Ivrit kasha safa – it's a tough language

It's easy to laugh at mistakes. Perhaps it's not fair to laugh at the translator who translated the full-page color ad on page 3 of Friday's Metro supplement of the Jerusalem Post. But I can't help it – it was funny, and I can't help wondering who's responsible, how much this huge ad cost, and how other readers reacted to the weird address prominently displayed at the top of the page.

See, there's this company that holds sales of art reproductions, prints, and possibly also originals. Once in a while they advertise a big sale offering great bargains. They usually rent a hall in some public building.

The ad in the J. Post says:

We are forced to close our chain of galleries and must sell all of our stock at

"Bayit Yeudi Beserbia"

Tel Aviv

I wonder how many readers blinked and said the proverbial "Huh?..."

I don't know how many Jewish homes there are in Serbia these days…

I do know that there is no building by that name in Tel Aviv; the Hebrew name of the building is Beit Yehudei Besarabia, commemorating Jews from that area of what was at the time Romania.

No doubt about it, Hebrew can be a pretty awkward language. Even native Hebrew speakers are sometimes confounded by words written without nikud. If it's a word you've never come across before, if there's no context, if it can be read in several ways.

On the other hand, some combinations are so common and familiar, that they're a dead giveaway. For example, the "beit" in words such as beit sefer, beit holim.

We're also used to seeing this combination in names of buildings: Beit Asia – Asia House; Beit Tzionei American – ZOA House, and so on and so forth.

Whoever translated the ad obviously went to the trouble of looking up at least some things; otherwise he/she could not have guessed, for example, how to spell the name of the artist Pichhadze; on the other hand, he/she would have known to write Ruth Schloss, not Schlos. So I'm rather mystified, that's all.

Ruminations of a frustrated blogger

I wake up in the morning, my head teeming with brilliant ideas. Okay, at least they seem brilliant through the mist of half-sleep. They may dull a bit upon closer inspection, by the cold (30 deg. C) harsh light of day.

By the time I've showered and done my sun salutations on the narrow strip of relatively dust-free floor alongside my bed, half the post is written in my head.

If I'm lucky, I get to jot down a few ideas in my notebook (not Notebook) during breakfast. I have some really witty phrases, scathing remarks and entertaining quips dancing in my mind just begging to be put into Word.

But then the Work Day begins, and all my creativity is steamrolled out of me by the Exigencies of Life.

Said Exigencies currently comprise two chief culprits:

- My kitchen-in-the-making, already alluded to in my previous, klappa-related post (June 24th, 2008)

- The City of Rishon LeZion and its Roadworks Department, currently tearing up the road right under my window.

The only two rooms in the house that have escaped a fate worse than dust are our bedroom, which is only marginally messier than normal, and the tiny lavender-colored (your fault, Sparklette) aptly-named Water Closet known in Hebrew as sherutim, i.e. services, which I've always found funny, as I still half expect the tiny "room" to address me with a polite "How may I be of service, Ma'am," when I step in.

Of all the 1,675 streets in Greater Rashlatz, they had to start digging up mine. Again. This time it's with the purpose of scraping and resurfacing it. Do you know what a huge, noisy, green-or-yellow monster it takes to scrape yon road with deep ruts, like a stainless steel fork through a bed of mashed potatoes? Actually yes, I'm sure most of you know.

I've turned down job after unappealing job with the excellent excuse that I just can't concentrate.

Micha the shiputznik (handyman? Renovations contractor?) – the one who addresses me as "motek" -- and his two aides de camp, Simon and Moses, stride in around 8 a.m., and head straight for the coffee corner I set up not far from the rubble, in what used to be my lounge.

As I stare at the ruins, I begin to wonder if I know what I'm doing, and what was so terribly wrong, anyway, with my old kitchen.

Hubby and I have migrated to the front porch. Which overlooks the street where those big yellow monsters go garrumphing by. We set up our dinette table in-between our desks, after having sent the two large potted plants for some R&R with the next-door neighbor, bless her.

* * *

Well, patient readers, this is as far as I got. No need to bore you with all the grimy details. The deed is done. The kitchen is up and running. Well, not by itself, of course. It still requires some human input and elbow-grease. If you want to see it, here's the link to the pictorial saga: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ninush/

If you want advice on how not to order a new kitchen, feel free to contact me.

The dangers of phone consumer surveys

My colleague Miriam Erez contributed the following:

"Last night I answered a phone consumer survey on moist wipes (yes, I do this if I have time, having once done this job and thus testifying that it's one of the hardest jobs I've done. Plus I actually enjoy them!). Anyway, moist wipes. The caller repeatedly asked for my evaluation of various properties of (a list of) moist wipe products that included *Farsh Wahnz* and a product I'd never heard of called *AH-geese*. The survey took 18 minutes (even though she told me it would take eight). It wasn't 'til Minute 15 that it dawned on me: *AH-geese* > Huggies!"

- I don't know how many of you are familiar with Israeli slang, but my daughter-in-law uses "farsh" quite often, to describe things that are lame, unsatisfactory, shvach (Yiddish) or schwach (German).

Miriam continues:

"Well I sure wasn't gonna 1) embarrass her and 2) take up more of my own leisure time by informing her that due to her inability to correctly pronounce the name of the product she's supposed to be surveying, we'd have to backtrack and change all my *AH-geese* answers (all of which were "never heard of it"). If it throws off their results, serves them right for 1) Not localizing the product's name (*chibuki*?) and 2) Having failed to localize, neglecting to instruct the public in how to correctly pronounce it. Aaargh!"

The things we Israeli translators take for granted…

I suspect there isn't a single Israeli, no matter of what descent or ethnic community, who does not recognize Russian when he or she hears it spoken. Wherever we go, we hear Russian olim conversing with each other; on the bus, at the supermarket, in line for the post office or the doctor. You don't have to be a linguist to recognize the sound of the language. But what about, say, Rumanian, Hungarian, Polish, Czech, or Serbo-Croatian …? Some people would go "Pshaw! Obviously! How can you confuse them? Each has such a distinctive sound!" Others may shrug – "they all sound more or less the same to me." But I'm sure no one would think for a moment that those languages are the same, or at least so similar that any speaker of one would automatically understand speakers of the other.

"I was surprised to learn," says the university-educated American heroine of this novel I'm reading (not exactly of my free will) "that the Romanian language is not similar to Russian at all, despite the proximity of the two countries."