We Regret that You will be Unbearable

The Lift is Being Fixed for the Next Day. During that Time We Regret that You will be Unbearable (and other Unbearable English)

By Rob Goodfellow

For The Bali Times

WOLLONGONG, Australia ~ An English-language restaurant menu in Sanur offers their patrons a choice of freshly baked breads – either “whet” or “bron.”

A trendy Ubud day spa specializes in the “Balinese Weeding Ceremony.”

In Kuta, a traditional physical therapist offers a 10 percent discount on a “full bady massage.”

A department store in Denpasar warns patrons that the precinct is a “no smooking” area.

These are not strictly malapropisms. They are examples of “Indo-lish” (or perhaps “Anglo-nesian”). They are illustrations of the way Indonesians pronounce English. Writers like Nuri Vittachi, author of The Traveller’s Page in the Far Eastern Economic Review, have in fact made a career out of recording such for posterity.

And then there is syntax, or the rules that govern the structure of sentences and their relative grammaticality. Anyone who has travelled to a country where English is not widely spoken – like Indonesia – can testify to the ingenuity and originality of the wrong word in the wrong place for the wrong reason.

It is one thing, however, to make an observation. It is more difficult to recognize the important role that clear and concise English has in communicating the right message. The remedy is to engage the services of a native speaker and thereby ensure that there is no “meaning gap” between the idea and the product.

This is particularly important in a service industry like hospitality.

This year, for the second year running, the prestigious Travel & Leisure Magazine selected Bali as the world’s best island holiday destination. This week, over 10,000 delegates have descended on Bali for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. This brings together representatives of over 180 countries together with observers from intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, and the media.

The island’s hotels, villas and bungalows have never been busier, with reports of 100 percent occupancy in Nusa Dua, Sanur and Kuta. The question is: what will English-speaking international guests find when they open their respective hotels’ marketing and services literature?

Peter O’Neill is a retired art museum director. From his home in Wollongong, New South Wales, Peter is assisting a number of Indonesian organizations on a voluntary basis.

In 2006, O’Neill was awarded an Order of Australia for his contribution to strengthening people-to-people relations between Indonesia and Australia through cultural programs. This month he is editing exhibition catalogues for the Jogja Gallery (located in Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X’s outer Kraton or Palace, in Yogyakarta).

In Bali he is polishing the website of the Antonio Blanco Renaissance Museum in Campuan, and assisting the marketing manager of the five-star Patra Bali Resort and Villas to overhaul all of their marketing material.

The Patra Bali – owned by the Indonesian state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina – is undergoing a review of the way it uses English in all hotel literature – from instructions on how to operate the in-room safety deposit box to rules that govern the hotel’s Kid’s Club.

O’Neill maintains that marketing literature is a type of conversation between hotel staff and patrons. When written language is ambiguous or, even worse, comical, the conversation can sound more like mumbling. This is at best distracting and at worst confusing. Most regrettably, it can create a negative first impression.

Hotel director of sales and marketing Ibu Ratna Indah Dwikarya says, “Patra is a great hotel in a great location – on the beach, close to Ngurah Rai International Airport. I want our excellent service and facilities to be reflected in the standard of our marketing material. I am determined that the English language we use across the entire spectrum of hotel literature is first rate.”

Ratna takes this very seriously. This is because her job is about how the hotel presents itself to the public. “I cannot fulfill my obligations to our guests unless the greeting is perfect,” she says.

O’Neill suggests that most of what he does is not about correcting “bad English,” but rather involves “converting direct translations into everyday language.

“My contribution is not to change the meaning of a document but rather to ensure that the meaning is suitable, appropriate and clear,” he says.

Changes from initial translations are often subtle, while the end result of fine editing can be very pleasing. In most cases the original is clearly understandable – just not perfect. This final touch requires the special attention of a native speaker.

O’Neill gives two examples from his editing experience.

Original: “Dear Guests. Please be reminding to always check the Safety Box before leaving the room. Do not forget to press “LOCK” once you finished to use it.”

Edited version: “Dear Guests, please take care to remove all valuables from the room safe before you check out. When placing valuables in the safe, always remember to press “LOCK” after you have entered your six-digit code.”

Original: “Join our fun pool game at Kintamani pool every Friday from 4pm to 5pm where every kids get free chocolate and ice cream for all the winner.”

Edited version: “Join our fun pool games at Kintamani pool every Friday from 4pm to 5pm where kids get free chocolates and there’s ice cream for the winners.”

Nothing escapes O’Neill’s gaze – room service information, the menus and even the wine lists.

Meanwhile, on Kuta Beach, a masseur with a straw mat, a nail file and a plastic bottle of coconut oil holds up a hand-painted sign with the words: “We serve manikur and pedikur. Will take skin off foot.”

Dr. Rob Goodfellow is a writer based in Wollongong.

Filed under: Arts & Entertainment, Travel & Culture

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