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Old 05-12-06, 08:03 AM   #1
becnal
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Funniest language gaffes?

While touring in a land where you don't speak the native language, what is the funniest thing you have mistakenly said? Or you have heard said?
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Old 05-12-06, 08:10 AM   #2
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When some friends were sent to Australia to work for a couple of years, the company provided them with a house. They had only been in the house for a few days when Kathy looked out and found that a man was mowing her lawn. He told her that the company paid him to take care of the lawn and the flowers. Kathy responded that she always took care of the lawn and flowers back in the States.

"I enjoy piddling in the yard," she told the man. He advised her that she might be arrested for piddling in her front yard. Apparently "piddling" is an Aussie euphemism for urinating.
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Old 05-12-06, 09:28 AM   #3
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When I first came to Canada I had a few whilst shopping gaffes. I have since learnt that asking for a rubber for your propelling pencil will engender much amusement/confusion and that being asked if I would like to try on some pants in the changing room has nothing to do with mens underwear.
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Old 05-12-06, 10:28 AM   #4
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I like the one about the rubber. I used to teach English in China and erasers are called rubbers there too. So in classes with kids, I was frequently asked if I had a rubber they could use. Which was especially funny in a country with a strict one child per family policy!
When I first went there I tried to buy a bike, and I was still learning the basics of Chinese. 95% of the bikes there are single speed, but I wanted multi-geared. So for twenty minutes I tried hand-waving, pointing, gesturing, funny sounds, etc. I was offered lots of smokes, hot water, and a one speed for a good price, so I took it.
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Old 05-12-06, 11:14 AM   #5
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My favorite of all time - - non-biking - -

A British exchange student - friend of my brother's - was chatting with a cute coed in the school cafeteria. She told him what dorm she lived in. As he was leaving he turned back to her and said, "I'll knock you up sometime." Needless to say, the coed was hardly impressed.
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Old 05-12-06, 03:13 PM   #6
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In Quebec years ago tryin to learn French

Said" Vous etes tres gentil" to an older man who had helped me find my way one day.

And he responded in polite corect English, and I think you are cute too, but you aren't my type

I had meant you are very nice or very kind
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Old 05-12-06, 05:34 PM   #7
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I tell my ESL students this every day:
Some words have 'baggage' we don't understand. In many places in the world (Britian and Oz) "mate" means 'my friend'. In Canada it means your sex partner. Could lead to some interesting conversations in a pub!
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Old 05-12-06, 07:03 PM   #8
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Going to both England and Australia I had to learn a whole new English!

Kip = short nap
Tip = garbage dump
Carrier bag = plastic grocery bag
Boot = trunk of the car


The CTC group I rode with in England thought it was hilariously funny when I talked about wearing booties on my feet ... they called them "overshoes".

And when I landed in the Heathrow airport, the first thing I wanted to do was to urinate, but do you think I could communicate the name of the room I wanted for that purpose? It's not a bathroom. It's not a washroom. It's not a restroom. It's not a lavatory. It's not even a WC!! Finally in desperation I tried "toilet" ... and got the results I was after.
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Old 05-12-06, 07:10 PM   #9
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It's a tossup:
In mexico, I ordered Male Genitalia for breakfast once, trying to order eggs,

The second, I told a waitress in perfect Mandarin Chinese that "Ancestors were going to fly up her nose". That's not even remotely what I was trying to say, she took it in good humor and appreciated the fact I was TRYING, at least, to learn Mandarin Chinese. I've since given up, as I am apparently hopeless with a tonal based language!
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Old 05-12-06, 08:09 PM   #10
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We Australians always find it amusing when Americans openly talk about their "fannies" and wearing "fannypacks" as here the word is used to refer to a quite different part of the (female) anatomy
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Old 05-12-06, 08:18 PM   #11
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In Russian the word for roof is scarily similar to the word for rat (krysa and krysha if I remember rightly). And in five years living there I never dared mention either for fear I would use the wrong one. And parts of the verb to write are very similar to parts of the verb to p*ss.

