Bishkek Oddities: (mis)borrowed English

IMG_0638If you’ve visited Bishkek, you’ve probably noticed it – all around town there’s a smattering of shops and stands with some of the strangest and most out-of-place English you will ever see. These two I just snapped yesterday, on my (short) walk from the bus stop to a meeting by the Vefa Center.

Bishkek’s appropriated English is not like Chinglish, where the signs are a product of terrible (terribly funny) mis-translation (“racist park” for ethnic minority park; “Eskimo Hair” beauty salon, “carefully slip and fall down” for ‘careful: slippery floor’; “difficult to find the police” for “when in difficulty, call the police; after five years in China the list could go on and on and on).  No, here in Bishkek it’s just words and brands lifted from English to give a bit of glamour.  They aren’t meant for the tourists, but to give the sheen of an international brand to a local joint. We have, for example, at least four stores claiming to be “Ikea” (or IKиA) with familiar (pirated) blue and marigold signs.  There’s KFC (Kyrgyz Fried Chicken) , a Burger Kiиg, just ‘Burger’ (with stolen BK logo), Barclay’s Pub, a banquet hall that goes by the name ‘Senator’ (it’s right next to ‘Manhattan’) and a host of others. Last spring I decided to collect photos of all the places in Bishkek named after locales in America (‘Vegas’ hotel, the aforementioned ‘Manhattan’, at least two bars by the name ‘Brooklyn’, ‘Hawaii’ outdoor restaurant, and a ‘Hawaii’ Cafe on Mira to name a few), but… then I decided I didn’t really want to spend an entire day running around the city trying to remember where exaclty all these places were.  But I’m getting off track – basically, there’s a lot of appropriated English in Bishkek, particularly in commercial place names. It’s not for the summer tourists, but for the locals, as here in a country where there are no international brand headquarters or places of true international fame, even association is enough to generate some prestige.  Or not, in the case of the strangely appelled “Fish Bread”…




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