ein Bad in der Menge

WHILE we were in Italy, (and  I promise I will do a write up on that later), I was talking to Sara about the jobs she has had translating from Italian to English.  Sara has been doing this for a while now and I know at least one book she has translated is published and can be found in an Italian book store near you.  (You should also ask her about when she saved the day at a  press conference when the discussion got out of hand….maybe I should have her do a guest post on that sometime!)    She encouraged me to try and get into it, and since it would be work from home, I thought it was a good idea.

I applied with a European based translation services company, and after exchanging a few emails with their recruitment officer, received a three paragraph test translation.  The text was easy for me to read and understand, so I thought that it would probably take me 30 minutes to translate, and then another 30 to rework and polish.  Little did I know how involved translating can be, and how much it made me think about language and my writing in general, which is why I wanted to discuss it more here.

The text proved to be trickier than I thought- I felt that it wasn’t written very well in German– my main problem was that it had hardly any real transitions between thoughts.  I am speculating that it was cut and pasted from a larger article, which may explain the awkwardness.  So if I can blame at least 10% of my struggle on that….

Another reason why it ended up being harder was because I am not used to having translate the German I encounter into English, even though my initial reaction is to think that that is what I am doing every time  I hear, read or speak.  Actually, when I hear or read German, instead of  translating each word in my head from German to English, I just have a general sense of what it means.  Often when Rijen asks me to translate something, I am not able to tell him what the word means quickly in English, (especially if the word doesn’t exist in English, and there are many of those) even though I understand the whole perfectly.

Of course this is a good thing, and it is helpful for attaining fluency.  It is also why I feel like my spoken German needs a lot of work, because it takes a while for me to “warm up” to speaking fluently where I am not searching for words and thinking about grammar.  I would be interested to hear what other 2nd language learners think about how it is for them in this regard.

In my first translation, I feel that I was too literal– I didn’t want to cut things out because I wanted the examiner to know that I understood what the individual words meant.  For example, I translated one sentence as, “.. the others are only counting down the days which separate them from their much awaited time off,” because I wanted to show that I knew the meaning of “separate” and I felt there was some interesting visual imagery there that I didn’t want to get rid of. (The “meadow run” tv trope where lovers run to each other in slow motion while the Romeo and Juliet Overture from Tchaikovsky plays was coming to mind).    However, as some people who read my translation noted, that sentence was still awkward, and no amount of Tchaikovsky could help it.

So the biggest problem for me, I thought, was that I had to let go of feeling like I needed to translate most of the words literally and not worry so much about preserving style when the translation suffered by doing so.  Actually, if I could revise my final translation one more time, I think I would go even further with it in that regard.  Especially since one of my brothers who will go unnamed (the youngest) told me that he felt that my final translation was at a 3rd grader’s level- 4th grade at best.  Come on, what 4th grader ever talks about “connecting mind body and spirit with nature?”

Anyway, this brother was the one who first read my translation, since he happened to be online when I was doing it.  Since his feedback was helpful, I decided I would just send a quick email with the translation out to some friends and family for them to quickly read over, realizing that it would be good to get the perspective of those who didn’t know what the original meant. I got several really helpful e-mails, which I will discuss later.

The real pitfall, however, was a sneaky idiomatic phrase which I had been translating literally.  “Bad in der Menge” ” means literally ” A bath in the crowd,” which of course doesn’t make any sense by itself.  (unless you are an exhibitionist).  However, “Bad” can also refer to a public bath house or spa, and due to the context of the sentence, which also talked about people going to this every year, I translated it as such. Luckily, I had a conversation with an Austrian friend and a very worried text message from a native German friend, wherein I learned and confirmed that I was “barking up the wrong tree*,” and it was indeed an idiomatic phrase.

Here are some pictures from Stuttgart’s own local Schwaben Quellen to illustrate what MY interpretation initially was:

Schwaben Quellen: A "Bad" here in Stuttgart

If you visit, I can arrange for Rico Suave to give you a massage too!

Choose your own caption: What a Coincidence-They All Forgot Swimsuits! or Thank Goodness it's Blurry!

The most literal "Bad in der Menge nehmen" of them all!

Here are some photos taken from news articles which actually had the caption of “ein Bad in der Menge” or a reference to the idiom.

