I love to write about interpreting, intercultural communication, Latin America & the UK.

Translating the lunch menu for LatAm diplomats

Latin American food

Contrary to popular belief, sometimes it is easier to translate a meeting about infrastructure and digital modelling than it is a simple lunch menu.

No, I have not lost my mind – nor my words.

It so happens that the more mundane and every day something is, the more ways of saying it there are; whereas technical stuff tend to remain ‘standard’ and ‘neutral’.

One of my translation teachers back at university used to explain this with clothing. In his example, the more intimate the garment, the greater the regional and socioeconomic varieties. If we think about it, a coat is a coat here, there, and anywhere, but how many different words to name underwear do you know, even in your own language?

Think knickers, panties, pants, bikini, undies, underwear, unmentionables, and so on – and that is in English alone.

Interestingly, this phenomenon is the same in all languages and more so in those spoken in several countries, such as Spanish is. And, obviously, is not restricted to items of clothing alone.

So, during a technical mission, it does not matter whether the participants in a meeting are from Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, or Peru as the words used to talk about, let’s say, bridges, water supply, electrical grids, airports, railways, and more in Spanish are pretty much the same in all Latin American countries.

However, come lunch time, it does matter – and very much so.

‘Beetroot’ is called betabel in Mexico, betarraga in Chile, and remolacha in most other Spanish-speaking countries.

‘Sweet-potatoes’ are boniatos in Uruguay and Spain, camotes in Central America, and batatas almost everywhere else.

And so on. And so on.

It would not be farfetched to say, then, that I speak 24 languages: English, Portuguese, and the Spanish spoken in all 22 countries in the Ibero-American world.

I am getting hungry now, so over to you: What are you having for lunch today?

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