Weird English Shop Signs Part 18, Special Guest City: Rome
- Published on Wednesday, 11 January 2017 00:00
- Written by David Jaggard
The Good, the Bad and
When in Rome, do as the French do. In other words, try (and fail) to do as the Anglophones do.
I hate to say it, but if Paris and Rome were pitted against each other in an all-out, go-for-the-jugular cultural history smackdown, Rome would win. It’s true that Paris has the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, Notre Dame, 1.5 godzillion other architectural and artistic treasures and, within its transport network if not its borders, the Palace of Versailles.
But Rome has the monumental ruins of its former empire, the Villas Borghese and Medici, more ornate fountains than you can shake a selfie stick at, and, within its borders if not its jurisdiction, all the treasures of the Vatican, including the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s Pietà.
So far a pretty close contest. But here’s what tips the scales: Rome is where I spotted my very first inadvertently funny English shop sign. This is why it’s called “The Eternal City.”
On a visit in the 1980s, I noticed a clothing store on Via del Corso that had a men’s side and a women’s side, identified by large signs proclaiming “Uomo” and “Sexy Woman.”
According to a respected multilingual signage specialist and close affiliate of C’est Ironique, this was Europe’s first instance of the ill-advised use of English for commercial purposes, setting the precedent for what would eventually become a recurring feature in this space.
(This is Part 18, and each installment contains a link to the previous one. Like this.)
(Oops — I mean like this.)
So, naturally, when I went to Rome three weeks ago, I was eager to see if the city had made any progress in the misuse of my native tongue. And, I’m very happy to report, it has.
In fairness, I should mention that much, even most, of the English signage in Rome is of good quality. For example:
Not an entirely idiomatic translation, but no risible misspellings or double entendres. Dammit.
But fortunately, especially now that I’ve started this article, there are exceptions. Sometimes it’s just a matter of a missing letter:
Next door to this café is a restaurant called Sneez and Eat.
Or an extra letter (or two):
Well, it’s true that they have more than one kind of leather. And I guess they might have more than one shop...
And sometimes there’s a whole word out of place:
“Birre” is Italian for “beers.” The signmaker probably got tired of looking up words in the dictionary.
But quite often, there are no real mistakes at all. The English is correct but slightly weird:
The manager talking to a stranger: "How do you do?" "What do you do?" "I take care of Care Of You." "No you no you don't."
This is the slogan of a Toyota ad campaign in Italy. So they think that Italians will understand this even though Anglophones don’t.
Or, better, correct but very weird:
Does this mean that the birra flows like a waterfall in this place?
Hmm. Must be downstairs from Beer Falls.
Or, best of all, incorrect and very weird:
Panino means “sandwich,” although knowing that doesn’t help much.
Sometimes the English phrases are neither incorrect nor weird, but simply not quite right for the context:
An ice cream store named after, but nowhere near, an “Old Bridge.” Not that a new bridge would be any more logical.
It’s a shoe and leather goods store. So it’s like calling a tattoo parlor “The Surgeon.” (Think about it.)
Or not at all right for any context:
I don’t know what this place does, but I don’t think I want to meet the owner.
A fancy decoration shop — or is it? It’s not easy to see, but notice the slogan at the top.
And of course, there’s always the occasional pun:
An ice cream parlor in Rome. Get it? Get it? The same company runs a strip club farther south called “Pink Naples.”
And lastly, there’s always the occasional impenetrable mystery. Like the slogan of this pasta place:
You shake what? A leg? Il tuo booty? And how is that going to improve the linguine?
In closing, I’d like to express my thanks to the owner of that restaurant, and the owners of all the poorly named or sloganed businesses in Italy, France and around the world.
As we always say here at C’est Ironique:
You choose (the English), we shake (with laughter).
An album of David Jaggard’s comic compositions is now available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Music, for purchase (whole or track by track) on iTunes and Amazon, and on every other music downloading service in the known universe, under the title “Totally Unrelated.”
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