Dumb Stuff the Gringa Says

What?

Foot in the mouth (What? by I am Brad via Flickr)

There are real pros and cons to speaking another language. The pros are much talked about, but let’s get serious. Speaking (or attempting to speak) another language leaves you wide (I mean WIDE) open for riduclosity (I know that’s not a word–but it helps make my point!)

Let me say that I’m no novice at Spanish. I feel pretty comfortable with it about 98% of the time–and fortunately, I have quite a high “laugh at myself” tolerance that covers the other 2%.

My I-can’t-believe-I-just-said-that moments predate my Chile years, and in fact I have a very clear memory of the first time I embarrassed myself in Spanish. I was in a bar on a hot summer night and was about to order a glass of wine. I noticed that the cute bartender was adding ice to the drinks. I knew he spoke Spanish, so I thought I’d get his attention by asking for “vino sin helado.” Oops. Got his attention alright! He looked at me funny (a look I would come to know quite well, it turns out) “You don’t want ice cream in your wine??” he asked (in far better English than my faulty Spanish). Oops… Yeah, right. Slink away and stick to English, okay?

But no. I’m stubborn that way. Kept studying. Came to Chile and started embarrassing myself big-time here. Stayed with a woman 20 years older than me who used to get the silly-giggles over the dumb stuff I could come up with. Oh those torturous Sunday afternoons with the extended family when they would all sit properly on overstuffed sofas (and I tend to topple over), sipping tea, while they chuckled and begged me to  “Say it again!” and chuckled some more. I swore I’d never do that to another 3-year-old again. But I took it all in stride. I’m perfectly capable of laughing at myself–and am convinced that that has been my secret weapon for making a go of it here in Chile.

One of my most embarrassing moments actually occurred some six months after the fact. I first came in 1991, with appallingly little real command of the language, despite high marks in high school and college Spanish courses (OJO Chilenos: ¡el “college” no es colegio, sino la universidad, po! pero eso es otro tema...). I was here to learn Spanish and scope out the territory for future graduate-level field work in anthropology. I got up the nerve to go to the Agrupación de los Familiares de los Detenidos Desaparecidos to interview the women of the Conjunto Folklórico. I knew how to ask my questions, but because my Spanish was so precarious, I didn’t always understand the answers, so I recorded everything. As long as I followed the general idea, I just let it roll and planned to transcribe the tapes later (an excellent learning tool, btw).
Months later, sitting at my computer transcribing, I hear–much to my horror–the following… I’m interviewing Gala, the sister of a desaparecido (disappeared one), and I understand enough to know her story is heart-wrenching. The topic turned to support from abroad and I wanted to know the forms that that support took, so I asked what I thought was a pretty straight-forward question: “¿Cómo les soportan?
I remember clearly that she stopped short, cocked her head, thought for a moment, let a wry smile creep across her face, and then went on to tell me about the forms of support they received from around the world.
Fast-forward three months and a giant leap in language skills, and OH MY GOD! I realized that what I had REALLY asked was “How do they stand you?” I have atoned for and begged forgiveness a million times for this linguistic faux pax!! But she answered with such take-it-in-stride grace that I realized just how much experience she had with well-intentioned foreigners. Ella me cachó–she knew what I meant.

There have been many linguistic blunders over the years (no pain, no gain, right?). But it seems there is no end in sight… I did it again today. When the doctor asked what medications I took, I told him “neopren.” He must have been on Gala’s wavelength, because just he cocked his head just so and looked at me quizzically (that look that I have long since learned to respond with “QUICK! What have I said NOW?”) until I caught on and back-peddled on the glue-sniffing bit. “Oops,” I corrected, ” wait, no, I don’t sniff glue! but I do take a medication with a similar sounding name. He chuckled and noted the correct medication…and I bet the incident made dinner conversation at his house tonight as well as at mine.

So–I’ve fessed up (at least in part), how about YOU?
Aw…. Come on now… I know you’ve got some bloopers to share!! Come clean! Please help me feel better by sharing some of your own foreign-language sillinesses!

