Sunday, September 2, 2007

'When I look at my backside, I find it is divided into two parts'

1 Sep 2007, ST

CANBERRA - IN THE world of international diplomacy, the best-chosen words or phrases can leave an audience laughing, bewildered or simply lost in translation, an insider has revealed.

Undiplomatic Activities, a yet-to-be-launched book by Mr Richard Woolcott, who ran Australia's foreign service for four years, points to the pitfalls of translating thoughts into different languages.

Take the Australian diplomat in France who tried to tell his audience that as he looked back on his career, it was divided in two parts, with dull postings before life in Paris.

'When I look at my backside, I find it is divided into two parts,' Mr Woolcott quoted the diplomat as telling his highly amused audience.

Ex-Australian prime minister Bob Hawke left his Japanese audience bewildered when he used the Australian colloquial phrase 'I am not here to play funny buggers' to dismiss a trivial and pesky question from lawmakers.

The Japanese interpreters 'went into a huddle to consult on the best way to render 'funny buggers' into Japanese', he wrote.

Their translation: 'I am not here to play laughing homosexuals with you.'

Australia's Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd is regarded as a master of Mandarin. But his language skills were far from perfect when, as a diplomat in 1984, he interpreted his ambassador's speech on the close relationship Australia and China enjoyed.

'Australia and China are enjoying simultaneous orgasms in their relationship,' he apparently told the audience in Mandarin.

Mr Woolcott said the best interpretations sometimes involved no translation at all, like what happened when an Asian minister told a long joke at a banquet in Seoul.

'The Korean interpreter was lost, but did not show it. He uttered a few sentences and the audience laughed and applauded,' he wrote.

After being complimented on his translation skills, the interpreter confessed: 'Frankly, minister, I did not understand your joke, so I said in Korean that the minister has told his obligatory joke, would you all please laugh heartily and applaud.'


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