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French-English Menu/Carte Translations

John Talbott Aug 23, 2013 10:56 AM

On a recent thread, I suggested we devote a thread to this since that thread really was wandering OT.
So, a new opportunity encouraged by the moderators. And since TMK we have at least three professional (that means paid) translators here in Paris who contribute to CH and many other observers, this should be a rich topic.
Egregious food/restaurant mistranslations French to English you've seen?

  1. BlueOx Aug 26, 2013 06:27 AM

    In May, we ducked into a faux English pub in a Paris suburb to get out of the rain, ordered lots of interesting beers and one of us wanted a pizza. The menu had both French and English, so our friend order the one interpreted on the menu as a 4 cheese pizza. So we got 4 cheese pizzas. The owner sorted the whole thing out and refereed to his 2 waiters and “dumb and dumber”. Wasn’t really their fault, but everyone got a big laugh out of it. And the staff wasted no time downing the remaining 3 pizzas. We left a big tip.

    1. mangeur Aug 25, 2013 07:21 PM

      There should be a companion thread entitled "What you just said" that compiles the faux pas that we visitors cheerfully make while plying our imitation French. Such as the beautiful young friend whom the waiters were vying to serve; when asked if she had chosen smiled brightly and replied "Vous" rather than "veau", causing the young waiter to turn crimson.

      7 Replies
      1. re: mangeur
        Jake Dear Aug 25, 2013 08:23 PM

        " the faux pas that we visitors cheerfully make while plying our imitation French" --

        Indeed! Doubtless, I have committed countless more assaults on the French language than I have been subjected to on cartes/menus. My wife, who comprehends far better than me -- but is more reluctant to speak -- always tells me what a fool I made of myself, usually after the fact.

        But my favorite -- in line with mangeur's "vous" story -- was at an end-of-lunch table in deep Alsace, when a friend gamely told the male proprietor (whose wife was prominently identified as the chef) that she was "bon" or some similar word in French -- and received in response a raised eyebrow, along with "how do you know"? -- Jake

        1. re: mangeur
          sunshine842 Aug 25, 2013 08:50 PM

          my best friend married a French fellow and moved to France without speaking a single word of the language. they went to dinner after a year or so, and she was anxious to try out her fledgling language skills.

          She proudly asked for pizza, but tragically substituted "oeuf" for "boeuf"....she *hates* egg on pizza, so she was horrified to see not one, but TWO eggs on her pizza...

          Hubby didn't realize (yet) that egg on the pizza was a no-go, so he didn't know to try to stop her.

          Another, and my all-time favourite, was a different friend who started buying saumon sans arête, because it must be fresh if it hasn't stopped since it was caught -- direct to market, indeed! (this one still makes me giggle)

          1. re: mangeur
            Laidback Aug 26, 2013 06:24 AM

            Indeed a fertile field there, Mangeur. I heard of an American high school French teacher who took a group of students to France with custom T-shirts stating "Baisez-moi, I'm American".

            Ptipois has a good point; humor is not really humorous unless it cuts both ways

            1. re: Laidback
              Ptipois Aug 27, 2013 08:29 AM

              As a matter of fact, today there was a mention of lunch at "L'ami Saint Jean". Huh, wonder where that may be :-)

              1. re: Ptipois
                Parigi Aug 27, 2013 09:20 AM

                Jégo was beatified, which he so deserves.

                1. re: Parigi
                  John Talbott Aug 27, 2013 10:03 AM

                  You beat me to it; except I hope it doesn't go to his head.

                  1. re: John Talbott
                    Ptipois Aug 27, 2013 02:16 PM

                    He is a Breton. Nothing can go to his head. It is too hard.

          2. sunshine842 Aug 25, 2013 05:43 PM

            demi poulet rôti = half-cooked chicken (oh, so close, but yet so far)

            5 Replies
            1. re: sunshine842
              manouche Aug 27, 2013 02:24 AM

              sunshine - loved the "sans arrete" story...

              Ma Bourgogne lists the foie gras entree as "liverwurst" - but the price is definitely "gras"!