Call for Group Post:

Clare (of Musings from Inside Outside & Underneath) and I decided that this was definitely group-post worthy! She’s kicked the ball and got it rolling–now how about you? Write a post about your foreign language blunders on your own blog, link to this post and then leave me your link in the comments.

Clare, on when a frog is not a frog: I should be embarrassed… but I don’t understand

80 responses to “Dumb Stuff the Gringa Says

  1. I used to believe my English was good, above average, until I went to the States, and got to a point in I was afraid of opening my mouth to say anything.
    I remember one time in Forthworth, TX, I was with my sister at a restaurant, and we both ordered Coca Cola, then the waitress said,
    -“We have regular, cherry and free”
    -“You have Coca Cola free?”
    -“Yes, we have sir”
    -“Wow, that´s great, then we´ll have the free Coca Cola”
    -“No, it´s not for free sir, is sugar free
    -“uhm… ok, sorry, just bring any Coke you have on the list”, both our faces red.

  2. The neopren mistake made my boyfriend laugh so hard.
    A long time ago in Mexico when my spanish was basic, I was cleaning house with my friend and her mother when I remembered a song my friend showed me, apparently a dirty one, and asked her “Que significa “sabanas mojadas”? My friend and her mother´s eyes got so wide and my friend whispered what it meant and i think from then on i just pretended to understand everything and never asked a question, ha! I think that´s my most embarassing.
    Another time was when I pronounced “diarios” in the english pronounciation, to which it came out sounding like “diarrea”. So I told my friend my favorite movie was “Diarreas de motocicleta”. I´ll never forget the look on his face…
    Oh, spanish mistake stories. they´re so fun. the best way to learn how to laugh at yourself…

  3. Come on Peg – You know me better than this. I would do an “I love Lucy” stint in a heart beat. Speak loudly to them, even though they’re not deaf, Slowly, but loud. I know, I scare myself!

  4. I am Chilean livIng in Canada, on my first day of work at a regular 8 to 5 office hours city company I asked where the cattle was to make myself some tea. I meant kettle of course. I got a big laugh from my co-worker who “me cachó” but I still wonder if in the miliseconds before she realized what I really meant she might have actually thought that I was a farm girl who drank her tea with very very fresh milk.

  5. I love hearing everyone else’s stories… it’s always such a comfort to know I’m not alone here!
    @Marmo- your story reminds me of the first time someone (in Chile) offered me “Coca Cola natural.” I wondered what could possibly be natural about Coke! (for anyone who’s wondering, it means room temperature, which some people here drink in winter)
    @Catherine- I agree–we can learn so much once we stop taking ourselves so damned seriously all the time!
    @Barb- haha- I remember a Chilean man’s story about taking his family to NYC on vacation. They needed an iron to touch up their clothes and went to the department store to ask for a “planch.” The clerk didn’t understand, so he used your tactic: repeated slowly and with increasing volume “I….. need…. a PLANCH!” until someone finally came along and explained that the Spanish word “plancha is IRON in English!
    @marianela hahaha, I can just imagine! still chuckling over the very fresh milk!

  6. I live in Dresden, Germany and I’m from Syracuse, NY too! The 6 months before my wedding here in Germany when people asked me how I was doing I replied “ueberzeugt”–instead of “ueberwaeltigt”, which means I said I was convinced instead of over whelmed. I only found out I had been using the wrong word about two days before my wedding when my mother-in-law to be questioned what I was saying.

  7. Read your entire post top to bottom (as I always do,🙂 and I can only say, you are a very courageous gringa. No matter what the outcome, you keep plugging. I was a Rotary Exchange Student and I lived with three families in Youngstown, Ohio.

    One evening I was sitting at the dinner table with the whole family and my American Mum said …’you must be pulling my leg’. I was initially shocked at what she has just told me so immediately replied …how can I be pulling your leg when you are sitting so far away from me? I think they are still laughing!

  8. Hi Jessica- Wow! Another Syracusan! Cool! And yes, I’m sure your MIL must have been a bit concerned if you were only “convinced” 2 days before your wedding…although it could have been much worse (I mean, convinced is good, right?)
    @John- When I was in grad school I used to train the incoming international teaching assistants on idiomatic expressions in English–things like pulling your leg and advising them not to actually look up when someone says “hey! what’s up?”

