Essay Example on Culture Workshop: Lost in Translation

Published: 2023-09-13
Essay Example on Culture Workshop: Lost in Translation
Essay type:  Compare and contrast
Categories:  Knowledge Culture Analysis Languages
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 1046 words
9 min read

This essay attempts to dive into various cultures and examine different culturally significant terminologies that appear “untranslatable” in English. The essay discusses the culture-specific words with a close focus on their diverse perspectives. Words from various languages, including Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Dutch, are investigated separately while briefly describing the cultural value and implications behind the specific words.

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Wabi-sabi (Japanese)

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic terminology that is mostly expressed during extreme appreciation (Crossley-Baxter, 2020). The term approaches to nature in a more relaxed manner while allowing for imperfection and incompleteness of life and overall living. When often applied in pottery, Wabi-sabi encourages a focus on the more subdued, yet highly earthly and allows the individual to experience the natural world closely. The art form implied by Wabi-sabi takes the traditional Zen culture to appreciate nature more by viewing the imperfections in life as natural creations rather than flaws that require correction. The initial dullness and danger perceived to exist on wabi-sabi give way to a non-dualistic view of the components of nature as a calming aesthetic presence. In a country that was forced to live with several devastating natural disasters, wabi-sabi is essential for appreciating nature at the smallest levels (Crossley-Baxter, 2020).

Sobremesa (Spanish)

The Spanish people are known for their attention to the choice of food and their exquisite chefs. However, lunch meets do not merely serve the purpose of uniting hungry individuals in need of excellent lunch choices. An equally important part of the lunch meeting is the sobremesa (Randolph, 2018). Sobremesa is the part of the lunch meeting with friends that comes after the meal is completed. The time allows for friends to catch up, share some laughter, and convivial conversations. While sobremesa does not have an English translation, it continues to prove an ingrained component of Spanish lunch meetings among friends. For friends to enjoy a magical sobremesa, they should engage in a lunch experience that involves home-style meals that are non-distractive. The critical requirement of a sobremesa is that no one leaves the table when the meal is done, despite the mess made from the lunch. Sobremesas can sometimes last longer than the meal itself when it goes well (Randolph, 2018). While in Spain thereby one might make a point to go out for lunch, not only for the superb meals but also for the bonus of a sobremesa.

Saudade (Portuguese)

According to the World Happiness report, Portugal ranks 93rd out of 157 countries in the happiness index (Weiner, 2016). Interestingly enough, the Portuguese have embraced their ´sad culture´ to a level that they enjoy the sadness. While outsiders may consider the Portuguese as masochists, that is far from the truth. The term is a recognition by the Portuguese of the hidden joy and beauty of sadness. This recognition of unhappiness as a factor of life is a lesson the rest of the world should learn.

Most other countries do not recognize the place of sadness in their lives – which is nothing but pretentious. It is thereby unsurprising to note that only Portuguese has a single untranslatable word for “joyful sadness,” which they refer to as Saudade. While Saudade may be similar to nostalgia, it is different in the sense that it expresses a longing for something vague, and that has not occurred yet. Saudade references a feeling of absence of something or someone or a place that you once had or wished to have, and that would bring pleasure (Weiner, 2016). The joy of a Saudade comes from the fact that the feeling is shareable. The Portuguese view of happiness and sadness calls for a recognition of the impacts of both moods in equal measures. It is impractical to focus on one feeling (joy) and altogether avoid the other (sadness).

Flâner (French)

Considered as a typical French feeling, flâner implies a directionless, yet purposeful stroll through a city or urban center. While it could sometimes loosely translate into “strolling,” the translation does not embrace the implication and purposefulness of the word (Monaco, 2019). Rising from the revolutionary era in French society, the flâner just wished to observe the immeasurable progress and not participate. The word thereby looked to stay in contradiction with the dominant capitalistic and materialistic ideologies through directionless wandering instead of the structured home to office lifestyle. Passionate flâneur positions themselves in the middle of the multitude to observe the flow of the movements and feel at home while away from home. Philosophers associated the flâneur culture in Paris to the City´s weather-protected arcades and the architectural outline. Nonetheless, the culture has specifically been linked to being exquisitely French and has continued to attract global tourists to witness the art of aimless yet purposeful wander (Monaco, 2019).

Gezellig (Dutch)

While the word is a sensation among the Dutch, it is so strictly Dutch that it does not have an English equivalent (Dutch Amsterdam, 2020). Gezellig might reference a range of emotions ranging from friendly to cozy and to extroverted. However, none of the stated emotions capture the full essence of gezellig. The term may, further, connote a reunion with a loved one and a friendly get-together moment spent together after a long absence. The broader implications of the word make it applicable to a wide range of contexts, from moments spent in a café to sharing moments with friends at home and to inspirational people and experiences.


From the words described in this essay, it is apparent that the cultural implications of various culture-specific terms and experiences may be oversimplified or wholly lost during translation. It is thereby essential that language translators consider the entire implied meanings while attempting to translate the terminologies. Furthermore, some words may be left in their original forms to maintain the cultural underpinnings and maintain the weight that the term has carried through the generations of the specific culture.


Crossley-Baxter, L. (2020, April 27). Travel - Japan's unusual way to view the world.

Dutch Amsterdam. (2020, June 9). Gezellig: a word that encompasses the heart of Dutch culture.

Monaco, E. (2019, October 27). Travel - The word that encapsulates 'Frenchness'.

Randolph, M. (2018, April 25). Travel - A uniquely Spanish part of the meal.

Weiner, E. (2016, November 29). Travel - The European country that loves being sad.

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