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

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

Old Mar 10th, 2001, 02:34 PM
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These are great! Somewhere between Hunky's fire alarm vignette and jwagner's chartered Bulgrian bus story I started laughing out loud and uncontrollably. Really! My youngest son once again came out of his room and asked if I was on the Fodor's site...

My most memorable one goes back about 16 years. T & I were on our honeymoon in the Loire. I had been emboldened by my passable attempts at French during the first week of our trip.

At a lovely little terrace restaurant, feeling quite pleased with myself at having mastered the subtleties of the wine list and the rather challenging menu all the way down to the cheese course, I proclaimed loudly and with several-glasses-of-champagne aplomb: Je suis terminée.

Our fastidious Gallic waiter, who up to that point had been absolutely solicitous and charming, and without missing a beat, lapsed into impeccable Oxford-accented English and said: "Madam, I am so sorry. My very sincere and deep condolences."

We all had a great laugh, and he and T began to chat it up in English. Eventually he joined us in an espresso.

Well, that little humilliation proved to be motivational. I determined to master those pesky french verbs, and now I am truly emboldened. Nothing like a little more knowledge to get into dangerous territory....Will keep you posted.
Old Mar 10th, 2001, 06:18 PM
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I minored in French in college and have a decent command of the language, but I am certainly far from bilingual. I stay away from all the complex tenses and the subjunctive if I can avoid it.

Of course, when you don't know a word, a common mistake is to use a similar English word and put the French pronunciation on it, as in--oops--"Ou est l'exhibition?" Well, I thought i was asking "Where is the exhibition?"--meaning an art exhibit. Not quite I was asking, well, "exhibition" in French has to do what in English we call an exhibitionist. No wonder I got weird looks. The correct word, by the way is "exposition". I never forgot that one.

What a thread! I laughed my head off at "rape on a plate". Too much.
Old Mar 10th, 2001, 07:24 PM
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Rape on a Plate is my favorite psot, too!

I've personally told Frech people that bread in China doesn't last long because it's not made with condoms (when, of course, I meant "preservatives"), my friend asked a clothing store for a recipie for her new trousers (instead of a receipt), describing a mutual friend as promiscuous instead of warm and friendly ("chalereux"), and introducing myself to someone on the phone by saying: "I'm the totally nude nanny" (saying "toute nue" for "new" instead of the correct "nouvelle").

Also, living in China, I've seen some really funny signs and menu items. They typically translate frog as "croaker," and it makes me giggle every time to see something like "Sauteed Croaker." My other favorite was "Alcoholic Shrimp" instead of drunken shrimp (served in alcohol). A lot of Chinese dishes have Chinese names that mean "Fragrant Beef" and are sometimes translated as "Smelly Beef."
Old Mar 10th, 2001, 10:41 PM
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Lauren, if there were ever lingustic land mines, they're definitely in the subjonctiff. Agreed. All those <futs> and <fasses>!

Andrea, you have some great cross-cultural stories. We occasionally see some funny menu item translations here in Hawaii, but nothing as good as "sauteed croaker"! Your nue/nouvelle sitter story is priceless.
Old Mar 11th, 2001, 12:25 AM
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I have a couple:

While studying in Mexico, an instructor convinced us that the Spanish word for chicken was actually "polla" (rather than pollo - mind you, this was after 6 years of study!). Of course, it was a practical joke, since the feminine form of pollo --polla-- was a slang term for the -ahem- male anatomy.

Second, while studying in Spain, a fellow student asked for a "cona" (should have the tilde) de chocolate, rather than a "cono" de chocolate. The vendor laughed and corrected her. As it turned out, she asked for a chocolate (fill in the blank with the word for female genitalia).

In both these cases, I don't know if people were putting us on, but given their reaction, I don't think they were.
Old Mar 11th, 2001, 11:03 AM
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Great thread! to the top!!
Old Mar 11th, 2001, 04:12 PM
otra vez
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Old Mar 12th, 2001, 01:23 AM
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I thought of another one.

This one is actually my favorite, since not only was it not MY mistake, but it was also quite flattering.

When living in Paris, my friend and I (American) were having a drink at a cafe. We were speaking in French to one another, to the waiter, etc. There was a table of American tourists behind us - mostly people in their 30's, with one younger guy in his late teens or early 20's.

They were all just soaking up the atmosphere and loving it. From their (LOUD) conversation we gathered that it was their first night in Paris. The younger guy had apparently been elected as the designated orderer since he spoke a little French. At the end of the night, the group left, and then when they were at the corner, he came back over to our table. "Excusez-moi, je voudais vous dire que nous sommes tres belle!" And ran off.

("Pardon me - I just wanted to tell you that WE are very beautiful!")
Old Mar 13th, 2001, 06:47 PM
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My husband can't remember names which has been very embarrassing to him as he always remembers people's faces. I suggested that when he hears a name, he think of something that relates to the person and/or name to help remind him. We were on a tour bus in Scotland & the tour guide, a huge Scotsman, announced to everyone that his name was Peter & he would be our guide for the day. On our first stop, as we were leaving the bus for tea, to my horror, my husband says, "See you later, Dick."

