Natakhtaris Limonati ar Ginda?

Posted on June 13, 2011 by

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First of all, let’s just be clear: Limonati is not lemonade.

On my third day in Georgia, I wandered around Tbilisi in the 100 degree heat with a group of four friends. We walked from Metekhti Church up to the Presidential Palace, then to Sameba and then back down the hill to a garden restaurant where we hoped to get some cool, refreshing drinks. This was the same day, incidentally, that I gained my undeserved reputation as a Russian speaker. We sat down at a table and opened the menu. At first I had planned to get a beer – they had advertised Lowenbrau, and I was newly obsessed with German beer after my epic eight hour stint in Munich – but when I realized how hot and dehydrated I was, I thought it might be a better idea to opt for something non-alcoholic.

The menu said “Lemonade.” I was in awe – there’s nothing like a crisp, refreshing lemonade on a hot summer’s afternoon – and when the waiter came I was not the only member of my group to order one.

Twenty minutes later (no kidding – Georgian service tends to be wicked slow), our waiter came back with a bunch of drinks for us. The “lemonades” were nothing of the sort. They were soda. Pop. Cola. Coke. Soft Drinks.

I’ve always been fascinated by the diversity of names for artificially flavored sugared carbonated beverage. It doesn’t seem like something that the English language needs so many words for. It makes for hilarious stories of Yankees like myself travelling through the interior of the country and confusing diner waitresses and being confused in return. It reminds me of the time I went to Poughkeepsie and tried to order a Vanilla Coke, and ended up getting, in order, a vanilla milkshake, a coke float with vanilla ice cream, some kind of egg cream, a new waitress, and then, finally, an actual Vanilla Coke (after we overheard a conversation between the team of waitresses deployed to create this beverage that ended, hilariously, in our first waitress saying, “Oh, a Vanilla Coke!” as if her problem was that she had been mishearing the word “vanilla” the whole time).

So the fact that Georgia has added another entry to the ColaCokeSodaPop lexicon fascinates me – and although Wikipedia suggests that the French may ultimately be to blame for this, I think given Georgia’s trade patterns the Germans are the more likely culprit. To be clear, “limonati” in Georgia refers to a carbonated sugared beverage flavored with, usually, pear, orange, tarragon, or “cream”; although it is possible to get other flavors in some places, even a weird fakey lemon flavor that makes the beverage taste almost exactly like a strangely textured Sprite. The tarragon lemonade is bright green and completely intolerable to most Westerners; I sometimes drink it to be perverse but I don’t really like it all that much, but I’m a sucker for the cream, which tastes sort of like cream soda but a thousand times better.

In American English, “lemonade” refers to a non-carbonated beverage consisting (ideally) of freshly squeezed lemon juice, sugar, water, and ice, although fake lemonade made of powdered high fructose corn syrup and Yellow #6 is also widely available. Lemonade is tart but sweet, and it must always be served very very cold. Apparently in other world dialects, “lemonade” refers to a carbonated version of the drink that nonetheless is still lemon-flavored.

Since the words sound almost the same but refer to two different things, they constitute what we call a pair of “false friends.” Another example, famous to anyone who has learned Spanish, is “embarrassed” and “embarazado.” The English version means “ashamed” and the Spanish version means “pregnant,” two states of being which, in an ideal world, are not synonymous.

Despite not being the same thing, “limonati” is almost always (incorrectly and confusingly) translated as “lemonade,” which is only marginally less confusing than translating it as one of English’s legion of words for sugared carbonated beverages. “Soda” in Georgia usually refers to baking soda; “Coke” refers to Coca Cola (and other brand named sodas are often called by name, like “Pepsi,” and “Mirinda” – which I have never heard called “Orange Soda” but I have heard labeled “limonati”). “Cola” seems to be free, but traditionally refers to only kola-flavored beverages, meaning that it has the same problem when describing other soft drinks as lemonade. “Soft Drink is free, as is “Pop,” although these two options seem to be the less popular in US English and may not be widely known outside the US, which would make them less than ideal as a translation, and “soft drink” just sounds lame. I would just translate “limonati” as “Soda” (or be cutesy and old-fashioned and translate it as “Soda-Pop” which appeals to me partly because so many other things about Georgia remind me of America’s olden days). Natakhtari itself labels their bottles “fizzy drink” in English, with nary a mention of the word “lemonade” or “limonati” in English or Georgian, which means that someone over at Natakhtari is paying attention, even though they advertise their product as “limonati” in Georgian commercials.

Here’s a survey of what we call this stuff in the US. Notice that there’s like one dude in Miami who apparently answered this survey with “lemonade” – I wonder if he or she is Georgian!

In any case, the name “lemonade” seems to have stuck, so I don’t really bother trying to fight it. I just chalk it up as a peculiar feature of Georgian English; there are actually several of these regarding food and drink. “Mtsvadi” and “kababi” are another interesting one, since mtsvadi is what Americans call shish kebab (a fact that Georgians never seem to believe despite the fact that the “shish” part is the root of the word “shashlik” which in turn is the undisputed Russian translation of mtsvadi) and kababi is basically a tube-shaped hamburger, which is at least similar to certain turkish kebabs. In practice, mtsvadi gets translated as “barbecue,” which is another bad translation, since even though it is usually cooked over an open flame like American barbecued food, the English word “barbecue” encompasses a lot more information and thus identifying mtsvadi as “barbecue” tells the English speaker basically nothing. “Shish kebab” is undoubtedly the best translation for mtsvadi, while kababi should be called something either more creative or more descriptive, like “Persian Kebab,” “Hamburger Kebab,” or “Minced Meat Kebab,” to distinguish it from what the English speaker will expect upon hearing the word “kebab.”

Another fun one is that “Indauri” is turkey, and it’s amusing that in English we name this bird after the country Turkey, while in Georgia they name it after India, which tells me that the people who named animals weren’t very good at geography in either of our countries.

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One of my coteachers told me that when someone asks for something difficult or unlikely to occur, a traditional response is “Natakhtaris limonati ar ginda?” The direct translation is “Don’t you want some Natakhtari soda-pop?” although “don’t you want” seems to have a weaker sense in Georgian than in English – in English, “Don’t you want” implies an expectation that the person does want the thing in question, but in Georgian it seems to just be the standard way that questions are asked and carries no expectations.

So the sense of the phrase seems to be closer to what B says in the following examples:

A: “I wish I had a house on the Black Sea coast!”
B: “Well, I don’t have that, but how about an ice cold beverage?”

or maybe:

A: “I wish I had a beautiful Ukrainian wife!”
B: “Yeah, sure. You want fries with that?”

or:

A: “OMG Is it ever going to stop raining???”
B: “Haha no.”

Basically it’s a vaguely sarcastic/ironic canned response to something that’s perceived as an unreasonable request or a hopeless cause. I’ve used it successfully and gotten some laughs.

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Posted in: Languages