Sunday, July 20, 2014

how the French measure their beds

In America, when we measure anything rectangular—like, say, a bed—and wish to transmit the dimensions of that rectangular thing to someone else, we normally give two dimensions: a king-size bed that's 76 inches wide by 80 inches long (or, 76" x 80"), for example. In France, as it happens, that's not always the case, and I didn't know this until just yesterday, when I was working on translating some French website text to English for an old French buddy of mine. In France, when you talk about bed sizes, you give only one dimension: the width. Why? Because most adult human beings are roughly the same height, so why even talk about the length of the bed? It'll always be around two meters.

This buddy, Dominique (whom I've blogged about many times before—see here, for example, but his kids have grown up since then), has made a radical life-change, going from prole in a German company to co-owner, with his wife, of a bed-and-breakfast near the west coast of France, in a region near Nantes called le marais poitevin, which translates roughly to the Pictavian [or Poitevin] Marsh, i.e., a marsh located in the Poitou area (Poitiers is the capital city of Poitou, an old French province). The words marsh and swamp don't sound anywhere near as pleasant or appealing as le marais does (fen, more of a UK-English word than an American one, sounds admittedly classier), so I told Dom that I'd leave that untranslated to add some francophone cachet to the English-language section of his B&B website.

Here's a look at the website for Dom's bed-and-breakfast. It's still under construction—the website, that is, not the B&B—and it'll be a while before the English version of it makes an appearance, but some of us are working behind the scenes to make it all happen. Dom's parents, who are retired and who have sold their old house in Carquefou (itself something of a castle, and a place I've known well since I was a teen), have been helping him and his wife Véronique prepare the property, called La Demeure du Marais,* for visitors; in fact, they've already had several customers thanks to other forms of online advertising (see here).

There hasn't been much translation work for me to do, but discovering cultural differences like the one-dimension-versus-two-dimensions issue has been fun. I wish my buddy good luck with this entrepreneurial effort—undertaken in the midst of all the craziness that comes with having four growing kids, ranging in age from elementary school to college. It's a beautiful region and a gorgeous piece of property. I hope to visit one day.

*Literally, "the dwelling on the marsh" or "the swamp dwelling." The word demeure means dwelling or abode. By extension, it can also mean castle, i.e., a fortified dwelling. I suggested to Dominique that, if he wanted to render his place's name in English, he could go British and call it something like "Fendwelling" or "Fencastle," although that might be too fanciful and/or archaic and/or pretentious—not to mention the problem of a "fen dwelling" being associated with the abode of the monster Grendel in the epic Beowulf, and the problem that the word castle might evoke a literal castle in the minds of low-IQ tourists.


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