Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

"Oops, that's not what I meant!"..Language boo boos

"Oops, that's not what I meant!"..Language boo boos

Old Mar 2nd, 1998, 01:04 PM
  #1  
Donna Batdorff
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
"Oops, that's not what I meant!"..Language boo boos


Let's share some amusing stories about launguage boo boos. Here's my claim to fame:


My ex-husband and I loved St. Barth's. It's a French island in the French West Indies and as close to Heaven as we will see on earth. The population there is divided between modern French transplants, Sweedish, and very traditional French from Normandy and Brittany, the older women still wear the native starched white headware called "Caleche", and starched white aprons over their unadorned gray or dingy blue housedresses.

We were privileged to go to St. Barth's for 6 weeks every year, and carried on life as we knew it in a small apartment. Since it was Easter season, I was coloring some eggs....but I was out of a color of dye I needed.

So, off I went to the market, thinking perhaps I could find it there. It was one of the older women I encountered at the store that day.Considering myself pretty proficient at the French language, I could work my way around most situations and even thought I had a pretty good vocabulary. So, I rattled on with complete confidence as I asked, in French, if she had, Easter Egg dye. I called it, "Peinture pours les ouefs du Pasteque"...now if you speak French you are laughing already. So the old woman looks at me like I'm nuts. She's not smiling. She's not saying, "oui", she's not saying, "non." She's just looking at me. So I ask if she understands, and she says "non". So I go on in great detail, in French, about how we color eggs for the "fete du Pasteque" in the United States. And ask her if she understands, and she says, "non, still giving me that look. I am amazed that she doesn't know about Easter, I mean France is a Christian country. I figure she understands me completely, and is just being difficult, so I explain further. I insist to her that the "fete du Pasteque" is a Christian Holiday, and repeat that we color eggs for it. I'm still getting that look, when suddenly it hits me...the word for Easter is Paques....Pasteque is watermelon! No wonder the French think we are nuts and get irritated when we slaughter their language!
 
Old Mar 2nd, 1998, 03:07 PM
  #2  
cindy
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
I was at Oktoberfest in Munich a few years back. I know only the basic words in german - beer, wine, chicken, bread, train station, etc. We met a group of Italian men and only one of them spoke english. If you've ever been to Oktoberfest, you know that there is much glass clinking and toasting. The italians were teaching us toasts, (salut?), and the germans around us were toasting. There were times when everyone would raise their glasses and yell something that to us sounded like "Brost". So, we yelled along at the appropriate times. The men around us would look at us and smile and some would even buy us a beer. We were enjoying this! So, the next night we decided to go to a bar by our pension for a drink and a couple of men bought us a beer, so we raised our glasses, smiled and yelled "Brost!". They smiled and tried every pickup line you can imagine on us. We just continued to smile and say "Brost"! As we are leaving town the next day, we see a postcard with 2 beer mugs and the word "Prost". Puzzled, we thought the word was "brost". So, we got out the dictionary and looked up brost - it turned out we had been toasting our breasts for the past 2 nights! No wonder we got so much attention!
 
Old Mar 2nd, 1998, 04:58 PM
  #3  
Lanny
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
My great uncle Ed was a photographer of great repute. He established a mail order photo development business from his home in Carbonear, in the island of Newfoundland developing photos for people all across Canada and the US during the 20s and 30s that made him a fortune. He was equally renowned for his photography so when the British King, George V1 came to Canada prior to WW II with his queen, Elizabeth, now the Queen mother, Uncle Ed was commissioned by some major Canadian newspapers to follow the royal entourage on their Canadian travels and photograph every aspect of the royal tour. In Ottawa, the site of the Candian Parliament, Uncle Ed determined he would use the bit of French he had set about learning on the first opportunity he had to say something to someone he determined was French speaking. That occasion came up at an official reception hosted by the Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, at which a number of leading French speaking politicans and their spouses were in attendance. Meeting the wife of a senior politician from the province of Quebec she commented favourably on his array of camera equipment and uncle Ed decided the time was ripe to use his newly acquired French vocabulary. "Thank you very much", he responded assertively and smilingly in French. Which should have been "Merci beaucoup", simple enough of course. But uncle Ed mixed things up and out came "Embrassez mon cou." In French Canadian slang vernacular, this literally means "Kiss my ass...! The wife of the politican whacked him across the head with her purse she was so insulted, bringing great consternation to the royal entourage. It took some time to sort out what the kerfuffle was all about. With the ignominity of his first failure to communicate being so awesomely demonstrated, that ended up being the totality of Uncle Ed's French language experience. For the rest of the tour Ed spoke English only, and who can blame him? Uncle Ed's eclipse thereafter was total. Not a believer in income tax, because he really refused to let go of the belief it had originally been instituted as a temporary tax, he refused to pay it, on principal for a great many years. Ed's obstinance ultimately resulted in prosecution for failure to pay taxes and moved him from the status of millionaire to bankrupt by the time it was finally all over.

