I honestly don’t know whether I’m glad I spoke to the bearded stranger. His comment about the mistranslation really embarrassed me, but the sign does now read ‘Seiy’un Consumer Co-operative’.
We had had a long and interesting talk about the 3,000 year-old civilisation in our valley, the Wadi Hadhramaut, about the frankincense trade which had brought such wealth to the area that the Romans named Arabia Felix or Happy Arabia. We also talked about the revolution and independence from the British, his people, in 1967.
We spoke in English and he had said I was the first person he had met in the valley who could speak it so well. That’s what led him, I think, to ask if I had seen the sign above the shop in the town centre. I had of course. It’s a large sign in English in a small town – and the designer had in fact consulted me to check the spelling and grammar. I’d said it looked fine, so the metal was cut, shaped, welded, painted and mounted. And not without some trouble, because the craftsmen of course did not know the script.
They did the work three years ago. The sign was up there all that time and only now did I learn of the mistake. Of course he was right, I checked the dictionaries. He had tried to cheer me up by saying that when the ‘ER’ is put up we could sell the letters we took off after ‘Consum’. But I can’t think of a local business which might need an English ‘PTIVE’.