Pouf, jumper, panty, slip, and cueca all have in common? No…whatever it is you’re thinking… just stop right there! It’s cross-culture language confusion time again folks!
A guy friend from England said, “You left your jumper in my car,” and I stared at him in disbelief. I haven’t worn a jumper since I was about 14, and I most certainly never left one in ANY guy’s car!
I leaned over to a Chilean amiga and whispered, “me gusta tu panty,” and winked at my gringa friend Eileen, who giggled complicitly.
The clerk in an Illinois menswear department does the drop-jawed eyebrow shoot (quickly replaced by the diplomatic blank face) when a Chilean man tells him he needs a slip. “Lingerie is on the 3rd floor,” he finally drawls. Cue befuddled Chilean.
A Brazilian woman accepts a drink from a guy in a Chilean bar. Everything’s all life’s good warm and tingly and they’re just about to the what’re you doing on Saturday part when he asks if she likes the cueca. She gets up and walks away. “O que é um esquisitão.” What a weirdo, she’s thinking.
Do you know why?
These are all examples of cross-cultural linguistic misfires. Two people are hearing–even spelling–the same word, but understanding two very different things. And you don’t even need to switch languages for the fun & confusion to begin.
In England, a jumper is an additional piece of clothing worn to keep warm. In the US we call that a sweater, and to us, a jumper is a sleeveless dress meant to be worn over a blouse (example: the girl’s school uniform in Chile).
‘Panty,’ in the US, where it is generally used in the plural (panties), is women’s underwear. I have no idea (nor do I want to know) whether my friend was wearing a bikini or thong, but was, in fact, complimenting her on the cool design on her pantyhose (yes, you probably learned medias in school).
In Chile, men wear slips under their clothes, but not the kind your English-speaking grandmother did—here in Chile that’s called an enagua (and just try and find one of those these days—but let’s not go there now), but guys—you want to buy briefs in Santiago? Buck up and try not to blush when you ask for a slip (although it may console you to know you’ll have to pronounce it “sleep”).
And then there’s the cueca. Sure it’s Chile’s national dance, and while a well-danced cueca brava may be sexy as hell, be aware that a Brazilian’s first thoughts turn to men’s underwear.
Confused? Sure, why not! It’s part of what makes inter-cultural language such a challenge—and fun!
Poof! Goes the Wicker Pouf
Yesterday a native Spanish-speaking editor and I lingua-sparred over poufs. The native Spanish-speaking translator from Chile had called a pouf de mimbre a ‘wicker pouf.’ I changed it to ‘wicker ottoman’ and he (from Spain, and with an excellent command of English) wanted to know why.
“Because it’s not English,” I replied.
“It comes from the French pouf, and there’s no reason not to accept foreign words into another language.”
“Of course, as long as it’s a word that people understand, and English speakers won’t get furniture from pouf.” (It’s pronounced poof, by the way).
He asked, “If I say I love your new pouf, what would you think?”
“First I’d be confused. Then I’d look in the mirror to see if my hair had suddenly gotten all big and round. And then I’d check to be sure my skirt hadn’t poofed up like a pumpkin. But what I wouldn’t do is offer you a place to sit!”
But he insisted, and I insisted, and WE insisted, (we’re editors both, and clearly enjoy taking these things very seriously). It was time to pull in the native-speaking troops.
I called Matt W, who nearly choked when I asked him what he understood a pouf to be. “What the hell are you working on?” he wanted to know—it seems that in addition to many other things, in England it is a derogatory reference to a gay guy. Or a big leather seat with no back.
“Oh, so if I said a wicker pouf, you would conjure up one of those things they make in Chimbarrongo (Chile’s mimbre/wicker capital)?”
“No, a pouffe (as the Brits spell it) is soft—and wicker is not.”
(I just love it when I’m right)
But—have I told you I’m also very stubborn? I wasn’t done with this one. This was poll-worthy—so I Tweeted it—and Facebooked the same I’m loving your pouf question.
Hair was the number one response (especially from the US). And there were a few “seats” in there—mostly from the other side of the Atlantic. But when I questioned the seat people, no one was buying the wicker idea.
So there you go. Wicker is for footstools, hassocks or, most definitely, OTTOMANS. And the editor was convinced.
And I thought it was all settled, until today, when I came across a new option… Anyone sat on a wicker tuffet lately?