Yesterday, after a long day of flights and trains, I arrived back in Paris. Unfortunately I had one time-sensitive errand to run since Colin’s collaborator Anthony needed a piece of research equipment for his own fieldwork starting today. So I dragged my suitcase up the four flights of stairs to our apartment, caught my breath, bid the apartment adieu again, and walked the mile and a half to drop off the equipment in Colin’s office.
By the time I was on my way home, I was really tired.
Now, to help me improve my French, I will often pull up my Google Translate app to translate random signs I see on the street or thoughts that flit through my head. Last night, I decided to try to express my exhaustion in French.
Je suis fatiguée, I began. That was easy.
Pourquoi? I asked myself.
Parce que j’ai voyagé tous le jour. Because I traveled all day.
Then I realized I didn’t know the French way to say “Greece.” Out came Google Translate. I typed in “I left Greece this morning.”
Google first offered me the astoundingly bad “je gauche Grêce,” gauche being the adjective form of “left,” as in “my left hand.” That was obviously wrong and surprisingly bad even for a computer translation.
So I decided to try typing in possible French translations myself, since I knew a few verbs that might work. First: je départ. Google Translate informed me this meant “I start.” Of course—I had forgotten; in French, départir often means to begin rather than to leave.
My next guess was je part. For some reason, Google told me this meant “I share,” based on the verb partager instead of partir. I was 99% sure Google was wrong.
At this point, I was really annoyed. I just wanted to confirm a simple sentence, and Google Translate was being remarkably unhelpful! So I decided to do what I always do when I can’t remember a word: use an alternative phrasing with similar meaning. I would say instead, “I came from Greece this morning.”
But when I forgot to use the past tense and typed in je viens de Grêce ce matin, Google Translate told me that I had said “I just Greece this morning,” rather than the grammatically incorrect “I come from Greece this morning.”
At that point, I closed the app and gave up. J’ai fini avec toi, Google Translate! My French may be terrible, but yours is atrocious.
Just now, while writing this post, I decided to try again. Today, apparently well rested and ready to think, Google Translate tells me that the correct way to say “I left Greece” is j’ai quitté la Grêce. That, finally, looks correct. It just took 18 hours to figure it out.