 
Old Mar 7th, 1998, 07:17 AM
  #4  
Linda
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Okay, this incident happened in Chile, but it could have happened in Spain! I was working long hours at a site far from medical help when I thought I might be developing a urinary tract infection. The Chilean nurse on the site (male) spoke only Spanish; my Spanish was improving but still rudimentary. He was asking me where it hurt and seemed to sense that I was flustered, so he asked me "Estas embarasada?", which to me sounded exactly like "Are you embarassed?" So I responded with "Si, un poquito".
("Yes, a little".). Next day we headed to the nearest city to a women's clinic where he started trying to get me a preganancy test! Turns out "embarasada" is colloquial in many Spanish-speaking countries for "pregnant", and I had told him I was "little bit" pregnant. Two good things: each of us learned an important phrase in the other's language, and I completely lost my fear of making mistakes speaking another language. Thanks to the person who started this thread!
 
Old Mar 7th, 1998, 11:46 AM
  #5  
B.G.
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
I was in a restuarant with my family in Bayeaux, France. I speak only about 10 words of French. I got up from the table explaining that I had to go to the bathroom. I remembered the word is "toilette" so when I saw a waiter I wanted to ask him where it was and instead of saying "where is the toilet" I asked him "Parle-vous toilette?" He laughed, when I realized what I said, I laughed, and when I returned to the table and told my son and my half-French grandchildren what I said, they really laughed. I decided that thereafter it would be better for me just to say the noun and not try to put in the other words. Incidentally the waiter did direct me to the bathroom. Of course, the next step is to try and figure out how to flush. There are so many different systems in France and probably elsewhere. Oh the joys of travel!


 
Old May 27th, 2000, 11:26 AM
  #6  
lindi
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
My family moved to Canada 4 years ago from Hungary. I was 15, my sister 16 and we didn't speak much English. Well it was around Christmas, and my sister went to a friend and said to him:"I just wanted you to wish merry Christmas!" He looked at her with a surprised expression and said "merry Christmas". Turns out she mixed up the words and wanted to say "I just wanted to wish you Merry Christmas". If I'm not there she would never know what she really said. <BR>At another time we were in the library, and this hot guy came to our table, saying something I didn't understand. I understood something like: white... and he was gesturing with his hands. Since I only had sheets of paper in front of me, I figured he wants some paper. So I gave him some paper. He took it, confused, and went to another table. I saw a guy handing him some WHITEOUT. He must have thought I was crazy, giving him paper. Or maybe suggesting that he write the whole page again! <BR>Ok, a last one: in class, the teacher was handing out some SHEETS. My sister asked a classmate: "Can you give me a SHIT?". Yes it's hard to pronounce English!! <BR>Oh I just remembered another thing! <BR>There was an American guy in Hungary, looking for some alcoholic drink in a store. The store clerk brought him dozens of diapers! He pronounced "palinka" like "pelenka", which means diaper. (yeah, I need a lot of diapers... <BR>And when English speakers toast in Hungarian, most of them says "egeszseggedre" (=to your whole ass) instead of "egessegedre" (=to your health). Funny, eh?
 
Old May 27th, 2000, 11:43 AM
  #7  
Sjoerd
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
The Pope always tries to speak the language of the country he is visiting, so he spoke Dutch when he visited the Netherlands. <BR>He (of course, and I can't blame him) had a strong Polish-Slavic accent in his Dutch. So instead of saying "Vader, zoon en de heilige geest" ("Father, sun and the holy ghost"), he said "Vader, zoon en de geile geest" ("Father, sun and the horny ghost") <BR>
 
Old May 27th, 2000, 11:45 AM
  #8  
Sjoerd
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Oops, "sun" should be "son", of course. <BR>
 
Old May 27th, 2000, 01:25 PM
  #9  
carol
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
We had lived in Madrid about a year and were going to go camping so were shopping in El Corte Ingles for sleeping bags. I was learning Spanish a little on my own but didn't have a great vocabulary, just some tourist type stuff and thought I knew more than I did. My husband always had me do the talking when we shopped. The sales clerk showed us 2 different sleeping bags, one was red and the other was blue. I was asking "Cual est mujer?" I thought I was saying "which is better?" He would ask, "Por la senora?" I'd say, "No, mujer!" He didn't know what I was talking about. We finally bought one of each and when we got home I looked up the word for BETTER in the dictionary and it was MEJOR. MUJER means woman. <BR>Another dumb thing I did was when we drove across to Switzerland and stopped at the first shop there, we went in and I asked if they had Swiss cheese. My husband looked at me like I was an idiot and the clerk said, "All our cheese is Swiss." I was used to going to the supermarket and looking for Swiss cheese among all the other stuff.
 
