The view from Germany

Greetings from the Night Drivers 2017 European tour. Traveling in places where you don’t speak the language can be challenging. This tour is taking us primarily through German-speaking countries, and while I speak a little German, my knowledge is primarily limited to the following phrases:

“Wo ist der Bahnhof?” – “Where is the train station?”

“Wir haben CD zu verkaufen” – “We have CDs for sale”

“Drink your coffee!” – “Trink deinen Kaffee!”

“Ich habe den Ball nicht gefangen” – “I did not catch the ball”

“Willst du meine Briefmarkensammlung sehen?” – “Do you want to see my stamp collection?”

Fortunately, we have a native speaker in the band, Mark Stoffel, who helps us through most situations. Though he charges 5 Euros per translation, the rest of us consider it money well-spent, because when it comes to translating words into English, there’s no substitute for the human touch.

Restaurant menus are a good example: don’t even bother asking for an English language menu, because you’re going to see items that were probably the result of translation software of some kind, and you’ll see gems like this:

“Stripped pig with mixed leaves”

“Mirror egg with hacked meat”

You’re way better off with a local person giving their best approximation: “It’s some kind of pork thing with a salad.” That makes sense to me.

Google translate, though useful for simple phrases, was never meant to be used to translate longer paragraphs, or any sort of nuanced communications. If countries relied on this kind of technology for diplomatic discussion, numerous accidental wars would start. Tour press releases are another example of the kind of writing that should rely on humans, with knowledge of both languages, for effective translation. Here is a recent German article about our tour. Though based on an English language press release, when I ran it through Google Translate to get it back into English, I ended up with this:

“Chris Jones and Night Goers are making a tour in Europe for some days. They begin with concert making in Germany, where is from the mandolin man Mark Stoffel. At a recent viewing of Night Goers in Munich, house city of Herr Stoffel, the Munich Bluegrass Friends make honoring tribute for Mark as Legend of Munich blue turf.  For Mark is also to the first time of visiting through Europe since his becoming of citizen of U.S.A. carrying also passport out of her.

For the banjo playeress, Gina Clowes, they are to the first time of touring Europe as Night Goer since one and a half years. This tour of the Chris and Night Goers comes to its end in the Switzerland, on the Bluegrass Festival Willisau, a concert which goes for a very long time.  The musicians come soon again to U.S.A.”

Mind you, I occasionally see music press releases in English, written by native English speakers, which read like they were translated from German. That’s a whole other issue.

So long from Germany, and just to be clear, I did not catch the ball.