There are times when a person does not want what is said in one language to be lost in translation into another, and ordering food is one of those times. Anyone who has traveled in Europe knows that sometimes the translation on the menu is not 100%. It may be a transliteration, but it is not a proper translation. One example that comes to mind in Italy is the translation of “prosciuto crudo” as “raw ham.” In the U.S. we call what the Italians refer to as prosciuto crudo simply as “prosciuto.” But in Italy, prosciuto means ham, and it comes in two varieties: cooked (cotto) and cured (crudo, which literally means raw). So, instead of saying “cured ham” on the menu, it usually says “raw ham.” So far as I can tell, this is universal.
Just as the restaurants have made an effort to translate the menu, the waiters in touristy places such as Venice generally have made an effort to learn English to the extent they are able to take orders in that language. But one must use care. Recently while giving a tour, one of our clients told the waiter that he would like a “nice juicy piece of fish.” I heard this and understood it, and did not give much attention to what was actually ordered. All of our meals came in a timely manner, including this man’s, which was a pizza covered with various and sundry critters of the lagoon. What the waiter had heard was “pizza fish,” not “piece of fish.” It was topped with calamari, mussels and clams still in their shells, and a whole scampi (miniature lobster), shell and all. I have eaten pizza all over Italy, and I have never seen anything like it. We all looked at it in disbelief.
There are three ways to react to this. Either one eats it and tries to be more precise the next time, one orders something else, or one neither eats it nor orders something else. We explained the problem to the waiter, who did not seem particularly sympathetic, so I asked for the menu. I looked for a nice grilled fish and ordered it. It was brought after a short time and the man enjoyed it very much. The moral is that when you order in a restaurant in a foreign land, be sure to refer specifically to the menu, pointing it out to the waiter what it is you want. Do not rely on your skills of pronouncing the foreign word, and definitely do not rely on the waiter’s skill in understanding a general statement as to what you want.
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