Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Spotless Translation.

We decided to go to France for the Easter holidays, to see the family and also try to top up Nina’s French level. We planned to be there for their cousins Francois’ 6th birthday. Being a bilingual family means we don’t often attend family birthdays and the times when we can be there are very special. We were there for the special ones though, we went back for both grandmothers 60th birthdays and my father came down to us in London for his 65th birthday. We happened to be around once for grandpère and a few times for my mum, who has a summer birthday. So this was a real delight for us to be there.

The party was simple; Gaelle, Phillipe and their three children, Gaelle’s parents, her in-laws and us. Francois blew the six candles on his cake, that Odile had made, and we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ in French and he opened a few gifts. Four-year-old Manon was off-colour that day, looking feverish and sick. I asked what was wrong. Gaelle replied in French ‘ Elle a la varicelle.’ ‘Varicelle’? I wondered what it was. Hours of French at school had given me only a limited vocabulary and I had never really come across many medical terms apart from the basics like blood, fever, sickness etc. So Jacques translated it as ‘measles’. It looked right since she had red spots on her body and was hot. I never had measles as a child, but it certainly looked like the spotty childhood disease you read about in books. I knew that Gaelle had not done all the vaccinations for her children because she didn’t want them to have unnecessary medicines. No need to worry, I thought, Nina was vaccinated for measles as a baby.

A few weeks later, back in London, we celebrated another birthday – Nina’s 3rd. We were blessed to have a full house for her tea-party, my parents were visiting, along with Jacques’ mother and Jacques’ godmother, Claude. We sat down to a beautiful chocolate and strawberry cake, that Jacques had made for Nina. But Nina was in a bad mood, didn’t want to blow the candles or sing. She was hot and flushed and clung to my mother. When I lifted her dress to change her I saw spots on her tummy…..red spots. Next morning it was worse she was burning up and itching all over. I angrily told the doctor she had already had the measles vaccination, so how could she have got the measles? ‘But no,’ the doctor replied ‘She’s got chicken pox! Don’t you know the difference?’ Humiliated I left with a prescription for itching and called Jacques. ‘I thought you said Manon had measles! She had chicken pox!’ I said. ‘If I’d known it was chicken pox I would have been ready for her to come out in spots!’ Ah well…..the mistranslation was done and so poor Nina suffered like her cousin Manon, and two weeks later, on the dot, Marc came down with chicken pox too…and by the way measles is rougeole for any French/English families reading this!

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