One of my biggest fears when I came to China was how could I replace some of the hobbies I did in the UK? I’m a Scout leader at home, but they don’t have Scouting here and going out with friends would also require me making friends first, so that would have to take a bit longer to get back into the swing of. Fortunately, China being China, it soon provided me with what I think is a very interesting new hobby, although some may think I’m just a little crazy: collecting bad English translations.
Now these can be on signs, or menus, which can be seen pretty much everywhere in China and they’re all hilarious. Regularly have I been brought to tears of laughter because of a mistranslation or a misunderstanding of English on a sign. They are fantastic to share with people at home, often with the reaction “that exists?!”
Whilst they are some of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, it’s also probably a bit of a disappointment to the Chinese government, as prior to the Olympics in Beijing, they had a drive to improve the English on signs for the influx of foreigners visiting China, especially in Beijing, for the Games. Some of these signs on this list are from Beijing, so all in all the government’s drive doesn’t seem to have been very successful, but I’ll leave you all to be the judge of that.
So drum roll please as I give you my top 10 badly translated signs I’ve spotted in China so far. I say so far, as I know there are loads more out there waiting for me to find. It was very difficult to choose just 10, I can tell you!
10. Now we regularly get warned about electricity and the dangers it poses, but never in my life have I been warned about static electricity, until I went to the Planning Exhibition in Beijing that is. I didn’t know it need a warning!
9. Have you ever smocked? And no that isn’t a typing error. Clearly people in Beihai Park in Beijing ‘smock’ instead of smoke.
8. I shouldn’t giggle, but this does sound rude, therefore anything sounding rude makes my top 10 list without question.
7. You’ve heard of foods labelled ‘a taste explosion.’ This dish seems to be a take on that, however, I’m not sure taste explosion would be a fitting description for it. I’ll leave to you judge whether you think so or not.
6. Now I know what this next sign is trying to tell me, I really do, but it’s the way it’s trying to tell me. Have you ever had a ‘head collision’? I’m betting if you did it would be more car crash related, rather than simply hitting your head on a low door frame in Huashan, near Xi’an.
5. At first glance this sounds like an order but thinking about, it could also sound like a protection notice. Am I not to scratch the relic? Or will the relic not scratch me? Tricky.
4. This is from a ride in a park in my current city, Zhangzhou.
Now, I’m sure I’ve been brought up calling them ‘chairoplanes’ and I think ‘fly chair’ isn’t such a bad translation, however what ‘shaking his head’ has got to do with anything is beyond me!
3. This is a sign from Ordos, a city in Inner Mongolia.
‘Only’ is spelt wrong and it’s missing a ‘p’, but it changes the context completely. All I had to do was modify it a little in Paint, and voila, it’s correct again!
2. What I love about this sign is the fact that I do not understand it, at all! Hugs to anyone out there who can guess what it is trying to tell visitors to Mutianyu Great Wall.
1. This is my all time favourite, mostly because it’s a 2-for-1 deal! I saw these translations in two separate restaurants in Beijing. They are for a dish of mushrooms and pak choi, but from their English name you wouldn’t know.
They also have two ever so slightly different meanings, both obscure…
The moral of the story? China is a wonderfully funny country to live and teach English in. Always, always carry your camera with you as you never know what could be standing in front of you around the next corner!
Thanks Sarah! You should check out Sarah’s own blog ‘The Further Adventures of Bennett for more stories from China!