Sunday, November 30, 2014

Waiter, I’ll Have the “Supo de la Tago”

Kion vi volas manĝi?
It would be nice to see the menus, if they still exist, or ever existed, but the claim made in 1913 was that seven hotels in the United States had restaurant menus in Esperanto, none of which were in Washington, D.C. The article, unfortunately, doesn’t indicate where they actually were.

The suggestion that there were seven restaurants with Esperanto menus is somewhat surprising. After all, the number of foreign Esperantists in the United States at any given time, has undoubtably been so small that they were probably outnumbered by other tourists from their country who didn’t speak Esperanto. Further, the whole idea of menus in a variety of languages seems to crop up in Europe, but not here.

An English-language menu isn’t always a help. I remember being perplexed the choice “Rhenish pickled beef” on a menu in Germany. I asked to compare it with the German menu, and there it was, “Rheinischer sauerbraten.” Sauerbraten isn’t actually pickled, it just gets marinated in vinegar, not nearly long enough to pickle it. Then there are the bad translations, where English just gets mangled on the menu.

I don’t know if Washington’s Internacia Club reached its goal of convincing any restaurants to put out a menu in Esperanto. This is what the Washington Herald reported on November 30, 1913:
Internacia Club
At the weekly meeting, Monday evening, of the “Internacia” Club at its quarters in the Stewart Building, Sixth and D streets northwest, the possibility of having Esperanto menus introduced in the hotels of Washington was discussed.

At present, hotels in seven cities of the United States use Esperanto in this manner and find it good business in attracting foreign guests.
I suspect an Esperanto club in D.C. today probably couldn’t get the newspaper to write up their meetings.

I have seen a menu in Esperanto; I used it as the main image for this post. That, however, is a photo I took of a restaurant menu during the 2012 Universala Kongreso in Reykjavik, Iceland. It was a good meal. Even then, there were not Esperanto menus in every restaurant, nor was my choice of restaurant ever influenced by whether or not there was a menu in Esperanto (they all had menus in English).

If I were a restaurant manager in 1913 Washington, and a delegation of the Internacia Club came to me suggesting that I have my menus translated into Esperanto and then printed, I might wonder what the Esperanto was for “go away” (it’s foriru!). It would raise the question of just how many potential customers I would be inconveniencing by not having an Esperanto menu (very, very few, if any), and whether is (nonexistent) crowd of customers would pay for the printing costs of Esperanto menus.

When this was written, the 1910 Universala Kongreso was only three years in the past. Hadn’t there been menus printed up in Esperanto for that? My guess is that once the congress was over, those menus gathered dust (unless they had been snapped up as souvenirs at the end of the week), and had gradually become out-of-date, without enough use to make printing their successors worthwhile.
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