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You Are Invited to Take Advantage of the Chambermaid

"You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid."

You may have seen some of those funny signs like the one above that was supposed to have been posted in a Japanese hotel. It was apparently written by someone who knows English but who doesn’t speak it as a native language. A native speaker of English knows what that sign means, but the words don’t express it just right. Here are a few others:

France (hotel): "Please leave your values at the front desk."

Norway (hotel lounge): "Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar."

Hong Kong (tailor’s shop): "Ladies may have a fit upstairs."

Italy (laundry): "Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time."

Mexico (hotel restaurant): "The manager has personally passed all the water served here."

My work permit with IKEA expired and so I’m looking for other things to do. Having seen examples like the ones above, it occurred to me that there may be a need here for a service to make corrections to English text written by non-native English language speakers. In the U.S. when one wants to provide a service, he just does it and files his tax return as a sole proprietorship at year’s end. In the Netherlands, one must register with kvk, which is the Dutch Chamber of Commerce. It doesn’t cost very much for a person with a residence card to register but they want to know who is doing what.

I paid a visit to kvk recently and spoke a very nice woman named Joanna. Coincidently, Joanna lived in Philadelphia for the best part of a year about 20 years ago and, like most Dutch people, she spoke English well. I explained what it was that I want to do. "So you want to be a translator," she said. No, that’s not exactly right. I don’t want to translate Dutch text to English; I want to take English text written by someone else and refine it to make it sound like it was written by a native English speaker. She eventually seemed to understand what I meant. The reason that this was significant is that she had to enter a short description of my activity into her database so that I could be found by someone else needing that service.

After we came to an understanding, there was some paperwork involved. She presented me with a three-page form. I noticed the first page contained space for my name, address, phone number, etc., and that the last two pages were a description of my activity and some other kvk items. "Here," she said as she put the form in front of me. "I’ll fill out the two back pages and you can put your privates on the first page."

I smiled. "This is an excellent example of the service I want to provide," I said. She looked at me inquisitively. "What you mean is that I should fill out the front page with my personal information. What a native speaker of the English language would have heard you say was that I should put my genitals on the page."

"Oh. Okay," she said. "Now I fully understand."

I hope so!


2008 Rick Wexler   last updated February 21, 2008