Old May 27th, 2000, 05:16 PM
  #10  
Rex
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Not from personal experience, but a classic I have heard passed down over time. <BR> <BR>A guy goes into an Italian shop to buy some sausages, and figures he will try to blend by trying to make the transaction in his best fractured Italian. Being a natural foods lover, he asked "no preservativos, si?" <BR> <BR>The shopkeeper smiled, suppressing a laugh, and answered "Si, si, nunca (never)!" <BR> <BR>Preservativos is essentially the same as our English word "prophylactics". <BR> <BR>Nice to know the sausages were not "cased" in such packaging! <BR> <BR>
 
Old May 27th, 2000, 05:52 PM
  #11  
Rex
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Not exactly the subject of this thread, but I just had one more thought on taking a second look at your message header - - thanks to Britney Spears, the word "Oops" will presumably be understood by all young people all over Europe now. <BR> <BR>This is how languages evolve.
 
Old May 27th, 2000, 07:13 PM
  #12  
Deena
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
I was in Spain last year and was trying to use my high school Spanish. Trying to be polite on the trains and around the country, I kept apologizing if I bumped into someone or needed to get by. I thought I was saying, "I'm sorry" but found out after a few days that I was saying, "You are sorry". I must have insulted at least twenty people. A bit embarrassing but funny now that I think of it.
 
Old May 28th, 2000, 03:29 AM
  #13  
jim
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
In Berlin I asked the shop clerk: "Haben Sie ordinaere Spielkarten" thinking I was asking for an "ordinary" deck of playing cards. Unfortunately I should have used the word "normale" as ordinaer means cards of the XXX variety. Oops! :0
 
Old May 28th, 2000, 07:05 AM
  #14  
elaine
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
On my first trip to Paris, my friend only knew a few French phrases that he remembered from high school. <BR>We were in a casual place, and he wanted a refill on his Coke. When the waiter came over, my friend wanted to say <BR>"Plus de Coke,svp", roughly, "More Coke, please". There are more refined ways of saying that, but he would have been more understood and less silly if he hadn't actually said <BR>"Il pleut de Coke, svp" which means <BR>"It's raining Coke, please."
 
Old May 28th, 2000, 02:11 PM
  #15  
amanda
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
When I was 17, I was an exchange student in Norway, living with a Norwegian family and going to a Norwegian high school. I didn't speak any Norwegian when I got there (not a lot of use for that in Texas), so my first few weeks of school I hardly spoke at all. One day, I got up enough nerve to ask the guy next to me if I could have some of the gum he was passing out. Instead of asking for "tygge gummi" (which literally means chewing rubber), I confidently asked this boy for a "gummi" - a condom. He burst out laughing, the teacher asked what was going on, and before I even knew what I had said he told the whole class what I had done. I also once tried to tell a group of classmates that we don't wear long underwear in the winter in Texas, but I accidentally told them that we don't wear underwear at all. Nothing like making a good impression!
 
Old May 28th, 2000, 08:20 PM
  #16  
Kelly
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
On our last flight to Paris, my boyfriend and I were brushing up on our French, discussing the French music concert he had just performed in. The flight attendent comes by to see if we would like some wine, so my bf confidently orders some "Caberet" (as in the music concert we were discussing!). She quickly corrects him saying Caberet is the Moulin Rouge, he really wants some Cabernet!!!
 
Old May 29th, 2000, 10:47 AM
  #17  
Paule
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
I was in Scotland and wanted to send a package home. After I bought the paper to wrap the package, I wanted to buy some tape. I asked the clerk for some scotch tape, and was quickly corrected: CELLO tape! <BR>
 
Old May 29th, 2000, 01:41 PM
  #18  
lola
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
X rated. In Thailand the language has many tones which makes correct pronunciation especially vital. I learned that the word for water buffalo is "kwai." So whenever I saw a water buffalo I would show off my language skills and announce in a loud voice to my guide and those around me, "Ooh look at that huge kwai." Or "There's another kwai. They sure are large." Or some such. After about an hour of this, my polite and demure Thai guide turned to me and said quietly, and I quote, "Madam, would you please stop saying kwai. The way you are pronouncing the word, it means 'prick'."
 
Old Jun 12th, 2000, 03:29 PM
  #19  
Linda
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Ahem....it pays to pay attention to those little accent marks....the French verbs meaning "to fish" and "to sin" are spelled identically, but with different accents (and therefore slightly different pronunciations). <BR>So. There I am, having a wonderful conversation with my charming French host, when he asks me what I like to do on weekends.....Oh boy. <BR> <BR>Linda from Louisiana
 
Old Jun 12th, 2000, 10:46 PM
  #20  
christine
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
While on a snowboarding holiday in Les Arcs, France I confidently went to the reception of our chalet to ask where I could wash my clothes, I didn't know the word for washmachine. Ou est-il je lave ma "ventments"?, or something like it equally appalling. The receptionist just stared at me completely puzzled. Finally I figured out I had been asking where I could wash my "windy". The word for clothes is "vetements". Needless to say my french hosts were highly amused. <BR>Glad I'm not the only one to goof.
 

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Manage Preferences Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Your Privacy Choices -