  9. Ni que decir, y lo digo en Chileno. La Margaret cacha lo que pasa en Chile. Felicitaciones realmente, yo daria una de mis pechugas porque el Gringo que duerme conmigo lograra comprender el ser Chileno. Pero en fin, toma tiempo, mucho tiempo, casi toda la vida. Me gusta mucho all of this!!!!

  10. Well, I’m a chilean, but I do work with several “gringos”, and I’ve heard all those funny mistakes trying to look serious, but laughing on the inside, from the mild sweet ones to those who should have a parental advisory tag (not because of the situation, but because changing just a few letters can make it so much naughtier than you intended)
    my 2 favorites are a friend that visit from Indianapolis, with fairly good spanish, and she kept saying to my friends “Estoy muy embarazada” (Translating, of course, emabrased)… Lot’s of funny looks about that.
    ALso, the same friend, when arriving to a new place she hasnt seen, or tasting a new dish she hasn’t tried, she kept saying “Estoy muy excitada” (From the I9m very excited kind) took her a while to realize the big difference among those.

  11. Muchas gracias Marcela–pero OJO–¡Nada tan drástico! ¿ya? hahaha. Sí. Demora su buen rato. Yo tenía la ventaja de que no concocía ningún otro gringo durante mucho tiempo, ni tampoco tenía muchos que me hablaran en inglés–especialmente el chileno a mi lado–así es que tenía hartas ganas y necesidad de lanzarme a la picina nomás. Sink or swim. Llené la boca de agua muchas veces, pero finalmente terminé nadando. Con mi marido nunca nos dejamos de sorprender (uno al otro), pero después de 20 años juntos, ya cachamos que hay áreas en las cuales nunca vamos a pensar igual! Dile a tu gringo leer Cachando Chile pues! Gracias por los comentarios!

  12. Hi Gonzalo- I really wish I had written all this silly stuff down over the years! Embarazada and excitada are famous! And your poor friend! Did you ever tell her that everyone was thinking “well if she’s so excitada all the time, no wonder she so embarazada now!” (oops!)

  13. Thanks for making me laugh, Margaret! I’ve made plenty of bloopers too. Can’t remember specifics, but I can remember everyone laughing, including me! I have a terrible time understanding certain people and I often just respond, “¡Sí!” Then, later, I worry about whether or not I’ve agreed to something that I don’t want to do.

  14. haha-I always tell people that the reason I haven’t been to France is that the only word I know is “oui” and I’m sure that would just get me into trouble!

  15. Okay… my best I will have to save for a blogpost of my own…. However, I did announce yesterday to my suegra that my daughter (10 weeks old) does not like to eat “leche de penca”. I was in fact referring to the salad “penca” and the breast milk I produced after trying it and not her affinity or lack their of for sperm.

  16. Hahaha something like this just happened last night, but not to me. I was showing pictures of my sister’s wedding to my host mom and another girl from Ukraine was there. I asked how to say “flower girl” in Spanish and my host mom told me it was “paje”. Later on, the girl from Ukraine by accident called the flower girl “una paja”…to which of course everyone started laughing, and then we had to explain.

  17. @Clare-Oh my god!! I hope your suegra has a sense of humor!! hahaha… Ya po! Write your post and let me know! We can cross link… actually i was thinking that this could be a great group post topic if anyone’s up for that!

    @Abby-oops!! poor girl (from the Ukraine)! Hope she took it well!

  18. jajaja Margaret, didn’t thought of that connection, but makes all the sense. She learned spanish while living from a year in Argentina, but nobody bothered to correct her. They where all surprise that she was embarazada for a year, but no baby, no belly…

  19. jajaja–well maybe in Argentina they DO get embarazada like that! No offense to Argentines!! It’s just that the etymology is close enough that it could have evolved differently there!

  20. Love your sense of humor! I was teaching Spanish to HS students in NC and asked them, in English, to focus on something but my mouth went lazy and it came out as f**k us… You can imagine the class bursting in laughter! I always take it in stride… and blush! jajaja

  21. Thanks Carmen–I find a bit of humor is better than a whole lot of therapy! Too many people just take themselves too seriously. And ohhh! I bet those kids still remember THAT class!😉
    I remember someone reading somewhere that he told a bunch of kids “tengo 18 anos” and they tortured him with giggles until they finally relented and explained the difference between anos and años! Yep! a BIG difference between an “n” and an “ñ”!!