But my favorite is the possibly anecdotal story of an American who tried to tell the traffic cop he didn't understand. Rumor has it the phrase used was "Ya amerikanski televisor, ya ne ponedelnik" which translates (roughly speaking) as "I'm an American television set. I don't Monday."

Rumor adds that the cop was so busy laughing that he let him off.

And of course none of this has anything to do with biking either.
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Old 05-12-06, 08:21 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Machka
And when I landed in the Heathrow airport, the first thing I wanted to do was to urinate, but do you think I could communicate the name of the room I wanted for that purpose? It's not a bathroom. It's not a washroom. It's not a restroom. It's not a lavatory. It's not even a WC!! Finally in desperation I tried "toilet" ... and got the results I was after.
The normal word is loo.
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Old 05-12-06, 08:29 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom Stormcrowe
It's a tossup:
In mexico, I ordered Male Genitalia for breakfast once, trying to order eggs,

In high school, the teacher would teach whatever vocabulary was in the book, and then later that afternoon, one of the mexican students would explain which words had sexual meanings (hint: anything dealing with food), and what the REAL word for those items were.
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Old 05-12-06, 09:19 PM   #14
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Just thought of another one ....

I arrived in Calais, France on the ferry and started cycling around the city looking for the train station. I had instructions but somehow I got completely turned around and could not find it. Finally I stopped at a gas station to ask the cashier where the train station was.

The French word for station is gare.

The French word for war is guerre.

To my ear, they sound exactly the same. The poor cashier was so confused until I finally raised my hand as though I was pulling a bell cord and asked for the "Choo-choo".
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Old 05-13-06, 01:41 AM   #15
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During our cycling holidays in Corsica we had a rest in a little harbour café in Propriano. There was another tourist group from southern Germany, one of them was smoking, but he couldn't find an ashtray. So he said to the waiter: "Est-ce que je peux recevoir un sanglier?" instead of "Est-ce que je peux recevoir un cendrier?", which sounds quite similar but means "can I get a wild boar?" instead of "can I get an ashtray?".
The waiter answered. "No, désolé, ce n'est pas la saison", which means "sorry, but it's out of season".
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Old 05-13-06, 05:17 AM   #16
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A freind of mine whilst in America ask his American freind "can i bum a ***" to which all the Americans laughted at him after a moment of silence. In England a *** is a cigarette and to bum is to get one for free.
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Old 05-13-06, 06:18 AM   #17
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When I was in Sicily last month, I said that there was semen on mount Etna, instead of snow. The word for semen in italian and the word for snow in maltese are almost the same so I got confused! Fortunately the guy I was talking to understood what I meant although he gave me a weird look.
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Old 05-13-06, 10:25 AM   #18
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In South Africa (english area) the wife and I were at a party with some apprentices who needed to talk to their landlady. They said they were going to knock her up (to knock on the door). As the wife and I turned red with strangled laughter the kids said, "What did we say?" I explained what the term meant in American cementing my status in the group.
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Old 05-13-06, 10:40 AM   #19
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My French is still not great so I may not be telling the story exactly as it happened, but the conversation I had with a waitress in a Quebec City restaurant, while trying to order a coffee, went something like this:

Moi: Je desire avoir une tasse de cafe.
Elle: (reniflez) Tu n'aurais pas!

Instead of saying I want a cup of coffee, I said I want "to have" a cup of coffee, which is not the way you say it in French. So to the waitress, our conversation sounded like this:

Me: I would like to give birth to a cup of coffee.
Her: (snort) No you wouldn't!
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Old 05-14-06, 12:01 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Olebiker
When some friends were sent to Australia to work for a couple of years, the company provided them with a house. They had only been in the house for a few days when Kathy looked out and found that a man was mowing her lawn. He told her that the company paid him to take care of the lawn and the flowers. Kathy responded that she always took care of the lawn and flowers back in the States.