On another trip, after a week in Hawaii, I was becoming accustomed to seeing & pronouncing Hawaiian words. We had just driven "the road to Hana" & stopped at a restaurant. I asked the waitress what the word "Ohnawlanee" meant. She looked puzzled & asked where I had seen that word. I replied, that every bridge we had gone over on the entire road had been called that. Turns out it was a reminder that we were crossing a "One Lane" bridge. Maybe we should just stay at home!
Old May 1st, 2001, 06:04 PM
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Introducing an English aquaintance to an American aquaintance named Randy.

Read: This is 'horny'.
Old May 1st, 2001, 06:27 PM
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Telling my gendarme boyfriend in Paris walking along the river in August, 'Je suis chaud' instead of "j'ai chaud!"
Old May 1st, 2001, 07:17 PM
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Second trip to Paris, dinner at very old, exquisite apartment (one with about a thousand rooms in it) off the Champs Elysées with parents of a young woman I'd met as a tourguide on trips I'd previously taken as chaperone with a school group.

Hushed circumstances, lush dining room, maid with a bell to call her if we needed anything, many, many courses. I think we were into the second course of thrush pâté from Barcelonette when they asked if I was feeling ok (I'd arrive that morning from the USA). I said in my best French (at the time) that I was "très bien. Je souffre un peu de la décollétage, mais a part de ça, je vais bien'." Well, you could have cut the silence with a knife. I'd said that apart from my plunging neckline, I was OK, thank you.

Old May 1st, 2001, 07:56 PM
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Last July me and my husband went to Europe, and we spent one night in Venice. We were looking for a place to have a dinner, and found a very nice "pizzeria", near Piazza San Marco. We don't speak Italian (but we were thinking that we could understand, since our mother tongue is Portuguese), but we understood from the menu in the wall that they sold "slices of pizza". My husband went to the cashier and ordered three pizzas, and the woman looked to him as if he was saying something terrible, and said that she wouldn't sell him three pizzas, that she would only sell two at most. He insisted and she was still looking surprised, but she agreed. So, we were waiting for the three "slices" of pizza, when suddenly a waiter starts to put one big pizza after another in our table, with an astonished face. Then we realize that instead of order three slices of pizza we had ordered three entire pizzas. And, of course, we realized why the woman didn't want to sell us more than two pizzas. While we were eating, after lots of laughs, the waiter was always with an eye in our table, trying to see if we were eating or not. For his surprise, we ate all three pizzas (delicious!).
I guess that they have had lots of fun with the two hungry tourists. Anyway, we learned that we always have to ask first and order later, and never assume that we know other languages by trying to find similarity with our language.

Débora and Alexandre
Old May 2nd, 2001, 02:38 AM
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One of my favorite fun threads is back!
*very* funny!
Debora and Alexandre,
Portuguese is a very interesting language.
Amazing you got through both those pizzas!
I can NOT let my oldest child read your post,
because I know he would attempt to order whole pizzas behind my back!
]Pizza is his favorite food.

Anymore language stories from all you spring travelers?
Old May 2nd, 2001, 04:31 AM
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Along the lines of 'baiser' is the verb to enjoy: jouir.

However this is really only used to mean 'to come' (not in the 'arrival' sense of the word!)

Some French friends cried with laughter reading my polite thank you letter explaining how much I'd 'enjoyed' the weekend at their house in Nantes . . .

I think the language police have intentionally set these baiser and jouir landmines as a great joke!
Old May 2nd, 2001, 07:13 AM
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These stories are too funny.. here's a couple more:

When I arrived in London in January a few years ago to live for a few months, my friend took me out to shop for some household items to help move in, and so we were walking in the rain, and I stepped in a puddle and got the bottoms of my pant legs wet. Realizing this as we walked into the next store, I complained very loudly, "My pants are wet!" My friend came running over and told me to be quiet, and then explained that the British call pants "trousers," and "pants" are actually underwear..

My high school Japanese teacher was trying to explain the importance of pronunciation to us, and told us a story about a Japanese man who came to America, went to the mall, and asked at the information booth for a "laser." Perplexed, the staff checked several of the stores to no avail, and told him he might be able to find a laser at the state university, but what did he need a laser for? He looked at them, pointed at his face, and said, "To shave.." In other words, he was trying to say "razor", but because of his pronunciation, it was misunderstood as laser.

Lastly, when I was growing up, we had a Filipino woman who babysat and cleaned the house, and she had a very strong accent. One day, she went up to my mother and said, "Please, ma'am, could you buy some more blades?" My mother was completely baffled, and so the woman said again, "I need more blades, yes?" My mother thought that the woman wanted to shave her legs or something, and so she asked, "Why do you need blades?" The woman gestured at the furniture and said "To clean the wood.."

(She was referring to Pledge, the spray for dusting wood.)
Old May 2nd, 2001, 12:00 PM
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Just this morning, I spoke to the manager of one of the bed & breakfasts we will staying at while in England.

He was telling me about the different things they offer - breakfast, courtesy taxi to train station, etc. Then he said, "I can also knock you up in the morning, free of charge, if you wish."

haha, now he meant he could knock on uor door to wake us up in the morning, but in North America, it means something entirely different!

Very funny.
Old Dec 4th, 2002, 06:05 PM
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Old Dec 6th, 2002, 06:18 PM
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Why would he want to knock you up?
Old Dec 7th, 2002, 08:45 AM
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topping for an oldie but goodie

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