"Finnish: A Traveller's Companion" by Max Goldt
Berlin Munich Vienna Zurich: Berlitz
Once, in a train in Scotland, I was sitting next to a Swedish woman who was reading a Dutch phrasebook. Couldn't do anything about it, that's just how it was. Suddenly she broke out in a fit of giggles, pointing at a sentence in her phrasebook that read "Where can I find the nearest beauty parlor?"
Damn, translation is hard. The pizza is cool already. I may come back to this later.
Afterwards, the trip took on a definite sense of camaraderie, as we started trying to describe what a woman like that would look like - what kind of a woman gets off at the Amsterdam train station and asks the first passer-by she sees that kind of a question? Which reminds me: one time I was sitting on the lip of a fountain in Italy eating an apple when a married couple suddenly came up to me, brandishing a Dumont guide to Italian art. The wife pointed at me with her umbrella and said to her husband: "Thirteenth century!" OK, I admit the second story doesn't have anything to do with my love of phrasebooks, but the first one pretty much does: namely, I'm a collector of meaning sentences from the House of Berlitz. Why, for the love of God, does anyone in Iceland need to know what "please keep off the train tracks" means? Specifically, the most remarkable thing about the Icelandic train system is, well, that there isn't one. Anyhow, if in spite of this you happen to get run over by a train, I'd recommend that you travel to Norway and ask a native "Could you recommend a good surgeon?" Or maybe you could travel to Czechoslovakia and say "Don't put anything in my hair!" Both of these examples are taken from 1970s editions, by the way; in the current Finnish phrasebook they've gotten rid of most of this kind of stuff - the only things they've left in are truly useful assemblies such as "I'm expecting a baby" and "The oven is smoking." Even more horrifying is the accompanying audio casstte, which features an American who sounds completely and utterly intimidated, whispering a single sentence at a time, followed immediately by a Finn who intones the translation in such a harsh and loathsome voice that you can't help but imagine the poor American collapsing into a crying mess right there in front of the microphone. After all, as we all know from Karimäki movies, Finns don't really like to speak, preferring instead to just stare off into space... but the furious rumbling you hear them make if you can actually get them to speak is revealed to us for the very first time on this tape. For precisely this reason, I prefer to expect my babies at home, and if Finnish ovens start infernally smoking at me, then I'll just get as mad as hell.
[Yeah, the last sentence sucks. I know what it means in German, but I couldn't possibly think of a good English equivalent. It's literally "Therefore get I my babies rather at home and should Finnish stoves me smoke-up like the Hell, I will the Devil do and lodge complaint". But it's funny. Honest. Trust me.]