  22. My mom did the whole “embarazada” mistake with her host family when she was a high school exchange student in Guatemala in the 1960s. The mistake coompounded itself to the point where they took her to the doctor, who had to explain-in English- why her very religious host family was so upset! Needless to say, “tengo verguenza” was one of the very first spanish phrases she drilled into my head when she left us with our Chilean grandparents for the summer!

  23. @Carla- Your young mom must have been really mortified (and the host family very relieved) when the doctor finally explained what was going on! Maybe this should be the FIRST thing they teach in Spanish class, right after, “Hola, me llamo xxx”!

  24. I never actually spoke my most memorable mix-up. The first year we were in Chile there was a huge mud slide in the hills above Santiago & my homeroom teacher was asking the class what we were going to “en solidaridad”. I must have been making a funny face or something because he singled me out to answer the question. I was very confused thinking “if they want to be alone, why are we going to go bug them?!” having misunderstood solitude for solidarity!

  25. Ohh! good one!! hahaha…

    Reminds me of another friend who got confused when we were told we could not photograph “indigentes” (indigents) and he later asked me why they didn’t want us to show indigenous people (indígena)! Close!

  26. In the early days of my relationship with my Colombian girlfriend (and the early days of my Spanish-speaking), she was having a bad day so I tried to cheer her up by telling her that whatever happened, she was a good person. I, of course, managed to get ser and estar mixed up and told her, “No te preocupes, estas muy buena!”. I didn’t get the reaction I was quite looking for!

  27. Awww- but at least the intention was sweet!

    That reminds me of one day when I was having a bad day and my husband asked (in English), “Are you grungy?” It shook me right out of my funk. He had learned grungy and grumpy on the same day and never did quite get them straight! hahaha…

  28. I thought you were going to say he meant “grouchy”! haha

  29. I have so many.
    Best is asking a butcher in Pucon for
    “Dos tatas de pollo” when my wife asked me to buy two chicken breasts

    I also said to my mother in law
    “Mi gusto tu soupa de petchugas” When she made me a beetroot soup

    My wifes Grandmother once asked me

    “como estas”
    I replied “Estoy raja” meaning I was tired instead saying something quite different.

    In fact my wife tells me I have insulted everyone in her family without actually meaning to

  30. @Thorny–I don’t think he’s learned grouchy yet, but that would make sense!

    @Matt–hahaha–I bet they have some GREAT stories about you!

  31. And Matt–what your buddies understand by “raja” and what the abuela does are two very different things! Stop learning Spanish from Grant! hahaha!

  32. My suegra calls Grant The Kiwi Huaso

  33. Oh, I bet he’s been called a lot worse! But then of course, he can hand it right back too!

  34. Shy Auntie Vi was riding a crowded bus in Santiago with her missionary husband, many years ago. The bus gave a lurch and she lost her grip, landing in the lap of a startled señor. Blushing, she jumped up exclaiming “¡Con permiso!” It was the only memorized phrase she could think of from her very limited vocabulary, besides “por favor” and “gracias”.

  35. Cute… better that than Gracias!!!

  36. Where do I begin?….. In every country I have lived or visited I have embarrassed myself, so ….
    Like the time when I had just moved to the US and I wanted to buy “manteca vegetal”. So silly me goes and ask somebody in the supermarket where could I get “vegetable lard”….. I can still see the confusion on his eyes. Or while talking to a colleague which I have heard was from Nebraska, I said “You were grown in Nebraska”…. I can still see his face and his best attempts to look like a vegetable, not to mention the long time everybody was laughing around me. My list goes on and on and on, so I’ll stop it here. Although I’ll add one story that did not happen to me.
    While working in Chile, one of my colleagues was asked to give a talk to the sales department in Brazil. Given that Chileans and Brazilians get a long quite well language-wise, he was very confident (for the most part brazilian portuguese and south american spanish are almost interchangeable). At some point on his speech he came to the following:
    “sometimes usted tiene que transar con el cliente para lograr una venta”, which translated to english would mean something like “sometimes you need to cut a deal with the customer in order to get a sale”. Now he was very surprised and almost angry when a girl in the team started crying. After asking repeatedly what happened, a male colleague came to him and explained the situation in private. In Brazil “transar” does not mean “to cut a deal” but “to have sex”, do I need to explain more?

