Delicious snakes

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To celebrate the beginning of the Year of the Snake (shénián 蛇年), the following sign is presently on display in a Chinese hotel lobby was on display in a Chinese hotel lobby in July 2009 or before and is being circulated among friends:

Although this photograph was posted on Engrish.com, we should not assume that there are any flagrant Engrish or Chinglish errors on the sign. In particular, many Chinese people do like to eat snake meat, so it would be appropriate for a hotel to offer this delicacy for free at the beginning of the Year of the Snake. Moreover, even though "enjoy the delight of" and "tasty beers" may sound like odd locutions to some, they are encountered often enough that we should not take exception to them.

From yuumei on deviantart.

[A tip of the hat to Toni Tan]

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30 Comments »

  1. KenM said,

    February 10, 2013 @ 8:11 pm

    We don't need to assume flagrant English errors, but given the bar context, and the fact that, on the rest of the sign, only beverages are mentioned, it seems likely they mean shakes. I ran into similar graphical errors fairly regularly when I was in China, and a Japanese friend of mine said they were even more common on kana signs.

  2. Steve said,

    February 10, 2013 @ 8:25 pm

    @KenM

    I hadn't thought of "shakes". Nice idea, and It seems plausible from a purely orthographical point of view.

    But surely it's supposed to be "snacks"? If you're selling beer, then giving away free salty snacks is a sure-fire way to sell more. Also, milkshakes would also be a really expensive thing to give away for free.

    My other reason for instantly assuming that "snakes" = "snacks" is that I remember a friend from my school days making the same mistake in a creative writing task: "As he dangled from the ledge, he could hear the snacks hissing in the pit below."

  3. Alexis said,

    February 10, 2013 @ 8:34 pm

    I had no idea "tasty beers" sounds strange to some. Is it just because I don't go to bars/hang out with people who drink beer a lot?

  4. KenM said,

    February 10, 2013 @ 8:35 pm

    @Steve

    Looking again, I think you're probably right (much as I would appreciate a nice smoothie on checking into a hotel).

  5. Keith M Ellis said,

    February 10, 2013 @ 9:03 pm

    "Snacks. Why'd it have to be snacks?"

  6. Neal Goldfarb said,

    February 10, 2013 @ 9:10 pm

    Just remember to fang the bartender before you leave.

  7. Just another Peter said,

    February 10, 2013 @ 10:25 pm

    It might be that they're referring to gummy snakes.

  8. Rubrick said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 12:48 am

    Maybe rather than "shakes", they meant more like "floats", which in Australia are known as "spiders"…

    Lost my train of thought there.

  9. maidhc said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 1:06 am

    Snake bars are common in India.

    Is it common in China to slap a service charge on top of the price of a beer? Places I'm familiar with include the service in the price of a beer.

    It got me thinking about tax though, since in the US foreigners are frequently surprised that posted prices do not include tax. That would include beer that you buy with a restaurant meal, but not beer in a bar. The reason seems to be that a bar has a different type of liquor license and tax is collected differently.

    There are some restaurants in the US that assess a compulsory service charge in lieu of a tip, but I've never seen that at a bar.

  10. Rob P. said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 3:36 am

    A sign in February for a promotion in September?

  11. Avinor said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 4:31 am

    I've heard the same thing in Berlin. While checking out from the hotel, I was speaking German. The receptionist, however, was determined to show off his English skills. He asked: "Have you had a snake?". After some confusion, I managed to understand that he wanted to know whether we had taken anything from the minibar.

  12. dd said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 5:55 am

    remember September is not a season for the snake, rather this is a "apple" , Cantonese apple is 蛇果, that is "delicious" brand imported from USA. then somehow 蛇果 translated as delicious snake. and at same time apple producer begin apple promotion from September in china and use hotel bar as its revenue. last part is my guess though.

  13. Jon Weinberg said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 7:21 am

    It's unlikely that the sign relates to the Year of the Snake, as it was photographed in July 2009 (or before). http://www.engrish.com/2009/07/tasty-beers-and-free-snakes/

  14. Victor Mair said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 8:28 am

    Mea culpa! My bad!

    Instead of "To celebrate the beginning of the Year of the Snake (shénián 蛇年), the following sign is presently on display in a Chinese hotel lobby", I should have introduced this post thus: "To celebrate the beginning of the Year of the Snake (shénián 蛇年), the following sign that was on display in a Chinese hotel lobby in July, 2009 or before is being circulated among friends."

    Despite its deceptively simple and innocent appearance, it would seem that "snack" is hard for some people to spell correctly: snak, snake, etc.

