I opened up a new bar of soap today, and noticed for the first time something which I suspect hasn’t changed a bit from previous bars of soap. The English on the packaging says "Lifebuoy Herbal – Effectively Washes Away Germs". The rest of the packaging is in Sinhalese and Tamil, of course, including the listing of which herbs are used in this soap, and a bunch of other stuff.
Okay, so the English market is a small one here. I understand that. It’s also not the first language for the vast majority of the country’s population. I understand that, too. But if you’re going to have some of the label in English, why not translate everything?
Another interesting label was for some raisins we bought. In Canada, you can buy raisins by the bag – something like 1/2 kilo, 1 kilo bags. For the Americans reading this, that translates into something pretty close to 1 pound and 2 pound.
Here, as I’ve mentioned previously, everything comes in small packages. You can’t buy a 20 pound bag of sugar. It simply doesn’t exist. Biggest bag any baking products, including sugar and flour, come in is 1 kilo.
The raisins we bought came in clear plastic containers – the ones that are sorta dome shaped, but rectangular, if that makes any sense at all to any of you. They came in packages of 250 grams and were very clearly labelled "PLUMS".
Uh. What? These are raisins. They’re made from dried grapes. Plums, when dried, become prunes. But apparently, here, raisins are actually plums.
Good thing I can recognize my food.
But this also reminds me of some interesting facets of television advertising.
I’ve mentioned before that English ads will be shown during Sinhalese programming and vice versa. What I haven’t mentioned is that, even with English ads shown during English programming, the ads sometimes have a few phrases in Sinhalese or Tamil. And Sinhalese ads shown during Sinhalese programming will sometimes have a few phrases in English.
Well, this is the same as English phrases in Hindi and Tamil movies – it’s just the way people speak here, Fahim tells me. It sure does make life even more interesting.