Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Learning moments

Heard a funny story from one of my students this week. I had been talking about moments of embarassment being excellent learning moments and he came up with this: It seems he was in an interview for a job and since one of the requirements for the position was a solid grasp of English communication skills, part of the interview was conducted in English to confirm this ability. Well. When it came time to switch to English, he was asked the common and simple, "How are you today?" He was tired, but he was more than tired since he had had trouble sleeping the night before and he wanted to convey this. He couldn't quite remember what the word was for "very tired". He took a stab at it though and told the interviewer, "I'm very horny today." The interviewer smiled broadly and asked why that was. My student explained why and then answered a few other questions in English from the interviewer. At the end of the interview, he was told that although his English skills were acceptable, he might want to reconfirm the accepted use of "horny". Imagine his horror upon realizing what he had said! Happy ending though, he got the job. If you could see how serious and conservative this guy is, it would be even funnier. Me, I'll be chuckling for months about it.

My big similar moment came at a restaurant when I asked the waiter if I could move my chair back. The word I was trying to use was "reculer" which means "back up" but what came out of my mouth was "enculer" which means "butt fuck". Really not the same thing at all. At all, at all. But you know, great learning moment as I've never made that mixup again.

And you? Any embarassing learning moments you care to share? Do tell.

12 comments:

Snooze said...

Did the waiter hit on you after that faux pas? I am smiling too thinking of your student.

In a Spanish exam I had to translate the phrase "Upon seeing my cross-eyed cousin, he burst out laughing". I got the first part [al ver a mi primo bizco...] but instead of 'burst out laughing' I wrote 'he became constipated'. I did realize my error before the end of the exam but was unable to correct it as I didn't know the right answer.

That, and telling several people when I backpacked around Spain that I was studying to be a library.

Art said...

In New Brunswick, I drove to a small village known their fried clams; I asked for "le coq frites, pour emporter" drove home, opened the container, and instead of the clams, I had a BLT sandwich...don't know how that happened...
A friend was in Paris, who doesn't speak French, and desperately needed a toilet, so he went in a cafe, hurriedly asked for "dessert", rushed to the toilet, came back, and there was a plate of fried eggs, nothing else "des oeufs" which he ate, without complaining...

Peter said...

I embarrass myself on an almost daily basis -getting caught spraying Febreeze down my pants and accidentally punching a nun in the face being some of my more notable 'accomplishments'. But off the top of my head can't think of anything I've learned beyond "I shouldn't be allowed out in public alone."

The closest I can come linguistically is when I was living in England when I made a comment about someone's pants. I was referring to his trousers, but in England 'pants' is used to refer to underwear. He picked up on this and the entire office quickly made it a game to get me to say something about other men's pants. It was about a month before someone filled me in on the language difference.

Lemuel said...

Probably the most embarrassing linguistic moment for me was in traveling to Germany in 1971. I was a student and engaged to be married to my (now) wife. In a casual and friendly conversation with our host early in the trip, I wanted to tell them I was engaged. I could not remember the word for fiancee, so I describe her as the person who would be my wife. Unfortunately I compounded the problem with a brain fart and used the false cognate "Weib" for "wife". A look of horror came over my host, who gently and politely informed me not to use that word for wife, but to use the more proper "Ehefrau". It seems the word "Weib" had taken on certain vulgar and unseemly connotations and I had come nearly close to saying that I was about to make my girlfriend a whore.

Rox said...

I love reading about everyone's Language Bloopers!

Mel said...

I learned the Spanish word for cunt quite by accident, though I would have learned it eventually, since it gets frequent usage in Spain. Also, the word for "sinuses" is most commonly understood as "breasts", which don't become stopped up, but rather, constipated.

Blobby said...

Well, it MIGHT be the same thing....depending on what or whom you want to back up onto.

Sunshine said...

LOL. This is great. :P

I read a lot as a child and knew many words. Problem was, I didn't know how to pronounce a lot of them.

So there I was, in creative writing class, trying to sound intelligent. I use the word "epitome" and pronounced it as e-pi-TOME. The lecturer looked confused for a few seconds, then casually said, "Oh, you mean e-pi-to-me".

I must have turned beetroot red. :P

Rebekah said...

In Japanese, "Hana" can mean "nose" or "flower," depending how you use it. Fireworks are actually called "fire flower," as in "Hanabe." I was very proud to say I was going to the store to buy some "Hanage."

"Hanage" means "nosewater," or basically, boogers.

Oh, my head of department laughed...

Cubby said...

You're not fooling anyone with that 'enculer' story. Mixup? Ha!

Rick said...

I love embarrassing stories like these.

Mike said...

These are WAY too funny! Mine is not quite so dramatic, but i remember being so embarrassed. I was in Geneva, Switzerland a few summers ago and in a long line at the department store buying a shirt. The whole time waiting, i was practicing in my head how to say "hello", "how much is that?" and "thank you" in French. I was all fired up, and everything was going well until the transaction was complete and instead of saying "Merci" to the salesgirl, I proclaimed "Bon jour" (or "hello") -- loudly and proudly. The salesgirl started laughing, as did several people behind me. I slunk out of that store with my tail between my legs.