Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sure to Proceed?

Let me just say that I’m sympathetic to those struggling with a language not their own. I still cringe when I remember an essay I wrote in a German language class that inspired a ten minute lecture from the teacher on the proper use of the word “erregend” which apparently means not just “exciting” as my pocket dictionary would have it, but “sexually exciting”. I can remember about five words of German at this point, but that’s one of them. And it’s not even that useful of a word. You could get by with sign language in a pinch.

(The odd thing is that I just looked up “exciting” on an online translator just to make sure I was spelling everything correctly, and it lists “erregend” as the first choice. So… either my German instructor was full of it, or there are going to be lots of sexually excited people out there.)

And it’s not just the language that’s a problem when you move to a new country. Everything you take for granted is different. When I moved to Germany for a year, I quickly (i.e., in the first day) learned that the ability to read 18th century poetry wasn’t a big help when I got to the grocery store. I’d been there at least six months before I realized why people were giving me such odd looks when I washed my clothes. You see, when I went down the detergent aisle (in that painful first week) I bought a box of detergent that seemed to be what I wanted. It had a picture of white gauzy curtains blowing in the wind with a green field and blue sky framed by the window. To me, white gauzy curtains blowing in the wind meant clean clothes. To the Germans (and to me as well when I had a better grasp of vocabulary and was bored enough to read the box), white gauzy curtains blowing in the wind meant – curtain detergent. I had no idea there was such a thing. But it cleaned my clothes just fine, dammit.

So, yeah, I’ve felt like an idiot before. But of course that’s not going to stop me from making fun of other people.

Way back in the dawn of time (during the .com boom), we had a multitude of foreign programmers. Some had lived in the US for quite a few years, and others were more recent imports. Occasionally the user interface would have little oddities like the “Sure to proceed?” button that we kept in the product just because it was so funny. Sometimes the comments looked like they might be in English if you could just rearrange the sentence a bit. And then there were the file names…

There was a team of programmers working on implementing the new digital signal coverage predictions. It just so happened that nobody on that team spoke English as a first language. The new and improved part of the digital protocol was in the handoffs, and there might by no handoff, one-way handoff, two-way handoff, etc.

Nobody (except for rvan) likes to type, so of course everything was shortened. Thus, there were files about “no_ho”, “1way_ho”, “2way_ho” and the like. Although I’d like to pretend I’ve matured, we’re still making 2way_ho jokes ten years later. I’m not even going to mention how the cumulative usage filename got shortened...

Whatever. There’s probably some person in Germany who’s still telling stories about the American idiot who washed her clothes with curtain detergent.


Karen said...

I hope you used the "fluff, no heat" setting on your clothes.

Theresa B (of Nebulopathy) said...

Haha. My clothes would still be spinning in the dryer if I had. But they would have shrunk uniformly I guess.

Eric said...

Only crazy people use the "fluff, no heat" setting.