Funny moments in other languages

As noted in my “DIY” thread, we’re having a problem with pine sap dripping on the cars. I decided to look into having the tree trimmed back and got a recommendation from my neighbor to flag down his landscape guys when they were at his house this week.

I’ve four years of college Spanish and there was a time I was pretty good with the language. Over the last 15 years I haven’t kept my skills sharp at all so my Spanish now sucks.

Yesterday the landscapers were next door and I went over to ask for a tree trim quote. Two of the crew had gone to pick up lunch and the guy who remained doesn’t speak English.

For the love of god, I completely blanked and couldn’t summon terms for pine and sap, so I went with words I vaguely remembered to be somehow related to liquid (sap) and spikiness (pine needles). I came out with “tengo un problema con jugo de puerco espin en my arbol.” The guy was puzzled and told me his English-speaking brother would come over when he returned.

The brother came over later and said he didnt know what porcupine juice was and could I show him? After determining my problem was with savia del pino and not spiky mammal juice, they proceeded with a great pruning job. Here’s to no more porcupine juice on the cars!

Ah, language flubs. Being bilingual (English and Japanese), I’ve had a few.

One of the funniest I can recall was speaking to a Japanese friend of mine. His online nickname is Choko, which also happens to be the short form of the word for “chocolate” (it’s romanized as “chokoreeto”, it’s really easier just to say “choko”).

We were discussing sweets. I mentioned I wanted some chocolate.

I then had to scramble to clarify that I meant the food, not the person. Thankfully, both he and his wife found it hilarious. :smiley:

The funniest one I know was when a friend of mine announced on a bus that he had to get off because he had an erection.

Here in Panama, when you are on a bus and approaching your stop it’s usual to yell out “Parada!” (bus stop, or “stand.”)

Instead, he yelled out “Tengo parada!”, which means “I have an erection!” (literally, “standing one,” understood as penis).

He said everyone on the bus was sure to give him plenty of room as he exited.:smiley:

Another friend of mine wanted to order a drink (chicha), and instead used the slang word for “pussy” (chucha). She said the guy behind the counter was taken aback, and said, “Una chucha???” She replied “Si! Una grande!” (Yes, a big one!!!).

When I was in Germany I went into a chemist shop for some anti-itch cream, looked up ‘itch’ in my english-german dictionary and said it to the assistant. When she recoiled, looking horrified, I had to explain that I had an itch, not the itch (scabies)

I was in Paris and had blisters on my feet. I remember my mom prescribed lamb’s wool for blisters, so I went into a drug store to get lamb’s wool. I acted out a small sheep with hair, and got a bewildering look from the pharmacist. She thought I wanted a sweater. I finally had to take off a shoe and sock, and actually show her the blisters. She sold me something that didn’t work as well as lamb’s wool would have.

In French training for the Foreign Service, we had to relate on Mondays what had transpired over the weekend. On one weekend we had purchased a used Jeep to take overseas with us. It didn’t have carpeting, so I glued some onto the floor. My wife told the class that I had had gay sex with a man in the Jeep, using a slang word similar to “tapis”, which is carpet. The instructor laughed herself to tears.

One I’ve related before: While working in Cairo, my houseboy found my AAFES catalog (military PX catalog) and wanted me to order him a boom box. I asked him how much money he had and then found one in his price range, which was an Aiwa brand. I showed it to him and the following took place:

Him: “Panasonic?”
Me, shaking my head no: “No, Aiwa.”
Him, looking at me oddly: “Panasonic?”
Me, again shaking my head: “No. . .AIWA.”
Him, now looking at me like I was crazy, and speaking slowly: “Pan. .a. .son. .ic?”

At this point, I thought I’d use one of my few Arabic words (yes, no, thank you, etc.), and said “La-a, Aiwa.” and immediately realized what was happening. The Arabic word for ‘yes’ is ‘ai-wah’. So what I was saying to him, in effect, was “No, yes.” No wonder he thought I was an idiot.

Danish and Norwegian are generally very similar, except in pronunciation and the occasional word here or there, so with little practice we can understand each other. The danger is in the cases where the exact same word means something slightly different. Like “må” (pronounced like some versions of English “maw”) which in Norwegian means “must” and in Danish often means “may”.

A friend had what to her was a horrifying experience as a child visiting friends in Denmark and being shown there raspberry bushes and told “Du må gerne smage”, which to the host meant “You may try the berries” and to my friend meant “You are required to try the berries”.

She didn’t like raspberries but had to choke some down.

Now in both Norwegian and English “You must try these” can be a polite offer, but the balance is more towards stating a requirement in Norwegian, especially for a child.

I love this line: “I acted out a small sheep with hair” :smiley:

Then there was the guy on our detail to Guatemala (who claimed to be able to speak Spanish) who ordered ‘Dos hueves frios’ (two cold Thursdays) instead of ‘Dos huevos fritos’ (two fried eggs) for breakfast at our motel.

Another guy kept pointing at his French fries and telling the waitress he wanted mashed potatoes, and was livid when she kept bringing him another plate of French fries.

Double post deleted

Probably the only mistake I HAVEN’T made in Spanish is declaring myself pregnant rather than embarrassed (the “estoy embarazada” trap).

