Anytime you travel and try to learn another language, great stories about embarrassing mistakes are inevitable!
Some are just plain silly!
For example, instead of saying "good afternoon" ("buon pomeriggio") to a government functionary, I once wished him "happy tomato" ("buon pomodoro") !
A very proper friend of mine once declared that she was so tired because she'd "swept" all evening. Of course, she meant that she'd been housecleaning... but what she didn't realize is that "scopare," or "to sweep" in Italian, is used in a double-sense, just like the English "to screw"! Oops!!
And yet others come from so-called "false friends"... Foreign words that seem similar, but actually mean something totally different!
One of my professors, when he had first come to Italy, was at a cocktail party where they were serving a kind of brie-like cheese. He wanted to ask, "Can you eat the rind?" but didn't know "rind" in Italian. So, he thought, what is a "rind"? Why, it's something that preserves a cheese! Problem is, however, that Italians tend to use the word "conserve" to mean "preserve" in that sense, and instead use "preserve" with a more "prophylactic" meaning.
Yes, that's right... he wound up asking, "Do you eat the condoms?" !
"At an informal get-together, a Dutch woman introduced herself to a British woman. When asked what her profession was, the Dutch woman tried to translate 'Ik fok honden' (I breed dogs) - into English. Unfortunately, rather than 'breed' she used the English vulgar cognate of the Dutch verb "fokken." Calmly, she informed her shocked companion that her working relationship with her animals was extremely intimate."
Not to mention probably caused the person to marvel that apparently the Dutch could even get paid for this! :-)
Indeed, for this very reason, to this day, I never, ever, ever use the word "discourage" ("scoraggiare") in Italian, because it's just one letter off from "to fart" ("scoreggiare") ! Talk about a faux pas!!
What about you? Do you have any good foreign language faux pas stories?? Let's hear them!!
Categories: Language, Italy, Humor