The book in many ways is Travel 101: Translation bloopers like Irish Mist liqueurs’ poor sales in Germany where mist means manure; the Japanese die from karoshi (death from over work); Arab countries have a wasta (old boys network). It was outdated references to the French, however, that made me lose confidence in his observations of other countries. According to McCrum, the French say “un ange passe” after a lull in dinner conversation passes (my French friends simply shrugged at this). He also discusses cinq à sept – the silent understanding in a marriage that affairs take place between leaving the office and returning home for the evening meal (a behind the times expression). What he did get right was Le Système D (D for débrouillardise) – getting around bureaucracy by whatever means necessary in business.
I did learn for future travels that in Russia, while sitting on a toilet, you should never look at a mirror if you’re superstitious. And another zinger: “You should never do anything in the East that makes you or anyone else look foolish.” Compelling stuff.
From Riviera Reporter 132