In grad school I had to take a seminar in Spanish (an enforced requirement, no matter one’s area of concentration). The course I chose was taught by a major “Don Quixote” scholar who had long ago resigned himself to reading aloud three-hour lectures in his Barcelona Spanish to a group of stunned listeners (the native speakers knew to avoid him).

My final paper contained some very racy passages wherein I had attempted to discuss, in academic terms, windmills as symbolic phalluses. I found this out much later when I proudly shared this Towering Work of Academic Brilliance with a friend from Spain. I can’t recall exact wording, but throughout were observations about literally taking windmills up the ass and fellating grandfathers.

My friend laughed for days. My consolation is that this prof never returned seminar papers and probably didn’t even bother to read them.

About 15 years ago, I had a major crush on a girl who liked me a lot… as a friend. It took me a few months to accept that no romance would happen between us, but after almost losing her completely following a silly argument, I finally came to terms with it. And I was fine. No, really :D.

French wasn’t her mother tongue, but she spoke it quite well and was always eager to learn new words and use them as soon as the opportunity arose.

We were on a train one afternoon and for some reason, the conversation turned to animals. She didn’t know how to say “tail” in French. I told her it was “queue” but immediately added : “Be careful how you use that word, though because it is also rather vulgar slang for a part of the male anatomy.” She nodded in understanding.

A few minutes later, I had to go to the toilets and, as I was making my way back to my seat, the train hit a rough junction and started tilting left and right. I almost lost my balance, grabbed a handrail, then another, then a third and finally sat next to my friend. I turned to her and said : “Did you see me there ? As agile as a monkey !” She looked at me, smiled playfully and answered : "A monkey with a long tail… "

I didn’t answer. It was probably better to leave it at that.

Probably :dubious: .

I’ve heard unsuspecting tourists make pronouncements about what they did with guys, by not understanding how the word “baiser” is used in France. What is WITH using the same verb for very, very different things?

Another trap for unsuspecting language students is mixing up things like “ie” and “ei” when reading german. We were doing an Edgar Wallace “krimi” in class (basic language) when the student read the passage “stop or I’ll shoot!” but messed up the last word. The teacher quietly corrected it and we moved on. Common mistake, luckily you don’t talking about either shooting or the other word when ordering lunch, so it isn’t something you’ll horrify the locals with when you are travelling.

Some of my favorites, all restaurant related:

Little local place in Little Tokyo had these two items on the menu. “Steam Thing” and “Fish caught, on the plate”. I was there with my friend Bill, and he breaks out this,* “Steam Thing! I think I love you. But I wanna know fo’ sure!”*

In Brazil (where they claim to not have the letter X in the alphabet, but they sure as hell use it a lot), a little sidewalk café had this gem on the menu. “X-Burger”. It was listed with “Hamburger” and “Hamburger Especial”.

Humm… I thought. What might be this “X-Burger”. Must me something pretty special. I ask the guy.

He looks at me like I’m the biggest idiot on the simpleton train, and says, “Sheese-Burger, sabe? Burger com queso”. :rolleyes:

Ah, the “Cheese Burger”.

When I was in Spain, I occasionally noticed stores called “ferretería”. I assumed it was pronounced to rhyme with “cafeteria”, and was a cafeteria where ferret meat was served. I thought it was odd that every neighborhood seemed to have one. I finally got a closer look at the stuff displayed in the windows, and saw that it was hardware! Aha! The accent is on the penultimate syllable, and literally means “iron monger”. Spanish ferrets don’t have to sleep with one eye open.

I’m wondering why anyone would be reading turn-of-the-century English pulp fiction in a German class, so I look it up. And discover that Edgar Wallace had an entire second public in Germany.

Yes, they were popular there. Good stories to learn from, because they are sort of predictable as to what is happening, so you can “guess” words and what they mean.

In Thai, much depends on the tone. For example, the word khee. Say it with a low tone and it’s the verb “to drive.” Say it with a falling tone and it’s the verb “to shit.” You can imagine the mirth the day I inadvertently told some people in Thailand that I had just gotten my shitting license.

Yeah, that’s one of the all-time classics.

The best way to deal with it is to forget altogether about the original meaning (“to kiss”), which is completely old-fashioned nowadays and, well, not use the word “baiser” at all. Unless of course you want the person you’re talking to to know everything about your sexual prowess.

When I visited St-Petersburg in 1992, our guide told us of a bridge on which it was customary to kiss the person, even a complete stranger, who came the other way. Of course, she used the word “baiser”. I was 17 at the time and it was definitely a tradition I could get behind.

In short :

  • Faire la bise = to kiss (on the cheek)
  • Embrasser = to kiss (on the mouth)
  • Baiser = to f***

One new missionary loved looking up odd words, even though he wasn’t particularly good at Japanese. The problem is that he would mix up the interesting words with the ones he wanted to say.

We were at a member’s house for dinner. The wife asked him if he wanted anything else. Rather than say “ippai desu.” (I’m full.) He said “oppai desu.” ( (I want to) breast feed.) She was properly shocked.

Same guy was asked at church what his New Year’s resolutions were. Instead of “kotoshi wa motto undo shitai desu.” (I want to exercise more.) He said “kotoshi wa motto unko shitai desu.” (I want to shit more.)