It would have been a bad sign for Tesco at any time of the year, but when it entered the public arena via social media on the eve of Nollaig na Mban, or women’s Christmas, the large sign on display at one of its new stores in the west of Ireland was unfortunately ill-judged.
Or at least that’s what it looked like at first glance.
One of the large blue pieces of signage used by the retail giant to direct people around its new store in the Galway town of Headford seemed to suggest that domestic appliances were the sole preserve of women.
The woman who made the spot was Éidín Ní Shé. While doing her shopping on Thursday she looked up and noticed the Tesco sign translated the phrase “domestic appliances” into Irish as “díbholaígh do mhná”.
As many people do and in what has become a sign of our times, she immediately took to Twitter to voice her annoyance at what she thought was an antediluvian attitude to domestic responsibilities.
“Hello Tesco,” she tweeted. “On the eve of Nollaig na Mban note that “domestic appliance” does not translate in Irish to “appliances for women” please amend.
Cue national outrage.
In just a few hours her tweet was viewed more than 300,000 times, liked more than 3,000 times and retweeted hundreds of times, while also attracting hundreds of comments most of which were pretty hard on Tesco.
There were multiple face palm emojis and gifs expressing shock and horror. People called for someone in Tesco to be “taken to account” for the flagrant misogyny. The twin faces of Éamon de Valera and John Charles McQuaid even made an appearance, and the less-than-enlightened views of the one-time taoiseach and archbishop of Dublin on the role of women in Ireland were likened to the sign.
Tesco was – some people suggested – an embarrassment while others called on it to “step out of the 19th Century”.
Tesco was clearly morto. One of its social media monitors was quick with the mea culpas and minutes after the initial tweet appeared, the retailer’s official account responded to Ní Shé. “Thanks for getting in touch. I do apologise to hear about this [sic] and I will certainly relay this back to the store for you,” the media monitor said.
But then – as so often happens – the situation became somewhat clearer and it wasn’t, perhaps, as egregious an offence as many may have thought.
Some users of the social media platform pointed out that “Díbholaígh do mhná” does not in fact translate as appliances for women and actually means “women’s deodorant”.
The subtle distinction suggested that rather than any malice or outdated attitudes to the division of household chores, a simple printing error had been made.
When contacted by The Irish Times, Ní Shé accepted that her original tweet had not perhaps painted as accurate a picture as she may have wished.
“As a fluent Irish speaker I even got it wrong,” she said. She accepted that the Irish under the phrase domestic appliances does in fact mean “deodorant for women” and that it was a newly opened store, but added that even so “the translations should be correct”.
Tesco was also contacted to see what it had to say about its directions getting lost in translation. A spokeswoman said it was “very proud of our dual language signage”.
She added that Tesco was “sorry for the error on the sign in our Headford store but we appreciate it being pointed out to us. The sign has been removed and will be corrected shortly”.