that was the way things were

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LV4-26

Senior Member
Hello there,

Here's an English sentence I've got
[...] All that meant using a private detective the police involved in the case could trust. After all, not only did they not want a Saudi in a British prison, they also didn't want anyone to know that that was the way the things were [...]
I've always thought that there were two possible interpretations of this sentence and I chose the second one from the start. Now, I thought I might ask for a confirmation from natives.

1. they didn't want anyone to know that a Saudi was in a British prison
2. they didn't want anyone to know that they were reluctant to have a Saudi in a British prison.

I think the writer is (not very cleverly, I should say, but then I don't think I could do any better) trying to suggest the second option. As choosing one or the other means a totally different translation, I need your advice.

Thanks a lot in advance
Jean-Michel

EDIT. Also, I'm not sure about the meaning of "they". I'm not sure whether it only refers to the police or to the authorities in general (goverment, Customs and Excise service, Foreign Affairs,...)
 
  • LV4-26

    Senior Member
    Thanks, Isotta (although this doesn't make me any more comfortable :))

    I'm trying to see whether there could be clearer ways of expressing the same ideas, hoping it will help me exclude one or the other.
    What do you think of these alternative ways of conveying the same meanings ? It seems to me that B and C aren't very convincing for interpretation #2 (not sure about A) while D looks fine for #1. Which is why I tend to favour #2, there being no real better way of putting it.

    A. they didn't want anyone to know that this could be a problem (option 2)
    B. they didn't want anyone to know that they didn't (option 2)
    [with the final didn't standing for didn't want a Saudi in a British prison].
    C. They didn't want anyone to know that such was the case (option 1 or 2 - as ambiguous as the original ?)
    D. They didn't want anyone to know it (option 1)

    Wouldn't D have been simpler and clearer if he'd just wanted to express idea #1 ? Wouldn't "it" here clearly refer to "having a Saudi in a British prison" and with a much simpler/lighter structure?
     

    Isotta

    Senior Member
    English, Hodgepodge
    To me, A, B, C and D could be interpreted from the sentence.

    Since it is ambiguous, you could use the spirit of the novel, the time period, the cleverness of the writer, etc., to decide. Or you could translate it ambiguously into French.

    Does the book offer any information about why it could be problematic to have a Saudi in a British prison? When does the story take place?

    Z.
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    The writer admittedly writes in very colloquial way, sometimes a deliberately awkward one as if to suggest someone uneducated speaking. But it seems he can be clear and straightforward when he wants to.

    Does the book offer any information about why it could be problematic to have a Saudi in a British prison? When does the story take place?
    Well, it's a complicated case. It takes place in the 1980s. A Saudi girl had been using her father's (a Saudi diplomat) diplomatic corps Rolls-Royce to import large amounts of drugs. (the father wasn't aware of that, of course). Then she left home. The drug squad needed to find a private detective to find her back and one they were sure wouldn't disclose anything to anyone about the case.
    For some reason (not precised) the father was important to the British goverment.
    I think it makes sense, whatever the context, to think that it wasn't desirable to let the public know that the state was "protecting" a foreign girl.
    Unfortunately, a journalist had a contact in the police and got almost the whole story. Which made him write later (refering to the private detective) "this brave young man had been duped into becoming an agent for a foreign power".
    It seems to me that the above is more or less the kind of things the authorities wanted to avoid.

    Now that I've said that, I realize how my knowledge of the overall context may have uncounsciouly contributed in making me incline for one interpretation rather than for the other.

    Has it the same effect on you? :)
     

    Isotta

    Senior Member
    English, Hodgepodge
    ok, gotcha. That said, I return to the original options:

    1. they didn't want anyone to know that a Saudi was in a British prison--no, because she is never in prison? Nor would she be? Right?
    2. they didn't want anyone to know that they were reluctant to have a Saudi in a British prison.--yes. From your description, it seems the British government was guilty of entertaining special treatment for her by hiring a private detective, etc. Thus they didn't want anyone to know the girl was being "protected" or receiving favourable treatment.

    Hope this helps.

    Z.

    P.S. Minor detail: "not precised" is a false friend. "Unclear" or "not given" is better.
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    Isotta said:
    1. they didn't want anyone to know that a Saudi was in a British prison--no, because she is never in prison? Nor would she be? Right?

    Of course you're right! Just a little bit of logical deduction would have spared me hours of perplexity!:D
    P.S. Minor detail: "not precised" is a false friend. "Unclear" or "not given" is better.
    Thanks for that correction. "Not given" was what I meant.
     

    Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I think my bolded thats refer to the same thing: All that meant using a private detective the police involved in the case could trust... they also didn't want anyone to know that that was the way the things were

    The context referred to in the first that is the situation they want to keep quiet. I don't think it refers to the potential jailing of the girl, nor to the coverup, unless the coverup is in fact what the first that means.

    Does this make any sense given what immediately precedes your sentence?

    By the way, for précisé I would have said specified.
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    Thanks Kelly.
    This is what the first that refers to. In other words, here is what immediately precedes the quoted sentence.
    Finding her was a diplomatic problem. "The father was important somehow to us, no one wanted to drag them through the legal system".
    The drug squad had located the girl. They decided they would get the father to hire a private detective (the protagonist) who would 'find' the girl and then kindly advise the two of them to go back to Riyadh.

    Yes, you may be right. It's worth thinking it over. Then "the way things were" would refer to all of the above.

    EDIT : We can also go a little further up. In the beginning of the preceding paragraph (just before the above points), the writer mentions what I said before : he tells about the girl having a drug problem, using the family's Roller to import the stuff and finally doing a runner.

    Maybe that could also refer to that.

    EDIT 2
    unless the coverup is in fact what the first that means
    Having read my post again, it seems the coverup is more or less what the first that means, don't you think ?
     
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