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From the Desk of Dora DePaoli: Mixing languages makes strange concoctions

March 15, 2002

I liked growing up in a multi-cultural household. Daddy and Mama arrived in Imperial Valley from Switzerland in the mid-1920s. They always did their best to muddle along in English whenever non-Swiss speaking people were present. When they were alone, or with other Swiss, they rattled along happily in Schwyzer-Dutsch. Mama was an avid reader and had a large vocabulary, but her pronunciation was a little off sometimes.

"Something or other" was always a tongue twister for Mama. It always came out "something odor udder." Mama, and many other Swiss women, used to say "alou-mean-ium," for aluminum.

When Mama and my aunt, the late Anna Fasler, traveled by train through the United States on their way to get married in Holtville, they almost starved. Even with their handy little German/English dictionary the brides-to-be had a frustrating time getting their food order understood in the dining car. They desperately wanted a sausage and a roll. Try as they may, it came out sounding something like this: "Sow-soggy, bitte," (sausage, please.) Finally the German-speaking head of the dining car came to their rescue. They had a feast the rest of their trip. Getting used to the sooty coal engines was a bit harder to take. They were used to the clean-running electric trains in Switzerland.


Years later my Tante Anna was thrilled to get her first electric refrigerator and washer. Until she died she referred to those two appliances as "The Frigidaire" and "The Maytag."

The late Carl Rubin Sr. of Holtville, another Swiss, gave this standard reply when any of his six sons asked, "Why?" Mr. Rubin ended further discussion by simply saying, "That's because of why!" Another favorite of his was "pro-bobbably."

With folks planning trips abroad this time of year, I couldn't resist passing on some signs spotted in Europe and elsewhere for English tourists. These were sent to me by my daughter, Mary.

At a Budapest zoo: Please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.

Car rental in Tokyo: When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor.

In a Nairobi restaurant: Customers who find our waitresses rude ought to see the manager.

Hotel elevator, Paris: Please leave your values at the front desk.

Hotel catering to skiers, Austria: Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension.

In a cemetery: Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves.

Supermarket, Hong Kong: For your convenience, we recommend courteous, efficient self-service.

On the menu of a Swiss restaurant: Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.

Hotel lobby, Bucharest: The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.

On the door of a Moscow hotel room: If this is your first visit to the USSR, you are welcome to it.

An advertisement by a Hong Kong dentist: Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists.

Airline ticket office, Copenhagen: We take your bags and send them in all directions.

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