  37. @Carlos–very funny! And while I really think you were ok with the vegetable lard (not all that off, really!), the grown in Nebraska cracked me up. I mean everyone understood it, but it just sounds like his mother should have watered him every morning and pruned him each fall! hahaha. And oh, that business meeting–so very tricky! Thanks for the contribution–would love to hear more!

  38. Pingback: I should be embarrased… but I don’t understand | Musings from inside, outside, and underneath

  39. Hi Margaret,

    Okay, I wrote my post. Please find it here: https://claresays.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/i-should-be-embarrased-but-i-dont-understand/ and if you know anyone who you think would be interested in participating in a group post— I think it could be hilarious. Plus, I really don’t want to be one of two with my embarrassing story just hanging out there. (Yes, I realize a lot of people do/post embarrassing pictures and stories on the internet, but still)

  40. I am Chilean and living in Boston, MA since I was a teenager. I don’t even remember the strange things I said when I first moved here but I certainly remember the odd looks I got from people. Once, being particularly annoyed by someone who talked a lot, I said to a friend “She talks out of her elbows”. He still laughs at this.

  41. Hi Clare–I REMEMBER this story!! Funny! OK, so you’re all linked in–can’t wait to hear more stories!!

  42. Hi Pamela–She talks out of her elbows? Funny! But I’m sure anyone there would have understood immediately! But tell me, is this from a Chilean expression? Would love to know the original!

  43. Hi Margaret, I had the same idea that if I said someone is talking out of their elbows an American would deduce that the person talks too much as it is impossible to talk out of an elbow. I think my friend got the idea and was fascinated at how colorful the expression was. The equivalent in Chile is, hablar por los codos. Does anyone have a better translation for it? I would also love a translation of parar oreja.

  44. Well if you think about it literally, it IS pretty funny! Hablando por los codos… ‘sta guena! Can’t think of a translation that would really work (other than literal). I think “parar oreja” means to eavesdrop, although it sounds like it should mean “perk up ones ears”… Which do you think?

  45. Strangely, my grandmother taught me that parar oreja is more than just a saying. When someone repeats himself too much, you grab a napkin or piece of paper and fold it in the shape of an ear which simbolizes that the person keeps telling the same story over ans over. If no paper or napkin is available you may threaten the person by saying “te voy a parar oreja”. Does anyone else know parar oreja to have this definition?

  46. Otra joyita, esta se la dije a un Colombiano es espanol. Trabajabamos juntos y nuestro jefe se fue al bano y duro mucho tiempo ahi. Preocupado mi companero me pregunto que le estaria demorando tanto y yo conteste, alomejor se lo trago el water. Nos re-cagamos de la risa

  47. actually it is not parar but levantar oreja. sorry about the confusion

  48. Okay everyone has made me have a good laugh, which I needed so I will share one of my language mistakes. (growing up in the UK and US I used to make lots in English, before i even started in Spanish!)

    When I first arrived in Chile and met my soon to be husband, I thought I would be a real woman, and buy the condoms. Now for anyone who doesn’t know, they did’t sell condoms in toilets here, at least not in the places I went to, and the drug stores here have everything behind the counter, so you have to ask. I thought yes I can do this, “condon”, not too different from English.

    Bold as brass I said, “necesito unos condones!”…blank stare from the woman behind the counter. “Condon!” (you know, say it louder, that will help.) Start miming, jumping around. Blank stare. Finally the woman in line next to me, leans over to the saleswoman and WHISPERS “condones”, and the woman gave a knowing secret understanding. Of course, how silly, you have to whisper these kind of requests!

