Let me tell you a story. Back in the days when I was an interpreter working for business travelers visiting Argentina, I was hired by an American businessman -let’s call him Jack- interested in purchasing a piece of land there. He was around 50 years old and wanted to buy some land where he could build a house and grow his own food when he retired. When I met with Jack over lunch I asked him about his arrival and his first impressions of the city. He told me he had arrived the day before and had spent all day with a realtor recommended by an American friend who had told him she could speak English. Then he told me why he decided to hire an interpreter anyway. He had called this realtor- let’s call her Laura- and told her over the phone what he was looking for, a piece of land in the country, country being the key word here. Laura tells him she has the perfect property for him and she takes him to see it the very same day. Since he is a staying in a hotel downtown, she picks him up in her car and off they go. When they arrive Jack is surprised to see an enclosed community in a beautiful neighborhood about 30 minutes from the city center. He cannot understand why they are there but decides to look at the property anyway. After a very short visit, he thanks Laura for her time and explains he is looking for a piece of land in the country, to which Laura responds, “This is a country, one of the best in the city.”
Explanation: country in English refers to land outside towns and cities (apart from other definitions of course). The English word country is used in Argentina to refer to an enclosed or gated community where there is a guard at the entrance, private security, and usually expensive houses with swimming pools, and some common areas and amenities. A synonym in Spanish would be barrio cerrado or barrio privado, both meaning gated community.
After finding out about this little incident, I was happy that Jack decided not to waste time and hired a professional interpreter. Although we did find some competent realtors and other professionals who could speak English fairly well, I can recall at least a dozen times when their linguistic incompetence would have caused serious problems without an interpreter there as an interlingual and intercultural mediator. Therefore, if you are on a business trip and you mean business, you need professionals by your side for every task. By the way, Jack did save money and time and found a nice piece of land in the country.
For translators: I found out that country is also used in this way in the Dominican Republic, can anyone confirm this? Is it used in this way anywhere else?