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Kelly
Massachusetts

General Travel

Was there ever a time you used a country's language and it backfired?

Has anyone ever experienced a time when using the "language" when traveling and backfired?


19 Answers

top answer by
Rebecca from Manchester

In France I asked for the 'conard' instead of the 'canard' so I asked for the plate of slut, rather than the plate of duck...


7 thankscomments (4)


answered by
Matt from Scottsdale

My funniest experience with botching-up a foreign language involved a group of us traveling in France in the mid 1960s. It was a lesson in why literal... word-for-word... translations leave a lot to be desired.  We were still in high school - each with a couple semesters of French under our belts. Our tour took us up the Eiffel Tower, where the local guide was shepherding us into the elevator to ascend to the next level, and my friend had become separated from our group.  We were all boarding the elevator when he saw us from about 30 feet away.  Panicking slightly, he shouted out to our tour guide: "Attendez... Attendez... Je suis gauche derriere!!!"  Needless to say, the roars of laughter from every French speaker on the platform brought all movement to a standstill.  But Monsieur "left behind" DID catch up with our group!


6 thanks


answered by
Daniel from Gangnam-gu

While in Oaxaca, I was chatting with a friend who owns a pastry stand on the sidewalk when two Americans walked by. One of them saw my friend's donuts and said he should try one, then walked off. I meant to tell her "he said he'd like to try a Oaxacan donut (dona)." Instead I said, "He'd like to try a Oaxacan lady (doña)." The look on her face... 

Another time, while leaning Mandarin in Shanghai, I meant to tell my teacher that I liked Japanese food. Instead I told her, "I like to eat human flesh." 

Last one happened tonight! In Bulgaria, I meant to ask a clerk if he had any ice. Instead I told him, "Do you speak ice?" 

Languages are fun... The only way to learn is to allow yourself to make idiotic mistakes!


5 thanks


answered by
Ed from Salt Lake City

We walked into a pet store in Merida, Yucatan where a big cage of bunnies (conejos) was stationed front and center just inside the door.  As we walked in my wife exclaimed "Cajones!"


5 thankscomments (1)


answered by
Janelle from Charleston

I've experienced the reverse, and it was hilarious.  I was 13 or 14 and we were in Washington, DC on holiday.  We stayed at the The Willard Intercontinental Hotel, and in the lobby I overheard an Asian lady arguing with the staff about the cleanliness of her room.  She said "shit on bed smell bad.  Please change."  The lady at the front desk was quite embarrassed and tactfully tried to get the guest to lower her voice.  The guest was having difficulty pronouncing the word "sheet" and it was quite amusing for a 13 year old.


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Washington, DC (city)
  2. The Willard (hotel)
3 thankscomments (1)


answered by
Stuart from Redondo Beach

While discussing excess baggage fees, I once told an airline desk agent, "I will hit (Sp: pegar) you" when I meant to say "I will pay (Sp: pagar) you".

Then there's the difference in Spanish between "hay huevos and "tiene huevos".

In some South American countries "coger" means something other than "afilar" (flirt).


3 thanks


answered by
Steve from Honolulu, Hawaii

We were in Calais and I tried to order dinner for my family in French.  I got confused, hesitant and was otherwise butchering it.  With great sarcasm, the waiter said.  "Please speak English"


3 thanks


answered by
Sarah from Milwaukee

Not while traveling, but while teaching in South Korea. My co-teacher (and carpool-er) was teaching me how to say, "Let's go home" - 'Chip-bay kahjah' and one time I tried to mimic but instead said, 'Chipbay kamjah?.' Which translates to 'home potato.' I don't know why, but she told my 6th graders this story. I caught one of them calling me Potato Teacher once and was able to get him in trouble. But hopefully I'm still lovingly referred to as Potato Teacher.

Here's my school! Out in the beautiful countryside of Jeollanam-do!


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Jeollanam-do (state)
3 thankscomments (2)


answered by
Mandy from Fort Worth

At a Starbucks in São Paulo, I tried to order "sá agua" (water only) but instead i said "sau agua" - "I am water." The barista found this hilarious.


2 thanks


answered by
Elizabeth from Boynton Beach

Once while living in Mexico City, I was trying to explain in Spanish that I had also lived in Grenoble, France where they had the Olympic games in 1976. Well...the word for games in Spanish is "juegos" and the word for eggs in Spanish is "huevos." But for a single consonant, very similar in pronunciation.

So...

What I ended up saying on a very crowded bus was that I had spent time in Grenoble, the site of the "Olympic Balls."

This little nugget traveled up and down the entire length of the bus, and somehow I've never managed to confuse the two words again.


