In Translation

Glass ashtray with familiar 'No Smoking' icon on the base

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’.

Related: Spamabit Insufficient Dater Siteseeing


  1. Ha! Yay, a new post! Harry Connick Jr. tells great stories, I always enjoy his interviews. This post reminded me of a sign I saw from China that says "Watch out for this sign" and has a picture on the sign of someone bonking their head...on the sign. You should go to
    I really liked "When You Are Engulfed in Flames"! I bought it on sale but it wasn't really cheap and I find his books are prohibitively expensive. You never see them at thrift stores either...nobody gets rid of them, naturally.
    I wonder, Blam Chowder, do you curse in real life?

    Never? Not even a satisfying "Damn it!" every now and again?

  2. haha! I love those kinds of things. They crack me up. I know I've seen a particularly good one recently, but of course cannot think of it ... oh well.

    Hope the things conspiring against you posting etc... go AWAY! :)

  3. Stay genki, Blam... 私はあなたを欠場!!!


  4. Thanks, Sonshine!

    Me you too, LK.

    Not even a satisfying "Damn it!" every now and again?

    Oh, heck, yeah, I curse sometimes, Make a Joan Man Cry.

    I didn't go past the damns and hells for years — 'til college, really — just out of personal preference and (lack of) habit. Since then, and especially since getting sick, I find myself muttering the Big Ones on occasion when I realize I've forgotten something or made something harder on myself, but I tend not to indulge in the more esoteric stuff. While I have mixed feelings on the subject, I don't condemn anyone else for their language among fellow adults, and I can definitely laugh at filthy material if it's genuinely funny and not gross for grossness' sake.

    As far as David Sedaris goes, I picked up a couple of his books damaged or remaindered and got others from the library, not that I've read quite all of his stuff. Right now most of my books are stacked or in boxes, waiting for me to find the energy and maneuver around my tiny living space to finally set up bookshelves, but one day it'd be nice to have them on display to show off and lend out. I highly recommend Sarah Vowell if you like his stuff, although she's taken a turn away from his sort of dry-wit personal essay to dry-wit historical research.

  5. Welcome back, Blam! Hi, Miss Joan and SMieRT!

    It's always a treat when there's a David Sedaris "comment" on NPR Morning Edition. I loved the one where he explained the impossibility of learning the genders of French nouns: "Naturally, a chicken, because it's female and lays eggs, is masculine...." :)

  6. but I guess it's nobody's business but the Turks'.


    ...great. Now I have that song stuck in my head. Thanks Blam.

    But I'm still glad you're back.