Mistranslation of a Toilet Sign

When Implying Exact Payment for the Use of Facilities Becomes a Request for Respect of the Toilet Fee

The first line is in the original Hungarian and speaks of “toilet honesty” or to leave gratuity or payment for the use of the toilet. In the fifth line of the sign, the German translation also explicitly referred to it with the mention of the “WC-Rate” (where “WC” refers to “water closet”). Considering everything, the translation is almost spot on, but literally done. However, this is another instance of a cultural thing, which is more common in European countries, where paid toilets exist. In the United States, gratuity is expected for the use of the toilet in a respectable establishment, especially if there is a toilet attendant. In Europe, there are coin operated cubicles or paid public toilets.

Foreigners who do not understand the custom would be at a loss as to how to proceed. They would not know the first thing about a toilet fee, much less how to respect it. The sign was written in a courteous manner, implying the payment of, or leaving, a fixed amount as a toilet fee.

This is a fairly common practice in Europe, and the signs are put up as a reminder to guests and customers to respect the practice of paying for the use of the toilet. In this case, respecting the “WC-rate” would be by way of paying for a standard rate, which can be presumed to be posted somewhere else in the premises.

There are grammar problems with the English translation, but the essence of the message is there. However, the spirit of the message may not be understood by the target audience. A better translation would have been “Please leave the exact amount for the use of the facilities” This implies that that there is a correct rate, and does not assume that the user knows the practice of leaving payment.

On his travels, a foreigner would only encounter his native language or a language he is familiar with in the form of short signs like the above. The ability to understand the original language can only be achieved by studying foreign languages.

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