If you have any complaints…

« previous post | next post »

Anne Henochowicz spotted this sign in the bathroom at Lombardi's, the first pizza shop in NYC:

Mystifyingly, the note in Chinese reads:

Qǐng yǔ (–> xiě) nín de yìjiàn huò tóusù Měiguó 请与(–> 写)您的意见或投诉美国
("please give [–> write] your [honorific] comments or complaints [to?] America")

The Spanish and French notes both invite patrons to send an e-mail with their comments or complaints, but it's difficult to construe precisely what the note in Chinese is instructing the patron to do.  If we replace Měiguó 美国 ("America") with wǒmen 我们 ("us"), it gets a little better: "please write your comments or complain to us", but that's still not very felicitous.

[Thanks to Yixue Yang]


  1. Ben Zimmer said,

    December 20, 2015 @ 12:54 pm

    I assume this involves an automatic translator that isn't case-sensitive, so "us" = "US". Or maybe the English input was in all caps.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    December 20, 2015 @ 1:06 pm

    Ben Zimmer's comment is absolutely brilliant.

    Comment from Fangyi Cheng:

    I understand this sentence as "please write down your opinion or complain to America (or complain about America?)". So it does not really make sense to me without the context.

    Comment from Jing Wen:

    I don't think this makes sense. It says, please write down your comment and lodge your complaint to the US, or complain against the US. It is ambiguous. Moreover, to lodge a complaint to the US is not clear at all. At least, it should say something like "you may lodge a complaint to the department of so and so".

    Comment from Maiheng Dietrich:

    This is the kind of Chinese I would consider substandard, but I've read/heard more and more of it in recent years, especially in wǎngluò 网络 ("internet") writing. This sentence makes sense to me although I wouldn't write or say it this way.

  3. Eric said,

    December 20, 2015 @ 5:22 pm

    Unless my eyes are failing, that's not 写 xiě 'write', that's 与 yǔ 'with; and' (or however you choose to translate here)–which of course makes even less sense.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    December 20, 2015 @ 5:40 pm

    Right, Eric, though I think they meant to write xiě 写. Noted in the o.p. now.

  5. DaG said,

    December 20, 2015 @ 5:46 pm

    Spanish, I'd say, rather than Italian.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    December 20, 2015 @ 6:01 pm


    Fixed now, thanks. I originally had "Spanish" in my draft — even checked the flag and the language. Don't know how it got switched to Italian; must have been subconsciously influenced by thinking about pizza!

  7. Eric said,

    December 20, 2015 @ 9:26 pm

    @Victor: Looking at the other translations, I think 与 is actually what was intended. If this was hand-writing, I'd definitely think you were right, but 写 becoming 与 would be a strange error for an auto-translate to make, wouldn't it?

  8. Eric said,

    December 20, 2015 @ 9:31 pm

    Maybe "E-MAIL" got dropped from the original? Perhaps the machine translator didn't translate it, and then someone thought it looked funny having "E-MAIL" in the midst of a bunch of Chinese characters.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    December 20, 2015 @ 10:07 pm

    Could be, Eric, but if they really knew their Chinese, they could have written diànzǐ yóujiàn 电子邮件 or diànyóu 电邮 for "e-mail".

  10. jdmartinsen said,

    December 21, 2015 @ 3:22 am

    Applying Ben's observation about "us" and Eric's about "email" to a hypothetical instruction "Please email us with your comments or complaints" gives a source text "PLEASE U.S. WITH YOUR COMMENTS OR COMPLAINTS," which Bing currently renders as 请与您的意见或投诉美国。So perhaps an earlier, less refined incarnation of a web translation tool?

  11. reader_not_academe said,

    December 21, 2015 @ 4:39 am

    this is truly mystifying. for one, a quick check on google translate yields:

    Let us know > 请告诉我们
    LET US KNOW > 让美国知道

    so, yes, the most likely explanation for 美国 seems to be a blunt machine translation of "US", in upper case. with some more reverse engineering:


    too bad, for us, that statistical MT is not a reversible function – it would be too easy to just back-translate directly from chinese to find out what the translated english source was.

  12. Ray said,

    December 21, 2015 @ 8:04 am

    I mostly like the spaghetti western font!

  13. Bean said,

    December 21, 2015 @ 8:05 am

    I think it's odd that in a city like New York the person making the sign didn't have a single Chinese-speaking acquaintance they could consult with.

  14. Will said,

    December 21, 2015 @ 9:17 am

    While everyone is rightly focusing on the Chinese, the French is hardly grammatical either.

  15. Yakusa Cobb said,

    December 21, 2015 @ 2:02 pm

    the French is hardly grammatical either

    But it's what you get if you type 'Please e-mail with your comments or complaints' into Google Translate.
    Interestingly, if you remove the hyphen from 'e-mail', you get the slightly more acceptable but still grammatically wrong 'S'il vous plaît envoyer un courriel avec vos commentaires ou des plaintes'

RSS feed for comments on this post