Le Temps, Switzerland
Two Different Weight Systems, Two Different Cultures
By Rinny Gremaud
Translated By Tara Ferguson
30 January 2013
Edited by Natalie Clager
Switzerland - Le Temps - Original Article (French)
Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue loses its meaning when translated into French, similar to the legal complaints filed against a certain American sandwich restaurant. Have you heard about the “Footlong” scandal that is shaking the Subway franchise chain? Vaguely. This case has difficulty crossing linguistic, cultural and metric barriers.
In the Anglo-Saxon world, Subway restaurants sell sandwiches called “Footlong”, which means “a foot long”, or 30.48 centimeters. About ten days ago, a smart aleck published on a well-known social networking site a picture of his sandwich with a measuring tape underneath it indicating it was 11 inches (27.94 centimeters). Scandal, collective outrage, chain reaction. In the four corners of the English-speaking world, zealous citizens are active in search of the Truth and are taking the investigation to the ground. The results are overwhelming: Subway sandwiches, more often than not, do not live up to their name. Maybe disillusionment is only measured in inches. In the United States, two legal complaints have already been filed against the franchise. A lawyer in New Jersey says he wants to turn it into a “class action” case.
The relationship with Tarantino is not only about the outrageousness of the scenario. It’s also the impossible translation, the nightmare of the caption writer. Remember “Pulp Fiction”. The scene takes place in the car. While on their way to take somebody out, Vince, played by John Travolta, and Jules, played by Samuel L. Jackson, talk about cultural differences between the Old World and theirs:
“You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?”
“They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?”
“No, man. They’ve got the metric system. They wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.”
“Then what do they call it?”
“They call it the ‘Royale with Cheese’.”
“’Royale with Cheese’… What do they call a Big Mac?”
“A Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it “Le Big Mac.”
“’Le Big Mac’ (laughs). What do they call a Whopper?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t go into Burger King.”
Everyone will agree that in French, this dialogue, though monumental, is not worth a dime. This applies to the matter of the “Footlong”, a non-event for those who live in the metric system.
But in truth, misunderstanding goes beyond only units. These two names, “Quarter Pounder” and “Footlong” say something about the American concept of fast food between two slices of bread: Designating a sandwich by its volume means that quantity takes precedence over the nature of the meal. It’s a matter of ordering “how much” and not “what”. And for these restaurants, to put “a quarter pound” or “a foot long” on their menu is to claim a highly standardized and therefore highly reliable manufacturing process. The same product, manufactured in the exact same way no matter the location, comes with a certain concept of equal opportunity.
You don’t understand? Trust me, something has been lost forever in the sub-titles.
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