  49. None of my most mythic mistakes are even PG-rated, unfortunately, but I have enjoyed everyone else’s tales of linguistic woe! I’m sure I’ll think of something, but mine has mostly been generalized confusion, and not particular words. Though today I used the word añejar, and as it came out of my mouth I’d wondered if I’d said anhelar by mistake.

  50. oK, now you have me curious about those R-rated flubs!
    I was thinking that añejar was one of those words that I use but that isn’t really a word, so I plugged it into google translator and it came back “un-aged”–which is pretty close to opposite its true meaning… yet another sign that machine translations often lend more confusion than meaning to one’s reading!

  51. Your blog isn’t big enough for both of us Peg! Where would I even begin….all in English!

  52. Ah Barb… the stories you could tell! Ever think about starting a blog of your own? I would be your first subscriber!

  53. Stumbled upon this blog!.. Has made me laugh far too much.

    I remember being corrected when I told a friend that I didn’t like”preservativos en mi comida” and getting a strange look before bursting out laughing. They realised I was talking about preservatives in my food not condoms in my food and told me the word I meant to say was presevantes.

  54. Oh Sergio! That was priceless! I. Had forgotten about “preservatives”
    If you aren’t careful with them, seone can Really end up “embarasada”!

  55. Hola Margaret, I have a couple, the first one was not really my fault (and I didn’t even need to go out of Santiago), a group of exchange students from US came for a couple of weeks to our Uni., upon introducing each other I say ” Hi I’m Patricio but I prefer you call me Pato” and one of the girls gave me the most strange look. Only a couple of conversations later she dared to bring the subject, and then I knew that pato is the word they use to call gay people in Puerto Rico. Now studying in Orlando, Fl, I prefer to be known as Patricio even if it’s harder for the rest to pronounce it, just in case.
    The second happened here at Orlando, in a field abundant in silly acronyms (Astronomy), in a group meeting I was presenting a new method I was working on, the unlucky letters I picked to name it were f.a.p., I was totally disconcerted seeing everyone chuckling on the room. It took me a quick look on internet after the meeting to understand why I should have been totally embarrassed during the meeting.
    By the way, nice blog you have, I’ve always wondered what foreign people have to say about Chile.

  56. Hi Pato- Thanks for your comments! And I had no idea about either one of these! Isn’t Pato a common nickname for Patricio in all Spanish speaking countries? (or is it just Chile?) And I confess I had to look up the FAP reference. There was quite a discussion forum on what it means (one said something about the human genome project, another even suggested the sound a flat tire makes), until I finally found the reason your colleagues looked at you funny… oops! (Homework for the rest of you! oops–that doesn’t sound quite right either… yep, this is tricky Pato!)
    And glad you like the blog…and now you’re really in a position to see where it came from… all those funny big and little things that come up every day when you live outside your home culture!

  57. I made a ‘foot in mouth’ error today too, not language wise, but very very cringeworthy! :s – have a look and let me know your views! http://hazellcottrell.wordpress.com/2011/09/10/hi-im-hazel-your-waitress-please-allow-me-to-put-my-foot-in-my-mouth/

  58. Hi Margaret, here’s mine. I was invited to a goodbye party for one of the local physics students and duly went to hang out at the barbeque hut behind the university to eat “churrascas” and exercise my Spanish social skills. Which I definitely did…as I noticed a girl I was talking to was putting vegetable margarine on her churrasca, since I knew there were some vegetarians there I started asking if she was vegan. However, mid-word I realized I wasn’t sure what the term was in Spanish so it came out sort of like “Eres veeggghhghhhhaaaaiiin……?” to which I got some very odd looks – but after a quick exchange we sorted out what I was trying to say.
    However, much later my friend’s polola said it sounded a lot to her like I was asking if she was a “virgin”!! From the look on her face I would say that is what she thought as well, haha. This gringo blew it.

    I really like your blog, btw. I’m a guy in his mid-20s who’s been living in La Serena for ~9 months now on a temporary project and now am convinced I have to return someday to this amazing place.

