Rana Souki: Damn you, Google Translate!

Published on: February 12, 2012
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I have a habit of reading food labels. I read the nutritional information, the list of ingredients, and I search for grammatical and spelling mistakes in the commercial copy- like your typical teacher of English. I usually find handsome booty in Chinese products, the labels of which are notoriously fraught with typos and grammatical atrocities.

The other day, I was enjoying a roll of Ghazl El Banet (cotton candy), minding my own business, when I decided to look at the label inserted in the package. And boy did I find something worthy of a blog post-  just look at the below wonder of man and nature:

Where do I begin? This is so wrong on so many levels.

The manufacturer of this cotton candy (whose factory is in Dora, Rue “Saing” Joseph,) claims that “our good is our propaganda”. And sure enough, their goods are very tasty, so back off Mr. Goebbels, your services are not needed here.

The cherry on top of all of these copywriting disasters came to my attention a bit later than did the ones I just mentioned. Even though I am English educated, I was highly suspicious of the French in this prodigy; a quick search revealed that “barbe du pup” means ‘puppy’s beard’, and upon more research I discovered that this term does NOT refer to this candy neither in French nor in any other known language. To solve this mystery, I asked a French educated friend what Ghazl Lbanet means in French, and guess what I found out? It means ‘barbe á papa’. I mean, ‘pup’ and ‘papa’ are two different species of living things, so how could a person confuse one with the other? Beats me.

Several questions come to mind here; first of all, this product is obviously not intended for export (thank goodness), because the label doesn’t say “Made in Lebanon” and even the phone number doesn’t have the international code included. Thus being the case, why did the manufacturer feel compelled to use a foreign language he is obviously not competent at? And why didn’t he hire a copywriter to do the job for him? Better yet, the obvious, easy solution in this case would have been using Arabic instead of English to avoid the whole embarrassment, but no; we Lebanese are proud of our multilingualism. Aren’t we the people who speak three languages in the same sentence and thus are superior to our Arab neighbors? We have to keep up with the appearances since Arabic has become a low status, outdated language that’s reserved for the “uneducated” and the “anti-modern” bums.

Sadly, this is an Arab country where school children think of the Arabic session at school as an absolute waste of time and where parents boastfully announce their kids’ weak Arabic language skills “ibne d3eef bil Arabe”. Would they be so willing to publically admit such weaknesses in Math or French? I highly doubt it as that would be so.not.cool.

Rana Souki is a blogger and LBC blogs contributor. Find more of Rana’s Lebanese musings on her blog .

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  1. Rudy says:

    I liked this article. Well to give my two cents here, mainly why do lebanese feel proud that they are multilingual and “some” boost the fact that they are better in other languages than arabic, well i think this is because of an identity crisis.
    Most Lebanese, whether them being muslim or Christian, well maybe more Christians than muslims, can not relate in figure or culture or behavior to our fellow arab neighbors. I mean for instance, if i would ask, name me something that is special about the Gulf culture what could you say? i would probably say that they are friendly people and kind but aside that, nothing more really. Lebanese are different. i don’t mean to say we are better, this is a personal point of view and each to his own, i, myself, say am pheneocian. why? I don’t know. I just dont’t feel am Arabised enough to say am an Arab. I don’t relate to them enough to say i am.

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