Thursday, September 24, 2015

Menus in Esperanto!

All we are saying
Is give Esperanto a chance!
Okay, that’s a bit of a tease, since the article in the Chicago Daily Tribune of September 24, 1910 didn’t uncover menus in Esperanto, instead it was a suggestion that restaurants adopt Esperanto for menus, instead of writing them in French. While it makes perfect sense for a menu of a Paris restaurant to be in French, it doesn’t make that sense in New York, even if the food offered dead-on traditional French food. There is an element of shtick to this.

Several years ago, I was in a not terribly restaurant in Washington, D.C., and on the menu were the words, “Ask about the *soup de jour.” Soup sounded like a good idea, so I saked.

“What’s the soup de jour?”

“That’s the soup of the day.” Serves me right. I explained that I was aware of the meaning of the phrase and really just wanted to know what they were serving. Of course if the menu simply said “Soup of the Day” my question would have come out differently.

In the long run, there really is no need to put a menu into a foreign language. This is not the same as providing a menu for those who don’t speak local language. This is all about providing a menu with smattering of foreign language to provide an air of the exotic to customers. Admittedly, showmanship is part of a restaurant meal, still, I’m aware that there are diners who worry about mispronouncing unfamiliar foreign words when they’re only a short distance from home.

Although the article is titled “A Chance for Esperanto,” Esperanto doesn’t figure into it until the last paragraph; the rest is about the problem of foreign words on menus, even the word menu, even though that word showed up in English in 1837.
There is a movement, we are told, to abolish French spelling on hotel and restaurant bills of fare. Cooks and hotel managers appear to be divided as to the advisability of doing this, although the former are more willing the foreign language should be abandoned than are the latter, who think, as one of them put it, that it “adds tone” to an establishment to offer dishes under high sounding disguises.

> A referendum of diners might side with the cooks and prefer to know what they were ordering without asking the waiter for a translation, thereby displaying their ignorance and even then not learning the truth. If pride kept him from asking for this doubtful aid, a man whose mouth was watering for boiled turkey with celery sauce might never know he was looking at it when he saw the French equivalent for it on the card. Many a man has denied himself Philadelphia squab because it appeared on the bill with “sur canape” after it. Even if he knew canape meant sofa, he would not be attracted to it unless he had an appetite which called for excelsior and upholstery. “Sous cloche” has kept others from their favorite sweetbreads. “Poulet frit” doesn’t help you to find fried chicken unless you have a smattering of phonetics, and “jambon fit aux œufs” successfully hides from you one of our commonest dishes. But the restaurant which carries “jambon fit aux œufs $1.25” on its bill would never dare charge that sum for fried ham and eggs.

Some establishments have adopted a mixture of French and English, with laughable effect, much in the style of the man who called for “a small demitasse cup of black café noir.” “Bill of Fare” is almost never seen. It was succeeded by “Menu,” and that in turn by “Carte du Jour.”

We suggest that Esperanto be adopted in place of French or near French. For a universal habit of eating a universal language is appropriate. Here is a good chance to give Esperanto a fair trial.
It’s not clear how cluttering up menus would actually give Esperanto a fair trial. In fact, ŝinko, fritita kun ovoj would fail to make the non-Esperantist English speaker think of fried ham and eggs. It would, admittedly, drop the assumed air of dignity that is article ascribes to a French menu (of course, simple working-class eateries in France have their menus in French.)

The Daily Tribune was wrong. Pushing French off menus would not be either a chance or a fair trial for Esperanto. “La supo de la tago” isn’t any improvement on “soup de jour.” Seeing it on menus would no more convince people to learn Esperanto than seeing it on menus convinces them to learn French. And then they’re left wondering just what’s in a “tarte Tatin.” It’s clear what a tarte is, but is a Tatin something good to eat?
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