Incorrect French signs at beach prove to be faux pas
Poor translations leave beach visitors firstname.lastname@example.orgOctober 07, 2012 2:00 AM
HAMPTON — You could say it’s just a petite faux pas. But at least one concerned provocateur claims incorrectly translated signs at Hampton Beach were confusing to French-Canadian visitors and demonstrated an utter lack of savoir-faire.
The signs were apparently erected as part of the state’s $14.5 million redevelopment project at Hampton Beach, where a major chunk of the tourism-based economy is fueled by French-Canadian visitors. Now state parks officials are replacing the signs rather than risk bidding any tourism dollars adieu.
One sign warning French speakers about rip currents was supposed to say, “If you’re in trouble, wave for assistance,” but instead it read, “if you need help, ocean wave.”
Though the signs are being replaced, the gaffe brought a harsh riposte from Richard L. Fortin, a former member of the state American and Canadian French Cultural Exchange Commission.
“It was plain embarrassing and made our state agencies look pretty idiotic,” Fortin said. “The signs were offensive and useless, and they did not show New Hampshire in its best light.”
For years, Hampton Beach tourist officials have credited French-Canadians with playing a big role in the success of the beach. John Kane, marketing director for the Hampton Beach Village Precinct, estimates Canadian tourists make up at least 30 percent of the beach’s summer business. That’s why, he said, they make a huge effort to make French-Canadians feel welcome, whether its proper signage or flying the Canadian flag.
Kane said he didn’t receive any complaints this summer about the state’s signage but he’s glad they were removed.
“I think it was an honest mistake,” Kane said. “I heard more complaints when someone accidently put up the Canadian flag upside down. That was quickly corrected and will never happen again.”
Fortin, a Manchester resident, said he visited the beach Aug. 24 with his friend Roland P. Cote, and both were astonished by translation on the signs, which he characterized as “gibberish.” Fortin said his friend quickly sent off a letter to the department overseeing state parks.
“Some of the language they were using would be unknown to French-Canadians,” said Fortin, who pointed out there are stark differences in language between French spoken in Canada and French spoken in France. He likened the language difference to English in the United States versus English in the United Kingdom.
Other instances, he said, was wrong word selection.
Bill Gegas, the state’s South Seacoast Parks supervisor, said as soon as they became aware of the problem, they removed all the signs from their parks.
Gegas said the state is in the process of making new signs and that all language will be checked for accuracy to ensure nothing is lost in translation.
The cost of the mistake, officials said, was minimal.
But Fortin said the state should have made sure the signs were correct before putting them up, noting there are many resources in New Hampshire, including a Franco-American Center in Manchester.
“DRED Commissioner George Bald is a bilingual Franco-American, a former mayor of Somersworth,” Fortin said. “They could have just called him.”
Bald recently announced his retirement, effective Nov. 1, as commissioner of the state’s Department of Resources and Economic Development.
Cote said it appeared to him the state used an English-to-French translation service from a computer. He said the words were translated literally but not in an understandable way.
“The problem is a word can have more than one meaning, so you need the context,” he said. Cote said he could understand only one line on the new sign and the rest was gibberish.
“We are the next-door neighbors to the French-speaking Quebec and they come and spend a lot of money here,” Cote said. “We need to be as welcoming as possible. And this is just basic hospitality.”
He added, “I don’t speak Spanish, so I couldn’t tell if those signs were right or wrong, but maybe the state should take a look at that as well.”
Chuck Rage, chairman of the Hampton Beach Village Precinct, said he received only one call on the signage.
“I don’t think it insulted our visitors,” he said. “I think if anything, it probably made them laugh. I’m just glad that someone came forward so they can be corrected.”
Kane said the Hampton Beach Village Precinct goes to great pains to ensure any advertisements earmarked for French-Canadians are translated properly.
“We make sure we send anything we are doing to Ministry of Tourism in Quebec for approval,” he said.
“My neighbor’s wife is from France and he is from Quebec,” Kane said. “He told me few years ago there is a difference in the translation between French and French-Canadian. I don’t take any chances, because my French is limited to ‘oui’ and ‘bonjour.'”
October 30, 2012 / blairpatton / 0