              1. re: manouche
                sunshine842 Aug 27, 2013 03:54 AM

                lol -- my grandfather's lady friend (who was one of the pickiest adults I've ever known, despite her protestations that she ate almost everything) spit out a bite of foie gras entiere that I'd bought from an artisanal farm in the Dordogne and declared it liverwurst.

                She wasn't allowed any more.

                1. re: sunshine842
                  mangeur Aug 27, 2013 07:47 AM

                  And then there was the negative restaurant review from the woman who complained that she ordered fois gras because the restaurant had a reputation for serving the best and was served calves liver. Warm, yet.

                  1. re: mangeur
                    sunshine842 Aug 27, 2013 05:09 PM


                    1. re: sunshine842
                      PhilD Aug 28, 2013 04:05 AM

                      Pearls before swine

            2. Laidback Aug 25, 2013 01:12 PM

              As I mentioned in "The Other Thread" some that I have noticed:
              net of oxen=filet of beed
              Calf language=langue de veau
              whole grilled wolf=loup de mer entière grillé
              and the ever popular lawyers salad=salade d'avocat

              1. t
                tortoiseshell Aug 25, 2013 12:26 AM

                Peking Duck = lacquered loin of duck

                1. Jake Dear Aug 24, 2013 08:56 PM

                  Well, one of our favorites (prehaps because we are both avocados), is when we see "salad with lawyers." -- Jake

                  1. LulusMom Aug 24, 2013 04:36 PM

                    This was in Budapest, which is so obviously not in France, but I'm still wondering what the translation "flecken of gypsy heart" really meant in Hungarian. Just so you know, I did not order it.

                    1. Parigi Aug 23, 2013 01:01 PM

                      Pimp: Maquereau
                      Roach beef: Not sure

                      A lovely waitress in one of the many wonderful French bistros with Japanese chefs keeps recommending the Menu Supplice. We finally understood Menu Surprise.

                      1. p
                        Ptipois Aug 23, 2013 12:53 PM

                        I won't be taking part in this until every poster to this board spells French names of restaurants, chefs, foods, etc., correctly.

                        18 Replies
                        1. re: Ptipois
                          John Talbott Aug 23, 2013 01:09 PM

                          Oh oh, whatdidIdo now?
                          Bigarrade Biggarade; Accueil Acceuil, rillettes rilettes, kouign amann Queenaman.

                          1. re: John Talbott
                            Ptipois Aug 23, 2013 02:27 PM

                            Oh, *that*'s nothing.

                            1. re: John Talbott
                              sunshine842 Aug 25, 2013 05:44 PM

                              don't forget wahla.

                              1. re: sunshine842
                                melpy Aug 25, 2013 05:54 PM

                                Oh that just kills me. I want to tear my hair out every time I see it.

                            2. re: Ptipois
                              Yank Aug 25, 2013 09:12 AM

                              Are you sure you want to wait that long?

                              I doubt that the phenomenon of we 'foreigners' spelling things correctly in any language is a distant dream,

                              I admire your idealism!

                              1. re: Yank
                                John Talbott Aug 25, 2013 12:06 PM

                                If you have ADHD/dyslexia, and the computer does autocorrect, you live with it.

                              2. re: Ptipois
                                PhilD Aug 25, 2013 04:47 PM

                                I am with Pti - my language skills are appalling so I don't laugh at those that try to translate. Given the number of menus, signs and amount of information translated into English in France it's good to see how few errors there are.

                                1. re: PhilD
                                  mangeur Aug 25, 2013 05:14 PM

                                  My issue is that the soul is squeezed out of the dish with translation. The poetry. The "what we've learned to know and love".

                                  Facing an Anglo translation, I have to try to grasp the original name before sighing and agreeing, "Ah, yes, cassoulet. Why didn't they say so." ;)

                                  1. re: mangeur
                                    boredough Aug 26, 2013 12:46 AM

                                    In that line of thought, I once booked a restaurant for my SIL (traveling to Paris with her husband & 2 teenagers). They walked up to the restaurant & perused the menu with its English translation. Saw "filet of deer", said "ewwwwww" and decided to go elsewhere. Had the restaurant written "venison" they probably would not have envisioned Bambi on a plate.

