Language Mishaps (or: How I turned my brother into a smurf)

Starting a new life in a strange country with a different language can be many things. It can be scary, exciting, intimidating, and: highly amusing when you apparently say the weirdest things and thus confuse everybody around you.

About a year ago, I already told you about my biggest language mishaps which I am still laughing about. Of course, and luckily so, my language skills have improved, but sometimes I miss those funny incidents. So when they do happen and I realize it, those just make my day!


May I introduce my brother. (Photo credit: momono)

Like the other day when I had a hairdresser appointment. After almost 2 years, my hair stylist Ixchel and I have developped kind of a friendship, and we share a lot of personal stuff with each other. Ixchel is very excited about the arrival of Mr. R. Jr. and doesn’t get tired of picturing what he might look like. That’s why she tends to ask me in detail about every single family member. We must be quite an exotic bunch to her, especially my redhead, fair-skinned grandmother fascinates her a great deal. Last time, I wanted to tell her about my brother who has a slightly darker skin which would be “piel morena”. However, instead of “morena” I said “morada” which almost FELT strange on my tongue, but I couldn’t figure out what went wrong. Ixchel started laughing, tears were streaming down her face, and she could hardly breathe. Once she caught her breath again, she pointed at my purple bag and gasped, “That’s morada”. So now my poor brother looks like a modern purple take on a smurf… Maybe I should get him a smurf hat for his birthday…

As a teacher of course, I have to get a better grip on myself when my students get things mixed up. Like one day when my student turned an “important man” into an “impotent man”. I really had to pinch myself not to burst out laughing! Or another student who constantly referred to the “English course” as “English curse” – well, at least, I hope he meant “course”!

Do you sometimes get confused by a new language? Any funny slip of tongue lately?


17 thoughts on “Language Mishaps (or: How I turned my brother into a smurf)

  1. When I was in Thailand I kept using thank you incorrectly. As it is gender based (Kob Khun Krap said if you are a woman & Kob Khun Ka for a man) I changed it every time depending on who I was talking to rather than using it based on the fact I was a woman. I usually got it wrong, got strange looks and ended up coming across as someone in the midst of a gender crisis!

    • Ha, yes, I am sure it happens a lot more often, but not always am I aware of my mistakes, and people often are too polite to point it out. Pity almost!
      You can always share an example later, would love to hear about it!

      • One of my constant worries is mixing up the verbs “caer” and “cagar” – they are so similar in their various past tense/subjunctives. Of course, you could quite feasibly fall and shit yourself all at the same time 😉

      • True. Never thought about it until now… I hope it won’t happen to you anytime soon, though – I mean the real action! (and I am sure I won’t be able to use “caer” from now on without giggling…)

  2. Oh yes! On a student exchange, I attempted to ask a teacher if I could go with him (to his english class), but unbeknownst to me the phrase I used was actually asking him to go out on a date with me. The students that heard thought it was hilarious, and it took a while before I heard the end of that!

    • Teehee, good one! I did a similar thing in my mother tongue: In hotel management school we also learned to cook, and I asked our teacher “where he kept his eggs” – unfortunately, in German we often refer to a man’s private parts as “eggs”. I might have blushed A LITTLE, I believe…
      Thanks for sharing your story, always good to start off the day with a good laugh!

  3. Hi Kristin. Thanks so much for visiting my blog and for the follow which of course led me to yours! I love your blog and the great photos! I am no longer an expat, having returned from my life in California to my home in the UK some 10 years ago but although I didn’t have the same kind of language barrier there, I did experience a few language mishaps, particularly when I needed to buy an ingredient for a recipe! One case in mind, I once needed single cream. Do you think I could find it anywhere? It took me forever to discover that it is called half and half over there, ha! Great post, I will be back and look forward to reading more about your adventures in Mexico 🙂

    • Thank you, Sherri! I, too, love your blog and am looking forward to reading more.
      Haha, yes, when we moved to Seattle I, too, got some confused looks upon using my UK vocabulary. I just never could get used to put the money in my wallet, and the wallet in my purse…
      Thanks for stopping by!

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