Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Another Case of Lost In Translation

Last January I wrote about a translation gaffe I made during a trip to the Czech Repulic ("Healthy Train Stations"). Here's another one ...

In June of 1995 I was assigned to travel around the Czech Republic with the leaders of a large group of U.S. soldiers who acted as honor guards in cities and towns all across that country to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of their liberation from the Nazis. It was a great experience which I will cherish forever.

Towards the end of the trip, we ended up in the Eastern Bohemian city of Strakonice. It was a great place with friendly people and a large western style hotel, the Hotel Bavor. One morning, I had a small item which I wished to bring up with the front desk staff. Here's the conversation as it would have occurred totally in English:
Me: Excuse me, sir. There is a large spider building a home above the door outside my room.
Clerk: I beg your pardon? Please! There are no bats in the hotel.
Me: Yes, there are. One is building a web above the door outside my room. It's a large spider, as the web shows.
Clerk: I don't mean to disagree with you, but there are no bats in this hotel - none at all. We are regularly inspected for such things. Besides, bats don't build webs
Me: I'm sorry to argue, but there really is a large spider building a net above the door outside my room. I don't think it should be such cause for concern. Spiders are bound to get into the hotel. All you need do is kill it with a broom.
Clerk (rolling his eyes and looking at the bell hop): Why don't you go up with this gentleman and see this bat. I'm sure he's mistaken but we should make sure.
So, the bell hop and I get into the elevator and go up to my room. When we get there, I point to the large spider web above the door.
Me: See, there's the spider web.
Bell Hop: That's not a bat, that's a spider! It's a spider web, not a bat web.
Me (seeing the error I had made): Oh - spider! Not bat. I'm terribly sorry. Please excuse my misuse of the proper word in Czech.
For the rest of my stay in the hotel, I was known as "Mr. Bat." I prefer to think I was Bat Man.


  1. This is awesome! Now I have to know, what are the Czech words for bat and spider? :-)

  2. Hello Michelle - thanks for stopping by.

    Spider = pavouk

    Bat = netopýr