lebaB fo rewoT or Found in Translation

Not knowing a language usually creates difficulties in many aspects of life: doing business, traveling or trying to appreciate not visual forms of art. But sometimes the confusion of tongues produces amusing results.

A couple of months ago Vanessa (Bonkers about Perfume) in one of her travel reports shared a joke:

We didn’t encounter any ‘Geisterfahrer’ on tour though – so-called ‘ghost drivers’ who drive the wrong way down the motorway, causing a major risk to other traffic. Oh, and the bass player remarked that for a long time he had thought ‘Ausfahrt’ was a major city in Germany, as so many roads seemed to lead to it…

It reminded me of my own road-signs-related confusions. One of them also involved German language. The first time I was in Vienna, for a good five minutes I stood next to a street name sign on a building trying to put a mental “You’re here” on the map in my hands. Finally I willed together all the shreds of my year-and-half of the German technical translation course and had an epiphany: it wasn’t a street name!

Einbahnstrasse sign

When I moved to the U.S., the first time I saw a road sign “$1000 FINE FOR LITTERING”, it enthralled me: I didn’t realize it was a regular road sign. I thought it was a custom-made board by clever city officials who chose that sarcastic way of fighting against garbage on the road to their city. You see: I didn’t know the “penalty” meaning of the word “fine.” So in my head I read it as a short version of: “If you have extra $1000, go ahead, make all the mess you want – it’s gonna be just fine!”

1000 dollar fine for littering sign

But sometimes foreign language might play tricks even with well-known words. As I was descending down the rabbit hole I kept reading about Lush/Gorilla perfumes but there were no shops close to where I lived and buying Amouage or Tauer‘s samples seemed like a better idea. But one day, while on a vacation, I spotted a LUSH shop.

Have you been to a Lush store? In my opinion, it’s an offense on the olfactory system (Body Shop and Body Works are in the same boat) and I try to pass those stores while holding my breath. But I really wanted to try their perfumes – so I braced myself and went in. I don’t remember much. I think at the time they had five perfumes – The Smell Of Freedom, Tuca Tuca, Orange Blossom, Lust and … Breath of Dog. At least that was how I read it back then. And while it didn’t surprise me much (what else would you expect from Gorilla Perfume?), I wasn’t in the mood to subject my nose to that experiment on top of everything that was going on scent-wise in the store. So after quickly trying the other four I left.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realized my mistake. But the damage had been done: I could never bring myself to testing that perfume. I see that it’s still (well, again) in production though new packaging looks beyond cheap and doesn’t inspire me to overcome my preconception.

Lush Breath Of Dog perfume

But as I have recently discovered, when it comes to perfumes and their names, someone’s native language can also be the culprit.

I realize how hard it is to come up with a name for a new perfume and maybe I’m being too partial when it comes to perfumes based on Russian culture or references (remember my rants about Swan Princess or Russian Tea?) but the name of the latest perfume from Suleko (a brand reflecting strong Russian heritage of its creator) – Baba Yaga – makes me shake my head every time I see it: What were they thinking?!!

On the brand’s site they tried to give it a spin: “Baba Yaga is the terrifying witch, which appears in the Russian tales. Since our childhood, she lives deep inside us and represents this dark force, which encompasses all our fears, our doubts, our anxieties. This force gradually grows upon our head and will get so powerful one day that we will have no other choice but to face it if we want to live instead of survive.” It’s such hogwash! (Should I have said “hagwash”?) Unlike the English word “witch”, which can bring any associations from the Hansel and Gretel‘s hag to the sexy trio from The Witches of Eastwick (and for which in Russian there is another word with the similar plenitude of meanings), “Baba Yaga” means one thing – “a hag who lived in the woods in a house on chickens legs. She would often ride through the forest on a mortar, sweeping away her tracks with a broom.” Together with the description of the bottle –“Two eyes are coming out of the wood, they watch you and challenge you, and Baba Yaga’s tortuous hands appear on one side; she is gradually coming out of the bark of the tree which one can feel with its coars [sic] and rugged touch.”- it makes me think of some bizarre hybrid of LOTR’s Gollum (psychobabble about living inside us) and Fangorn (the appearance).

Sand Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga on the picture above was made from the sand but it’s a good depiction of what comes to mind when a Russian-speaking person of any age hears that name. Would you like to wear this old lady perfume (literally!)?

Speaking of perfume, I can’t say it’s bad. It doesn’t smell cheap or artificial. But I didn’t find it interesting or appealing to me. And then again, that name…

Have you ever misjudged perfume or decided not to test it based on its name? If yes, which perfume was it and why?

Images: the first sign from here; the second sign from here; BOG – from Fragrantica (edited by me); Baba Yaga – my own.