    It's curious, though, that neither SpellWeb nor how-to-spell list "snake" among the most frequent misspellings of "snack":

    http://www.spellweb.com/how-do-you-spell/snack

    http://how-to-spell.net/snack

    On the other hand, it is very easy to find evidence for "delicious snakes":

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/23443682/

    http://www.myspace.com/105700409/photos/3853681

    http://fiverr.com/mmojasia/make-a-indian-delicious-snakes-vegetable-cakes

    A final thought: perhaps the similarity with "cakes" (especially in India) is what triggers the "snakes" misspelling.

  15. Mr Punch said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 8:59 am

    Isn't there an obligatory Samuel L. Jackson reference here?

  16. Theophylact said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 9:28 am

    I would submit that Budweiser, Heineken and Corona barely qualify as "tasty"; perhaps that's why they're so popular.

  17. Cameron said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 10:13 am

    About ten years ago I used to wait for a bus in the morning in front of a small restaurant on Allen St in New York's Chinatown. They had a hand-written sign in front of the store with a number of interesting specimens of garbled English. At the bottom, they advertised "hot and cold snake" – over the course of several weeks I watched them make edits to this part of the sign. They first pluralized it to "snakes", and then amended the spelling in various ways before finally landing on "snacks".

  18. Mark F. said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 10:58 am

    Perhaps the intent was that any delicious snakes at the bar get free beer.

  19. KeithB said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 11:10 am

    I should send the picture in, but when I visited the Great Wall in 1999, there was a sign for "Drunken Chili Cat Beer", "A product of USA". I am surprised it is not on this list. 8^)

  20. Peter S. said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

    Having visiting Beijing, I can attest that when Chinese speakers of English tell you there that they are going to take you to what sounds like a "snake restaurant", you end up eating delicious dim sum, containing no snakes whatsoever. I know no Chinese, so I don't know what the phonemic reasons for this are, but it seems to me that "snake" and "snack" are homophones in Beijing English.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

    From Toni Tan:

    Actually I did not think this was a mistake. I have had snake soup before in Thailand … I recall thinking, just like frog’s legs, it tasted like chicken.

    However, in this case, I thought the snakes would be deep fried as featured in the second recipe here given the beer accompaniment (I don’t drink, but from what I have observed, beer is always partnered with deep-fried food).

    http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/269671/newstv/bestmen/three-snake-recipes-you-have-to-try

  22. Avinor said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 5:56 pm

    Peter S., I doubt it has anything to do anything with Chinese specifically. As I said I have encountered the same thing with a – presumably native – German speaker. English post-great-vowel-shift long vowels are terribly confusing for non-native speakers and I think it is just a matter of forgetting which 'a' that should turn into [eɪ]. But of course, it is likely to be even more confusing if your native language lacks vowel length distinction.

  23. Chris C. said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 6:14 pm

    Maybe they're snack-sized snakes.

  24. The Ridger said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 7:22 pm

    Funny … my first thought was that they meant people born in a different year of the snake got a free drink.

  25. Neil Kubler said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 9:47 pm

    I've frequently heard native Chinese speakers confuse English "snacks" with "snakes" — it just happened again in an announcement I heard 2 weeks ago in Taiwan. The reason is related to the phonological systems of the two languages: the English vowel sound [æ] as in "snacks" does not exist in Mandarin, but the sound [e] as in "snakes" does, so Chinese speakers often substitute [e] for [æ].

  26. michael farris said,

    February 12, 2013 @ 1:41 am

    "Perhaps the intent was that any delicious snakes at the bar get free beer"

    I think they lure them in with the free beer and then offer them a tour of the kitchen….

  27. B.Ma said,

    February 12, 2013 @ 4:05 am

    In the Philippines I've heard it pronounced "sna:ks", i.e. like a Pinyin or Spanish "a" that you get in most languages except English.

  28. George said,

    February 12, 2013 @ 4:30 am

    What shocks me is the idea of paying 100 RMB for a bottle of beer (even foreign brands). I haven't been in China for the best part of a decade but still….

  29. Ray Dillinger said,

    February 12, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

    When traveling in an unfamiliar country or dealing with an enclave of an unfamiliar culture in my own country, I hardly ever assume that signage referring to the use of something as food is mistaken, unless it is clearly impossible (poisonous, metallic, etc).

    My immediate response to such a sign sign would be wondering whether the snakes were stir-fried or served in a soup, and what kind of spices were used. As an aside, I'd probably wonder where snakes raised as food animals can be purchased and who got the job of skinning and cleaning them.

  30. Michael Rank said,

    February 12, 2013 @ 6:36 pm

    Speaking of shake/snack confusion you may be amused by this photo taken in Qingdao in 1983
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ibisbill/7693394394/

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