  59. @Hazel- oops!! but how could you have possibly known?? Pretty uncomfortable all the same!
    @Scott- Oooooh!! ¡qué plancha! (how embarrassing)- don’t know if it was more embarrassing for her (immediately) or you (later when you realized what the fuss was about)! But I bet those are two words you now know how to pronounced VERY clearly! jajaja But here’s a question… if she was eating a churrasco–a meat sandwich–wouldn’t that pretty much have limited her chances of being a vegan?
    Glad you enjoy the blog… and I see that Chile is having its notorious effect on you too! Sooo many of us have come for the short term and ended up staying forever!

  60. I can totally related to those Sunday dinners with the family scenarios!!! Ive been here over 5 months, but i remember so clearly those roaring laughs especially at the beginning. Now i speak alot more confidently, obviously alot better, i still make mistakes but i have learnt its just part in parcel of learning a language.

    My classic error i made once and i couldnt live it down for about 2 months was confusing “mantequilla” and “maquillaje”!!!

  61. OOps! No makeup on my toast please!

  62. I can’t remember anything specific that I’ve come out with, but I’m in no doubt I’ve said some stupid things in my time. But the funniest story I’ve heard was from an American friend, who, being in her 70s, is a little hard of hearing and therefore tends to shout when she means to just talk. Her Spanish is not particularly great and she has a very strong New York accent when she speaks (loudly).

    At a party, she was asked:

    “Philly, y cual es el marisco que mas te gusta?” (Philly, what’s your favourite shellfish?”.

    Her answer, just at the exact moment a song ended and the room became quiet..?

    “Me encanta el pico rico!”

    Which would have been a great answer if she’d answered “Me encanta el pico-roco”, pico-roco being a (foul tasting) giant barnacle. But ‘pico rico’ has another meaning.

    She had just shouted to everyone at the party, “I love hot cock!”.

  63. Oh one mistake I remember- I’ve mixed up “cajones” and “cojones” many times. I still do it sometimes, it’s become a fossilised mistake. It never fails to crack up the maestros I work with.

  64. Pico rico–a classic! I can just imagine the reaction!!
    And yes, cajones and cojones… I can just imagine someone telling the maestros “I need more cojones” jajaja…
    I used to be afraid to say “miedo” (fear) because I used to confuse it with “mierda” (shit)… and like you, knew that I confused it, which only made things worse!

  65. Hi again Margaret –
    I was actually wondering if you knew about this, since even our Santiaguino friend hadn’t heard of it – it is NOT a churrasco, it is basically barbecued flatbread and I think it is a regional thing. You can read about it here: http://fresco.bligoo.com/content/view/480281/La-Churrasca-Maulina.html

    And yes, I am a bit more careful around the girls now😉
    Saludos!

  66. Hi Scott- Sorry I didn’t answer sooner–this got trapped in Spam Land… (who knows why). But, bottom line, no, I don’t know the story behind the churrasca maulina. Have you tried it? Looks good! Glad to hear you’re more careful now, but if you’ve read some of the other comments, you’ll see that yours wasn’t really all that bad in the end–sure could have been worse!!

  67. Pingback: This post has no title, just words and some pictures. | As a Linguist…

  68. Oh Margaret! I understand you, I´m argentinian and I live in Chile. I thought, when I first arrive here, It´s ok I speak spanish, I´ll be right. But I was wrong. It´s realy hard understand other people or even buy some stuff. Language changes drasticly in diferent regions!!!!
    At once I asked for “ayuya” -but I pronunced “ashusha” (in argentinian way for “y”), so I sad “achucha” in chilena. The girl looked at me a bit angry!!!!

  69. Hi Celeste- Well I’m glad it’s not just the girnga-chilena difference! But, just as there are big difference between British and American English, there are differences between Argentine and Chilean Spanish!
    Oops! “achucha” could get you into trouble!! hahaha But she surely recognized your accent (accents can get us OUT of trouble as well as INTO trouble!)
    I have to confess that the way Argentines pronounce the “y” sound often confuses me. Once on an Argentine airline they offered me “pocho o carne” and I sadi, I don’t know what pocho is, but I like to try new things, so I’ll have that.” The flight attendant looked at me like I was from Mars and my husband laughed and whispered “POLLO!!” hahaha!

