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Sweet Salted Translations

December 13, 2007
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I wonder if you’ll think the ‘English’ translations of Indian food as funny as I do. Many of the words used are of French origin, mostly to make the products sound exotic! Here are some pictures of Haldiram’s products, which are largely exported.

Soan Papdi is called a Gateau De Soan and a Soan Cake. But a Gateau, a word of French origin brings forth images of chocolate and cream, not Soan! In any case, Gateau means means baked food and Soan Papdi is roasted, and mixed with sugar syrup!

And these ‘cakes’ are also called Bonbons! Well, bonbon is an English word, although of French origin. The word bonbon refers to several types of sweets and in Europe a bonbon is a candy. It is in fact the French and German word for candy.

Then there is our simple Bhujia snack. The French translation of snack is given on the front of the pack, making me wonder whether they sell only to France! But I guess it’s for Europeans who don’t understand English? Haldiram’s exports to as many as 50 countries.

The ‘mixture’ as we call it here in English and even Hinglish, is called Melange on the pack. As a purely selling strategy I wonder why using French words or words of French origin works. Gives the product a ‘higher’ status? Really, Melange De Jaipur sounds quite over the top! And as to why these guys are selling these packs here…well, they are trying to impress the Indian consumers I guess…

Related viewing: Funny signs
Amul hoardings
Funny Pune signboards
A funny battered car
Bal Thackeray’s election campaign ads
Freaky electronic scenes

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2007 9:17 am

    Your post made me rummage through my snacks collection. However, I couldn’t find any French translations on them. I think they would use Spanish for the United States, if at all. Maybe these snack packs are for Europe only?

  2. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    December 13, 2007 9:58 am

    Reminds me of the Ahmedabad entrepreneur who decided to package papads cut into strips and sell them in Italy as “papadini”! It worked initially. I haven’t kept track of how the product is doing subsequently.

    The examples you give are OK for foreign markets. But what really gets my goat is dosa described as as “crepe”, chapati as “pancake” or aam-papad as “mango-pulp cake” in the domestic market.

    And of course the height of pretentiousness is the section headings on the menus of some soi-disant upmarket Ahmedabad restaurants announcing “snakes” (snacks) and “poisons” (poissons).

  3. December 13, 2007 2:33 pm

    Well, they would otherwise have to print on the bhujia packet something like: “flour with powdered sawdust fried in rapeseed oil adulterated with stolen, recycled airplane fuel’.🙂

  4. ulag permalink
    December 13, 2007 2:50 pm

    Hehe…nice post Nita….iv noticed those french words too and i could never make head or tail of them. But i think these translations may be for the new age urban Indian consumer. As in, when i was a kid, to buy these snacks i just had to go to the store where i could ask for it in my native tongue. But in the age of Walmarts and other retail giants i dont think thtll be possible. So probably theyre giving them these translations and fancy names so that it can be something common for everyone…or else each would be naming it in his own native language.

  5. December 13, 2007 5:36 pm

    Nita: My hypothesis was that they may be using surplus packaging from their export business. However European food labelling laws are quite stringent and detailed; therefore the minuscule detail appearing on the packs suggest that this packaging is not surplus from export after all.

    I am not a keen snacker but even so, I have never seen such packs in the UK or in Europe. And by the way, a European who can read French descriptors almost certainly speaks English. Continental Europeans are multilingual and in some countries, Joe Bloggs speaks up to 4 languages. The only monoglots in Europe are the British. So that is not a likely explanation either.

    Why not ask someone at Haldiram’s?🙂

    PS: Hmm. My blog name is French too – it sounded more lyrical than in English. And I could not make it sound poetic in German, could I?

  6. Jackie permalink
    December 13, 2007 7:00 pm

    Nita, I am working on another momma story themed around foodstuffs, translated into English, or “Engrish”, as it is called. I love visiting Asian (Oriental) grocers with her in the city, and some things are cute or very unintentionally funny with their English language translations, such as “Tea to Help the bowels” or the intriguing “husband cake”. I always wondered if these were for repellant purposes or to lure a husband?🙂

  7. December 13, 2007 7:11 pm

    At least they called it snacks and not snakes (yes I’ve actually seen this typo).

  8. December 13, 2007 7:50 pm

    Ruhi, now I am seriously thinking whether these products are for the Indian markets only!!🙂

    VIvek, mosly I find these translations quite funny. I think perhaps these guys don’t know the difference between English and French!

    Rdoc,
    hope that’s not how you make your soan cakes!🙂

    Ulag,
    thanks. I am thinking that maybe this is right, perhaps they are catering to the all-india audience, including foreigners who live in India!

    Shefaly, only Haldiram’s can solve this mystery! You know what, perhaps one of their ancestor’s was French!

    Jackie
    🙂 You should come to India to see really funny spellings, not to mention ‘English’ names and phrases.

    Zen,
    there’s no dearth of typos! Menus is small hotels are abosolutely replete with them, and for me always a source of great fun!

  9. December 13, 2007 8:13 pm

    Hi Nita, it’s true of any translation program, the results are always humorous.

  10. December 13, 2007 9:58 pm

    @Brian:

    True, I have seen some pretty funny English signs when I was in China.

  11. December 14, 2007 1:20 am

    Interesting post! My question though, is why do they need to translate at all? These are proper nouns. It isn’t like crepes are called French dosas.

    Must be the indian nature to bend over for the white man…

  12. December 14, 2007 2:29 am

    Must be the indian nature to bend over for the white man…

    Whether it’s bending over or a marketing tactic can be easily found out by looking at their packages sold in Arabic-speaking or non-white-non-English-speaking countries.🙂

  13. December 14, 2007 7:36 am

    Thanks DD, Amit.
    Actually I am still trying to figure out why they sell these french translations in India! Most of Halidram’s packets carry these silly translations…why can’t they have separate packaging for India. My daughter tells me that they want to impress Indians because in India anything that is ‘export quality’ is considered better quality.

  14. December 15, 2007 12:15 am

    As long as they taste good I don’t mind the translations Nita🙂
    It is like Krishna becoming Kris and Indersen becoming Anderson in America🙂

  15. December 16, 2007 5:15 pm

    It sounds exotic..that’s it IMO. If Haldiram’s exporting to 50 countries, why would they put only French. Wouldn’t that repel the proud Brit off?

    I remember we named our college fest in some weird German word (which meant ‘the corpses are dancing’ ) only because the word sounded so nice. Maybe it’s to serve only that very purpose..

  16. December 17, 2007 9:40 am

    Prerna, Anand – thanks.🙂

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