the signs are clear…the meaning, not so much

Traveling to another country–traveling anywhere–creates the opportunity to learn new phrases and traditions. Sometimes, though, things get lost in translation.


“How come no one takes anything from those shops,” Liam asked me after we gone through customs in Abu Dhabi and were standing outside waiting for our cab into the city.

“What shops?” I wasn’t paying attention; I was too busy breathing the warm air, tangy with the smell of the ocean.

“Those duty shops, in all the airports? How come no one steals the stuff?”

Now he had my attention. “Well, all those things cost money. You have to pay the cashier and–”

“What cashier? You mean someone works there?”

I nodded. Comprehension dawned across Liam’s face. “I didn’t think anyone worked there, you know, like it wasn’t anyone’s job. Like, free of duties, right?”

Reminded me of my friend S., whose mother, a number of years ago, was extolling the delicious eggs she found at a small country market in Maryland. “They’re wonderful,” the mother said, “but what’s a range chicken, do you think?”  My friend S. stared at her and the mother explained: “They’re free range eggs, and they make great omelettes but I’ve never heard of range chickens before.”  Clearly the store needed to re-think the placement of its hyphens. S. brought her mother to the store where she paid for about a week’s worth of not-free free-range eggs.

Example II: This sign, from the mall near to where our apartment is in Abu Dhabi. The sign hangs just inside the entrance to the mall:

What do you suppose happens in the romance room? If we were in another country, I’d guess hookers, but given that we’re in the UAE, I’m thinking not. Maybe it’s the place where men and women go to hold hands?

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6 Responses to the signs are clear…the meaning, not so much

  1. Jeanellen April 21, 2011 at 10:14 am #

    If it were my “Romance Room” – it would be the place where my husband helps the kids with homework, puts them to bed, loads the dishwasher and folds a load of laundry before coming to bed. Talk about foreplay!!

  2. Stasha April 21, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    No hookers in the mall. Much like North Carolina. It’s all about location…
    I never thought of Duty free that way. Kids always bring the best perspective. Enjoy the eternal sunshine.

  3. Deborah Quinn April 21, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    @jeanellen – your romance room vision forgot: gives a foot massage w/out wanting anything in exchange; @stasha – I think probably AD is like much of the US South in its conservatism but there’s the whole no alcohol thing here, so there’s less of that whole drunk driving in a big pickup truck with a gun rack in the back sort of behavior. Four-wheeling in the desert is about as rad as they get–at least publicly.

  4. KSB April 21, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

    Google only gave me lots of sites for “Romantic Room furniture” stores in AD, or hotel sites. Prob way way way off the mark if I guess powder room, right? Do share when you confirm to what exactly “Romantic Room” and “First Choice” refer!

  5. Dick Horwich April 22, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    I think it’s “romance” as in the literary genre — they read “The Rubiayat” out loud, or show “Lawrence of Arabia.”


  1. Romantic Room – MaNNaHaTTaMaMMa - April 22, 2011

    […] went back to the Marks & Spencer Mall today to find out what kind of hanky-panky goes on in the romantic room, which is so publicly advertised on the sign at the front of the […]

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