Sunday, May 29, 2022

Addressing peculiaritites – National mail quirks


[tall buildings*]

In these days of email, text messages and whats app groups, to name just a few media, people often forget that physical address is still important not only for those rare people and ever fewer organizations that send snail mail but also in legal documents. In practice, no lease or contract is complete without formal addresses. Furthermore, people who correspond or have lived abroad learn that every country has its nuances on how the address should be written. These distinctions are meaningful to translators, who must properly formulate the address in the target language, often in a different alphabet, which is not as simple as it seems.  To demonstrate , I will look at addresses in English, both in the US and UK as well as their form in France, Russian and Israel and show their translation into English as I would do.

[Royal mail truck]

Both the US and UK use a system involving name of recipient; house number, street name and apartment/office/suite number; city, state (US) and postal code. The differences between the two systems are minor. In the United States, the sender would write apt. (for apartment) if needed and adds the two-letter state abbreviation (CA, MI, etc.) while in the UK, flat is preferred while the letters UK automatically include Britain, Scotland and Wales. However, postal code policy does differ. The United States uses both a five and nine number postal code. While I find the five-number version easy to remember and type correctly, the nine-number code is an invitation to error (if you are not using a CAT tool). Statistically, the more numbers, the greater the chance for mistakes is. Also, the city, state and postal code are on the same line. Furthermore, some cities have their special code. For example, in Seattle, Washington, the letters, SW, SE, NE and NW after the street name indicate quadrant, creating the possibility of the address: 20 East Pine St. NW. By contrast, the UK mail system uses a six or seven postal code with both letters and number with a space before the final three. Not only do I find it harder to remember mixed codes but the similarity between the capital letter “O” and number “0” can lead to errors. Here are two examples of addresses, UK and US:



Mr. John Johnson

20 Pine St. Apt. 4

Boring, OR 97009

Mr John Johnson

20 Pine St. Flat 4

Wits End

United Kingdom YO62 6PG

[statue - De Gaulle]

Across the channel, France has its own system, of course, adding vital information. First of all, the last name of the person is entirely in capital letters as is the name of the city. Curiously, many street names are not capitalized. Postal codes often include the arrondissement, the city district, which is quite convenient. For example, the Paris postal code 75008 indicates the 8th arrondisement of Paris. To add interest, business addresses have a CEDEX number added, a reference to a system for bulk commercial mailing. The issue for translators here is how to relate to these differences when translating them. In my view, the culture of the intended reader should apply. In practice, I only capitalize the first letter of the last name and city. However, I use the French words rue, avenue, etc. View the following source and target:




25 rue de Rigny


Mr. Jean Legrand

25 rue de Rigny

Paris 75008

CEDEX Paris 1


[Soviet statue]

Russian addresses traditionally were formulated for the ease of the postal workers. In the past and still in official documents, the order of information is reversed, i..e., postal code; city; address, sub address. According to Wikipedia, the Russian mail service has adopted the Western order but I have not seen the change on official documents. I tend to “westernize” the address as it is much easier for English readers to follow the address although there is an argument for keeping the formal Russian order in the case of the legal address for sending notices.  Compare:





Korovinskoe Shosse

House 10

Building 2, 4th floor, Office 9

10 Korovinskoe Shosse

Building 2, 4th floor, Office 9

Moscow 127486


[Beach statue - Ben Gurion]

Finally, there is the curious case of Hebrew, especially in street and city names. Many official street signs have the prefix ה, meaning the, added to the street name but may not include the word street. For example, quite a few locales in Israel boast a street sign with “ha-oren” on it with or without  רחוב [rehove], street., literally the pine street. No convention seems to exists in regards to whether the “ha” needs to be included in the English. Furthermore, the actual English spelling of the street name, especially of historical figures, varies significantly depending on where you look.  As compared to English practice, the house and apartment number follow the street name, with a dash between them. Even city names tend to have several variations, as Tel Aviv – Yafo, Tel Aviv – Yaffo and Tel Aviv – Jaffo. The best policy for cities is to check the official municipal web site and follow their example. It’s their city; they can spell it as they want to. Some places don’t even require street addresses, such as kibbutzim and some Arab villages. The postal workers know everyone by name, apparently. Regarding Israel postal codes, I find remembering 7 numbers quite difficult and am even incapable of remembering my own.  Here is a final translation example:



Amit Cohen

Rehov Ha-Oren 5/2

Tel Aviv – Yafo 6329302

Amit Cohen

5 Oren St., Apt. 2

Tel Aviv – Yafo 6329302


In Hebrew, there is an expression “there is nothing more permanent than the temporary”. In the same spirit, “simple” matters of translation often pose complicated issues. In my mind, each national addresssing formula has its logic but the understanding of the reader should rule supreme in most translations. In short, addresses are quirkier than you thought.

* Picture captions allow the blind to fully access the Internet.

All pictures via Pixabay.

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