                                    1. re: boredough
                                      Ptipois Aug 26, 2013 02:58 AM

                                      "Deer" is not exactly a bad translation in a culinary context. And it's the same animal — do they believe venison grows on trees?
                                      So they left the restaurant you had booked for them only for a question of vocabulary? I can't help finding that somewhat rude of them.

                                      Gee, this is a bit wrong isn't it? Restaurateurs in France going out of their way to provide some sort of translation for foreigners, with any poor means they have (few people in the restaurant business were stars of their English class when in high school, and few visitors of France are fluent enough in French to be sensitive to that "soul factor"), and being made fun here of or just walked out on just for a minor terminology issue.

                                      1. re: Ptipois
                                        Parigi Aug 26, 2013 03:24 AM

                                        O, pti, please don't take it wrong.
                                        I collect menu mistranslations all over the world. Especially in this day and age of Google Translate. It's just funny. For example in China, "F*ck Noodle" has been used so often on so many menus it has become a standard translation.

                                        1. re: Parigi
                                          Ptipois Aug 26, 2013 05:24 AM

                                          Parigi: how would most people here react if I listed all the mispellings and entertaining-though-unintentional français callisthenics I read here everyday?

                                          I never did that, because I'm sure a lot of readers here would be shocked and call me bigoted and chauvinist. Sometimes when it is too likely to impair the search engine, I mention it.

                                          This is a true concern, even if I appear as a party-pooper: restaurant owners do not have to provide translated menus. They do that for business and also to help customers, even if it doesn't, ultimately. I understand this is all very funny but to me, it wouldn't have that slight bitter aftertaste if I felt confident about reciprocity.

                                        2. re: Ptipois
                                          boredough Aug 26, 2013 03:33 AM

                                          True, but these were teenagers who hadn't yet learned to be flexible (sadly). And not having been introduced to this kind of dish before, 'venison' might not have even been noticed or questioned. Or at least not until they were seated when the likelihood of walking out would have been very slim. (To be clear, they read this on the menu that was posted outside.) My point was that a poor translation might not encourage someone to order a particular dish, which is unfortunate for both the chef & the potential diner. He/she might not be tempted by "burnt cream", but might actually love crème brûlée (which needs no translation).

                                          1. re: boredough
                                            Ptipois Aug 26, 2013 05:18 AM

                                            I understand, but in this case a bad translation is not the culprit. I have eaten what was labeled as "deer" and not "venison" in England.

                                            It is true that an ugly translation might not encourage to try a dish, but I'd trust customers to at least realize that they should not necessarily take an attempt at a translation at face value...

                                            1. re: Ptipois
                                              Parigi Aug 26, 2013 05:34 AM

                                              " I have eaten what was labeled as "deer" and not "venison" in England."
                                              That's the Chinese in you.

                                              1. re: Parigi
                                                Ptipois Aug 26, 2013 05:50 AM

                                                It was not a Chinese restaurant.

                                        3. re: boredough
                                          John Talbott Aug 26, 2013 06:26 AM

                                          "Bambi on a plate."
                                          In the spirit of Jonathan Swift let's let it rip with Bambi, Peter (R), Ferdinand, Rocky, Porky, Ed (the talking horse), Turbo, Remy and Lassie or Uggi (OK the latter are from my Viet Nam not French experiences).

                                    2. re: Ptipois
                                      Parigi Aug 25, 2013 05:25 PM

                                      Not even if I ask everyone to use the arcane search function to search the term "Bouillabaise (boiled f*ck" on this board, instead of "bouillabaisse ? It goes on for pages.

                                    3. b
                                      bcc Aug 23, 2013 11:58 AM


                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: bcc
                                        John Talbott Aug 23, 2013 01:02 PM

                                        To my knowledge I only know 3.

                                        1. re: John Talbott
                                          bcc Aug 23, 2013 02:32 PM

                                          Merci beaucoup!

                                      2. boredough Aug 23, 2013 11:55 AM

                                        I'll open the bidding with these:
                                        poivrons = let's pepper
                                        pavé de saumon = salmon paving stone
                                        pièce du boucher = piece of butcher (hmmm)
                                        moule = mold

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