  70. Hablo, leo y escribo en inglés, creí que bien,pero después de haberme reído hasta las lágrimas con los errores linguísticos, prefiero decirlo en Castellano. ¡genial esta página! me reí a carcajadas de principio a fin recordando mis tiempos de estudiante en UK.
    Muchas gracias

  71. Hola Juanita–Muchas gracias! Me alegro que lo dsifrutaste–es la idea, leer un poco, pensar un poco, reírse un poco (a veces) y comentar un poco–y en el idioma que quieras Y no te preocupes cuál–Aquí todos hablamos un excelente “Espanglish”

  72. I have a couple occasions that I remember for being particularly mortifying… One time I was at a seafood restaurant in Santiago with a friend, and I meant to say that I wanted to try picoroco (Chilean barnacle) because I’d never had it before, but instead I said I wanted to try “pico rico”.:/

    The other one I can think of is that I was at a table full of Chilean friends at a bar and I wanted them to tell me jokes in Spanish, but instead of asking them to “divierteme” (entertain me), I emphatically asked everyone to please “desvistame” (undress me).

  73. I’m cringing just thinking about it! Don’t know if it makes you feel any better to know you’re not the only one to ask about that “pico rico” I bet the fishmongers in el Mercado Central just love telling gringa jokes with that punchline!

  74. I understand you so well!
    I have been living in Iceland for three years now (I am Chilean by the way). Maybe you have heard about icelandic. It is a rather complicated language, its word usually don’t resemble anything I know! So making mistakes is really easy especially with those words that are very, very similar but the meaning is totally different!

    I remember when I was working in a after school taking care of kids (between 6 and 9 yo), it was raining and they were playing in the mud… I came and told them: “HÆTIÐ ÞIÐ AÐ LEIKA YKKUR Í DRUSLUNNI!” They gave me a look a will never forget! I said DRUSLUNNI instead of DRULLUNNI… so what I really said was “STOP PLAYING IN THE WHORE” instead of “STOP PLAYING IN THE MUD”.
    There are so many words like this! (Like graður and gráður, being the first one horny and second one degrees… or teppi and typpi, carpet and penis… and so on!).

    One last thing, I love your blog! It takes me back to Chile everytime I read it🙂

  75. Thanks–and yes, doesn’t matter what the language or cultures involved are–when we start mixing them, we’re bound for one heck of a ride! Sure keeps us on our toes though, doesn’t it! I wonder what those kids thought you were talking about–Yikes!
    Thanks for writing–would love to hear more about how your experiences in Iceland compare!

  76. Oh my, these comments and your post are so funny! A gringa friend came over our house on a very hot California day and her face was so red because of the heat. My mother asks her: “is it hot out there?”, she chuckles and replies while gasping for air, “si, y estoy bien rosada”. hahahaha, we laughed and laughed! she meant to say her face was pink cause of the heat…but she we understood she had a very painful rash and needed maybe some baby powder!🙂 hahahaha. too funny.

  77. There are tons of funny misunderstandings within Spanish, as I’m sure there should be between US-UK English.

    During a trip to MExico, the Chilean president Sebastián Piñera -who’s well kown for his funny mistakes, wanted to close his speech with some sound line for promoting the trade between both countries, so he came up with this in Spanish “Mexico for the chileans, and Chile for the Mexicans”.
    Total silence and awkward faces.
    Later he was told that in Mexico, ‘Chile’ is a slang for cock.
    Guess some mexicans were not totally sure of signing a trade agreement after that.

    Spanish tourists laugh a lot at the main offices of the “Polla Chilena de Beneficencia” in Santiago, spanish for “Chilean Polla for Charity”, being Polla a well-known gambling game:
    Why?: in Spain, ‘Polla’ is also a slang for cock.
    They must be thinking that we chileans are taking charity a bit too seriously!

    Great blog! Cheers!

  78. Hadn’t heard the Piñera in Mexico story, although I don’t think that was really his fault–perfectly understandable mistake, although he really should get someone to vet his speeches before he launches into them! And just goes to show, once again, that language is a constant source of entertainment as well as (mis)communication!

  79. There are Piñera’s lot of funny stories, but me no comprendiendo: btw ?????between???????

  80. Edu: BTW = By the way (a propósito)

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