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Mexico City (city)
2 thanks


answered by
Matt from Scottsdale

Over 40 years ago, a friend and I were venturing into the import/export business in Colombia (home furnishings... not drugs - lol) and had a referral to a source of some terrific items hand-crafted in Fusagasuga - a village about 40-50 miles outside of Bogota.  So we set off from the city in the appropriate direction, in our rented micro-mini Renault, figuring that there weren't THAT many roads... and we were bound to find our destination in an hour or two.  After wandering for a couple of hours, we began to stop along the roadside and ask "Donde esta FOO-sa-ga-SOO-ga?" but were met with shrugging shoulders and blank stares until... about a mile from the town... a local - who understood our pathetic accents - pointed and replied "Oh, senors... "foo-sa-GA-soo-GA"... es justo ahi!!!"


2 thanks


answered by
Justin from Phoenix

Every time I'm in an Asian country. The languages are tonal, and non-native speakers might miss the subtle differences. I haven't offended anyone - I've just been incomprehensible.


Icelanders, on the other hand, laugh at me outright while still appreciating the effort.


2 thankscomments (1)


answered by
Julie from Milan

Getting a ticket on a train because I forgot to validate the stupid thing. I said in Italian I forgot and he had no sympathy. I should have played dumb and said I was tourist :/


1 thanks


answered by
Arpit from Jaipur, Rajasthan

called a girl bella in italy, and she was very upset about it


1 thanks


answered by
Stephen "Sven" from Florida

Once when traveling in the Philippines I tried to used the term Salamat (Thank you) but due to saying things fast in English it came out Salmat and they got the biggest giggles of me trying to pronounce it. Never leave the a out of Sal a mat. Also the tone inflection is important.


1 thanks


answered by
Maria from Bulgaria

Some 10 years ago I went to Estonia. Their language was absolutely impossible task. So when I needed directions I was asking in English or Russian. I was obviously not local, having bagpack, suitcase and all travel attributes. Soon I learned that everyone understands Russian but they would rather die than replying to me in Russian. When I asked in Russian they got a grumpy look and pretended that I don't exist. Everything was cheerful when I was asking in English. Even when they were not speaking English, they tried all possible ways to explain but not in Russian.


1 thanks


answered by
JL

Sure , but it's always the incorrect pronunciation of the correct word.  For instance the word anno is the Italian word for year and should be pronounced as two words, (an no) pronouncing BOTH n's (try it, not so easy).  As opposed to the word ano, which is a person's lower rear orifice, and pronounced  with the one N as you would expect.  Fortunately, in travel, using the word anno wont come up that often.  But there are many like situations. I recommend a translator ap or two (about 99 cents) on your cell phone that also has audio translation as well so you can hear the word or words.  First , most countries speak English and they are eager to practice on you. But ask  POLITELY if you may speak English. If they say no English, then use your dictionary or translator and if you are not comfortable, then point to the word or what you want.  As a last resort, draw a picture. Above all be careful of hand gestures, that can get you into much worse trouble !  A word on the French, as a much maligned population regarding their rudeness. Remember, French was once the language of choice for European and some asian travel, and some French think it still should be, and not English. Deal with the young when you can.  Learn the words for 'excuse me', please, 'I am sorry I don't speak French', 'am I saying this correctly',  and the word for 'SLOWLY please' (they speak quickly), and such.  They like when you try, HUMBLY, to speak french, but don't assume they will understand you. You have an accent as far as they are concerned. If you had french in school or are confident in what you learned on the plane, try, you will be rewarded with smiles and maybe giggles.  Lastly, if no English is spoken in any country you are in, take great care not to make disparaging remarks in English to your travel partner. Chances are good that they, in fact, DO speak English and they just don't want to.

 


1 thanks


answered by
Bill from Detroit, Michigan

I was stationed in west Germany in 1971. I added a few days leave around the 4th of July weekend, bought a train ticket, and went to Denmark. After getting my room, I walked around Copenhagen and found myself in a bar soaking up a Tuborg. The man next to me was speaking Norwegian another man. He bumped me and promptly apologized.  I answered in German. He looked at me and said something else in Norwegian. I then shrugged and said in English that I did not understand. I told him I only spoke German, French, Italian,  Polish, Korean and Russian. He smiled and told me in English that it was insulting in Denmark or Norway to speak German. Remember, this was a mere 26 years after the end of WW-II. He told me that most Danes speak English, and since their country is so small, they don't expect foreigners to speak their language like the arrogant French and Germans.


Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Copenhagen (city)
1 thanks


answered by
John

Well Pilgrim, I understand that "protectif" at the french hardware store refers not to shellac or varnish, but to condom.  Also, in Oslo, the word for "trousers" is also easily confused with "condom".


1 thankscomments (1)




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