"I enjoy piddling in the yard," she told the man. He advised her that she might be arrested for piddling in her front yard. Apparently "piddling" is an Aussie euphemism for urinating.
that's an american euphemism too...
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Old 05-14-06, 02:41 PM   #21
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I have committed many linguistic gaffes, I am sure! Here's my favourite:

While travelling in India, I developed a serious medical condition, and spent three weeks hospitalized in Mumbai. There was nothing to do in the hospital -- no books, radios, TVs, newspapers, nothing! -- so the patients in the ward decided that a good way to pass the time would be to teach me Hindi.

For several hours a day, a stream of patients visited my room. They chatted to me in Hindi, added vocabulary words to my lists, listened to me talk, corrected my prononciation, and translated common words for me. It was great. I took notes, and after several days, I recognized a handful of words and phrases, and was just barely able to make myself understood.

One evening, I decided to demonstrate my progress to the nurses by announcing that I was about to go to sleep. One of my "tutors" helped me formulate the sentence, and helped me practice until I nailed it.

Unfortunately, the word in Hindi for "You" ("ab") is very similar to the word for "Now" ("ap"). So instead of saying, "Good night, and now I go to bed," I said, "Good night, you and I go to bed!"

The three nurses laughed so hard that their sides hurt, and tears ran down their cheeks. Meanwhile, my poor tutor was so mortified by my mistake that I thought he would faint!

Without intending to do so, I managed to confirm the nurses suspicions that all Westerners are sexual libertines! Later, one of the nurses asked me (in all seriousness), "Is it true that divorce is a tradition in America?"
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Old 05-14-06, 03:08 PM   #22
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i remember talking to a truck driver one day while in colorado, and he was asking where i came from ... when i told him i came from new zealand, he actually knew where that was, and we chatted for a little while about the route we had each come from etc, then he floored me with the comment "you know, for a new zealander you speak pretty good english" ...

another time i called into a bar in cripple creek, colorado with a mate and i ordered a pitcher of beer and a couple of cheese sandwiches ... the barlady was pouring the beer and grabbing a couple of sandwiches and said to me 'you don't speak english do you?' ... i replied 'well i must have done something right because you are getting what i ordered' ...

it was surprising how many people i met on my tour through utah and colorado that had absolutley no idea where new zealand was!!! most asked which state it was in ...
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Old 05-14-06, 03:12 PM   #23
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most of my gaffes are from pronunciation of various town or place names ...

on one tour through victoria australia, i asked a group how far it was to the town of Stawell, which i pronounced 'stay-well', they looked at me in silence for a bit then burst into hysterics, apparently it pronounced 'stool' ...

however, it was funny riding with some aussie mates here in new zealand and listening to them trying to pronounce some of the maori place names ...
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Old 05-14-06, 04:01 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hoogie
i remember talking to a truck driver one day while in colorado, and he was asking where i came from ... when i told him i came from new zealand, he actually knew where that was, and we chatted for a little while about the route we had each come from etc, then he floored me with the comment "you know, for a new zealander you speak pretty good english" ...

another time i called into a bar in cripple creek, colorado with a mate and i ordered a pitcher of beer and a couple of cheese sandwiches ... the barlady was pouring the beer and grabbing a couple of sandwiches and said to me 'you don't speak english do you?' ... i replied 'well i must have done something right because you are getting what i ordered' ...

it was surprising how many people i met on my tour through utah and colorado that had absolutley no idea where new zealand was!!! most asked which state it was in ...
It's sad and embarrassing how many Americans are content to remain ignorant their entire lives.
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Old 05-14-06, 04:33 PM   #25
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In Germany many moons ago my know it all travel companion who claimed to be fluent in German asked a inn clerk "for a room with out a bed" in German. The clerk behind the desk called him an ass in straight forward plain American English. It was great. The know it all thought he asked for a room with a bed.
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