Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lost in Translation

I imagine it will come as no big surprise that sometimes our American expressions/shprehje don’t make much sense in Shqip when it is a literal translation. And vice versa, of course/sigurisht! In my first week of volunteer service at the Bashkia Elbasan, I’ve discovered just how often I used expressions to communicate. The following are only a few examples that earned me cocked heads, questionable stares and some “Çfarë?’s…What’s or Huh’s?”:
• You are rubbing off on me.
• Let’s take the bull by the horns.
• I’m just been flying by the seat of my pants. (This one was exacerbated by my wearing of a dress that day. And then, my first attempts at clarification of shooting from the hip or winging it did little to help!)

And now, the flip side:
• As mish, as peshk. LITERAL: Not meat, not fish. FIGURATIVE…eh, today I’m neither good nor bad. It has other neither/nor meanings too, but that is the simplest.
• Bën një urimë në ujë. LITERAL: To make a hole in water. FIGURATIVE…wasted effort. I see it as the Shqip version of “herding cats!”
• Fishkelle fort. LITERAL: Whistle hard or strongly. FIGURATIVE: Getting nowhere!

Thanks to some kind-hearted Shqiptare souls, other pearls of wisdom…or rather advice on words to avoid, have come along the way! The English sounds of “car” and “peach” refer to anatomy. Use your imaginations! So saying to someone… “Watch out for this car!” is either ridiculously alarming or a REALLY bad pick-up line! Oh, so the word for car is makine. I’m running some drills on that vocab right there! Also, I was recently told that when I say, “I’m excited about that” it is perceived as “that turns me on.” So, yea….um, I’m regretting telling people about how excited I am to work with them. No wonder everyone is so nice! Do’h! Luckily, I value laughing at myself over embarrassment. Besides, all I can do is to keep learning.

Another thing that keeps me laughing is even with experienced translators….sometimes things just seem a little misunderstood. Take this advertisement for a rental car company* not far from my house. Whoa! Really? I mean…if this doesn’t make you want to rent a car…..I don’t know what would! Hey Oh! I remember my first time, and it was actually pretty awkward. First of all, I wasn’t old enough to do it legally and since my parents were across the country, my uncle had to give permission. YES…I AM, IN FACT, TALKING ABOUT MY FIRST CAR RENTAL! What were YOU thinking??? (well, to appease some dirty minds out there, THAT first was pretty awkward too.) And well... whether it was awkward or fantastic, whether it blew your mind or your gasket, whether it cost you some money or some integrity, whether it was simple or complicated, the truth is….Ju nuk harroni asnjëherë me pare juaj/†You never forget your first!

Peace, Love and "Come again?"

*OK…so I can’t take credit for the discovery of this little nugget of pure joy! Kudos to Kristine and Vjollca for calling my attention to it during our blvd xhiro!
†Special shout-out to J. Matty and any of my other “firsts” out there!


  1. ...that's what I'm talking about...

  2. "To make a Hole in the water" is more like "pissing in the wind."