When 1 equals 2

Elevator_panel_2012_straightenedShrunkA few years back, when I was still living in Spain but visiting my sister in Texas, we got on an elevator to go up to an office for an appointment. The elevator buttons offered a choice of B 1 2 so I asked, “Which one?

She laughed at me, and after a moment I understood why. In the United States (and most of Canada), B 1 2 means “Basement, 1st Floor (Ground Floor), 2nd Floor.” In Spain (and most of Europe) B 1 2 means “Bajo (Lower or Ground or 0 Floor), 1st Floor, 2nd Floor.”

In other words, what is called the 2nd Floor in the United States is the 1st Floor in Spain. I had only one choice going up, and that was 2, because we were already at 1, the ground floor.

This is a detail to bear in mind when translating. For example, in 2014, a huge storm hit Spain’s north Atlantic coast, delivering 7-storey-high waves – or at least that’s how they were described in Spain. But if I were going to tell someone in the United States about it, I would have to say they were 8 storeys high, especially in Texas where everything is bigger. (You can see spectacular photos here.)

There are other details of language and culture to bear in mind, for example:

Billion means 1,000,000,000 or a thousand million in the United States (and some other countries) and 1,000,000,000,000 or a million million in Spain (and some other countries). This often causes problems.

• Some countries, including Spain, use a comma to indicate decimals, so 1,234 might equal 1.234, or about 1¼. Reciprocally, 1.234 in Spain (and some other countries) equals 1,234 or one thousand two hundred thirty-four. There’s a big difference.

• In Spain, morning is the time period that lasts from getting up until the main meal is eaten at about 2 p.m., so it is still “morning” after noon. Also, television prime time (horario central) in Spain starts at 10 p.m.

• The expression fifteen days in Spanish means two weeks, or “fortnight” if you’re British.

• Payment for work, such as minimum wage, is expressed by a monthly rate in Spain (and some other countries), not hourly.

So if you ever compare a translation to the original and numbers look different, they may still be the same. The translator may have had to do a little math. It’s part of the job.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s