guests in non-English-speaking countries that were simply a mite too literal or otherwise poorly worded,
the way the title of the Sedaris book was not so much wrong as perhaps lacking the necessary directness or urgency. One favorite, taped on an out-of-service elevator,
read “We regret to inform you that you will be unbearable today.” Most of them were
of a more adult nature, like “Please take advantage of our maids!” and “You may not have children in the bar.”
What makes no sense to me is why the hotel in Istanbul, having already established
that the room if not the entire hotel was no-smoking, set out ashtrays — but I guess
it’s nobody’s business but the Turks’.
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