Karnival Bath

Harry Potter Bath

The actual caption reads: “Rupert Grint nimmt ein Bad in der Menge. Seine weiblichen Fans sind ganz aus dem Häuschen.” This is  a bi-idiomatic caption, since the second sentence means “His female fans are totally out of their little houses, which I’m assuming is the German version of  our “out of their minds.”  And the bath you have all been waiting for:

Obama Bath

I’m assuming after seeing the pictures, it is clear that “ein Bad in der Menge nehmen” does not mean to visit your local public bathouse or even to take a bath in a city fountain “Friends”-style, but to mingle with or be part of a crowd.  After that type of experience, you will literally feel as though you have taken a bath with them.  A sweat bath!

I am pretty certain that had I seen this phrase as the caption of any one of the latter photos, I would have figured out that it was an idiom.  The way it happened, I am just glad I caught my mistake in time because…….

I passed the test!  All of the haranguing I did over transforming “or simply even a couple hour horseback ride, which best through refreshing gastronomic breaks interrupted will” (Yes, Germans talk like Yoda) into “Of course, the only thing that will make your horseback ride even better is the refreshing pit stop for a delicious bite to eat, ” paid off! And had it paid off according to my translation fee of .03-.05 EUR per word, I would send many of you some tiny EURO cents! Since this was a test and I didn’t get paid, I will reward those of you who helped me with an acceptance speech, since you definitely deserve to be credited:

Thank you thank you, I couldn’t have done it without you.  Danke Steffan, for being the first one to help out, for always being honest with me, even though I feel bad for days afterwards, and for the cheesies/lamest translation advice:

My version: You may take your own horse on the excursions or rent one out.

Steffan’s suggestion: Horseback rides are available with your own horse, or you may rent one of our fine steeds.

Danke  Jake, for finding actual mistakes in the source text itself!

Danke Joel, for this insightful comment: The big thing I would say is that German may be like Spanish in that they love to throw in the articles (in Spanish it’s “el” and “la”, isn’t is “das” in German?), but we don’t use them as much in English. I hadn’t thought of that, and was overlooking it because I was still thinking German in my head as I read the English. This will be helpful for me to avoid that problem in the future.

Danke Dad, for being just like a dad and questioning my ability, looking up some German words on your own and then to be (maddeningly) right about it.  You also had some really good suggestions, and just because I didn’t take all of them into account doesn’t mean they weren’t right.

Danke Whitney, for helping me to whittle down a whole sentence into 3 words and the diverting conversation.

Danke to Another good “fried” (you know who you are ), for making me laugh by cautioning against riding on horseback while asleep in a sleeping bag.

Danke Denise, for helping me as mentioned.

Danke all the others for saying “it is a little strange/awkward” still, which made me give it a fresh look

and finally, my favorite translation, was from Joan- whose sentence  “Consider the horse, for example, a wonderful leisurely transportation companion,” is one I challenge all of you to memorize verbatim and insinuate into your next dinner conversation. If you accept this challenge and can prove you did it, I will send you some German chocolate!

Doing this translation combined with being back in Germany and speaking German on a more fluent level has made me think about a bunch of other stuff I started writing about, but this was getting characteristically too long anyway, and it is late here, so I will save it for another post.


* In case any non-native English speaker is asked to translate this post, they should be alerted to the idiom in this sentence and know that I did not go run outside and bark at a tree.


4 responses to “ein Bad in der Menge

  1. I’m looking for an opportunity to use the horse phrase so I can get some German chocolate. I can’t wait!


  2. Pingback: 5 Compelling Reasons Why YOU Should Read The Tale of Genji | RIJ & MEG·

  3. Native Chinese speaker, English as my 2nd language. I have trouble translating both ways whenever I’m asked to do it. I can give a science lecture to 200 people (in English, of course, and after a lot of preparation), but I can’t explain to my family exactly what I do because I don’t know Chinese equivalent of my science vocabulary. My Mandarin is spoken at a 4th-grade level, which doesn’t help either. I could completely understand the tour guide in a Tibet museum when she articulately described an impressive, elaborate tapestry in Chinese, but I could not convey to the English speakers in the group the same appreciation for all the cultural references in the piece. If I’m watching a Chinese movie with English subtitles, or vice versa, Steffan would ask me to verify the accuracy of the subtitles. My quick translations are always different from the subtitles, and the subtitles are certainly above 4th-grade level.


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