Lost (and not) in translation

bandaged leg


El Guapo loves a chance to go for a bike ride, and last Friday peddled down to the Mediterranean to spend some time basking in the spring weather that has finally arrived in Valencia.* He was enjoying himself and the view of the sea so much, in fact, that he momentarily lost focus on mundane matters like immediate surroundings, and was ambushed by a concrete bench that leapt into his path, as he later recounted.

When he got home from his outing he told me all about the lovely view, the light breeze, and how wonderful everything was, before mentioning his little accident. Once we hunted up the first aid supplies and got his wound cleaned out and wrapped up, neither of us gave it much thought. It seemed to be progressing in the healing direction just fine over the days that followed.

Last night he began to feel a little feverish, but didn’t think much about it. In the pre-dawn hours he was awakened by pain, and when he unwrapped his leg, the wound showed indications of infection.

Happily for us, we’re in a country where medical care is easy to access. We rode our bikes a few blocks to the community health center, waited 2 minutes to talk to someone at the front desk, and were directed around a corner to take a number, as at the deli counter. A nurse would assess the situation and decide whether we’d need to see a doctor.

While we waited the short time to see the nurse, we pondered on a sign that hung above the dispenser of the numbered tickets. It read,

No se pinchar a ningún usuario sin volante

 We knew we were in the right place, and the direction to “take a ticket and wait for the nurse” had been straightforward, but being idly curious, we typed the sentence into El Guapo’s phone. Google Translate came back with this admonition:

Do not puncture any user without a steering wheel

 We are comfortable taking that counsel, of course, but felt that such was unlikely to be the message that the establishment intended to convey. Though we can’t be entirely certain, we think the text was more likely to mean something like, “We won’t see (pick) anyone who doesn’t have a ticket.”

We’re very glad that we weren’t limited to written signs or to Google Translate during our morning adventure, but instead had access to real people. Those we spoke with were helpful, efficient, and relatively quick. We were in and out in a reasonable time and off to fill a prescription for an antibiotic, which set us back a mere €4.10. There were no other charges.

If you live in the US, you’re used to hearing lots of contentious and protracted debates about healthcare. You may have heard fervent sentiments expressed about “the evils of socialized medicine.” You may have strong opinions on the subject yourself. My opinion is influenced by the few times we have needed healthcare while in Spain. Appointments are easy to get, wait times are reasonable, prescriptions are inexpensive. More than anything else, the issue comes down to  the peace of mind made possible by the system. A poster we saw on the window this morning at the nurses’ station said,

In the Valencian Community,
everyone has a right to medical care.

 Though we didn’t understand 100% of what we read or heard during our experience at the clinic, the message of the poster, despite being written in another language, came through loud and clear.



*This year’s Valencian weather has been crazy–much colder, much wetter than usual. As I’ve mentioned before, how cold I am tends to be all about expectations.

[Image: Yours Truly]

5 thoughts on “Lost (and not) in translation

  1. Thanks Lori, that is a very impressive post. I would like to share it with my friends but I’m afraid they may attack me. Love,


    • If you decide you want to risk it, let me know, and I’ll edit the comments so they won’t see our backstage conversation. I would think you could share it with a look of innocence, in a sort of “my daughter’s having some interesting experiences in Spain” kind of way, and then if they wanted to pick a fight about those darn socialists, it would be up to them….

  2. Hi Lori,
    A great story…

    The sign means “No injections are given without a doctor’s prescription.”

    I laughed so much because you were so right, seeing ‘puncture’ and ‘steering wheel’ in a sort of a logical manner and after all those bicycle wheels had been involved in your mishap, it’s understandable!

    Oh, the joys of language!

    a) -to puncture
    b) medical (informal) –to have an injection.
    a) steering wheel,
    b) medical, from Volar (to fly). The idea is that the doctor gives you a type of prescription for further treatment i.e. the paper ‘flies’ you directly to the treatment…
    X-rays, rehabilitation. scans, injections, blood tests: These all require a ‘VOLANTE’ which you give in at the clinic or hospital.
    Anti-biotics, tablets, medicines in general, syrups etc, are written on a ‘RECETA’ which you give in to the chemist. (Which I’m sorry to say also means ‘Recipe’ in English! Oops!
    It’s just so lovely that you took the FIRST sense of BOTH verbs!
    Kindest regards. Marie.

    • Thanks so much for your insights! We knew Google had it wrong, and we knew the message was telling us that something wouldn’t happen without some kind of paper, but we clearly didn’t get the details, so we’re glad you could furnish specifics. Pinchas put me in mind of clothespins, but that’s pinzas, right? I also saw “volante” as flyer, but didn’t know how to put it all together. Thanks again!

  3. Thanks to you for sharing your story. Really interesting from a linguistic point of view. I hope the leg’s better!
    Enjoy your time here in Spain. It’s a wonderful country. I came , saw and never went back!
    All the best. Marie.

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