When in Rome… (and the Expo language disaster!)

“Paese che vai, usanza che trovi” in inglese si dice “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” e curiosamente deriva da una frase di Sant’Ambrogio. Altrettanto curiosamente troviamo su un sito legato a Expo, un bizzarro titolo che recita “Region that go, project that you find”. Evidentemente tra i tanti progetti milionari sono venuti a mancare i soldi per i traduttori…


Mark Worden (Standard British accent)

I read in the April issue of Speak Up an article which explained some of the horrendous translations that have been used for the Milan Expo, one of which was particularly funny – and I quote – was: (Italian accent) “Region that go, project that you find,” which we think must have been the Italian… the English translation of “Paese che vai, usanza che trovi.” Unfortunately, this was a doubly (1) disastrous translation because the English was terrible but also the phrase “Region that go,” or whatever it would be in decent English, doesn’t actually (2) exist in the English language. And the ironic thing is that the English equivalent of “Paese che vai” is in fact “When in Rome,” which is an abbreviation of the phrase “When in Rome, do as the Romans,” and this is ironic because the English translation of an Italian phrase in fact involves (3) a reference to Italy which does not exist in the Italian original, and the even more ironic thing about this situation is that the expression “When in Rome, do as the Romans” was in fact first coined in Milan in about the third or the fourth century, during the course of a conversation between two early church saints (4), St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, as we call him in English, which is the English of (for) St. Ambrogio, and apparently, there was a conversation between the two in which they asked how they should behave (5) in Rome, what customs (6) should they respect, and one of them told the other that… when you’re in Milan you behave in one way, but when you’re in Rome you must behave in another way, and so you must “do as the Romans” do. And so I think this is a rather (7) interesting example of linguistic globalization, that the English use an Italian… phrase to translate an Italian expression which is not used in Italian, and they actually sent (set) it in Milan, which of course is where the Expo is taking place!

Read more about this topic in our April issue: click here (Aarrgghh!!! Why Expo 2015 is a language nightmare!)


1  doubly: due volte, doppiamente
2  actually: realmente
3  involves: implica
4  two early church saints: due dei primi santi della chiesa, all’origine della chiesa
5  how they should behave: come si sarebbero dovuti comportare
6  customs: tradizioni
7  rather: piuttosto

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