It was clear from the massive grins on my entirely male Spanish class, that something was amiss. In Spanish ‘estoy caliente’ means I am feeling amorous, whereas ‘tengo calor’ means I am hot. In my dashing in late, I had confused the two with the consequence that my students , not surprisingly, happily forgave my lateness (in a country in which lateness doesn’t technically exist, I shouldn’t have worried). No wonder they said I was their best teacher. Mistakes in foreign languages can have very amusing consequences and are some of the best ways of learning a language, or rather, remembering what not to say.
Another friend mistook the word for a drinking straw, une paille, in French for une pipe – a reference to oral sex. She even then made the up and down motion of an imaginary straw to her mouth to demonstrate what she was after, all of which did little to improve the situation.
Some of the most amusing cases can happen when mixing up two languages. One of my favourite students ever was a man called Victor. For Victor, English was just an extension of Spanish. One day he got very excited talking about ‘white fockers’ and ‘black fockers’. He became very animated and talked about these white and black fockers ‘lying on the bitches’. At this point I said to Victor that his language would be considered entirely inappropriate in England and that he should be careful. He looked confused. We then discovered that ‘foca’ in Spanish means seal and Victor’s bitches were beaches. And that’s before we got onto the fact that ‘foca’ also means a fat person which gives a whole new meaning to the American film ‘Meet the Fockers’.
An Italian beauty salon similarly got a bit carried away with their use of ‘trendy’ English words and referred to themselves as ‘Top’ ‘One’. Had their clientele been English this would have been fine. However, a ‘topone’ in Italian means a big rat. Perhaps not the best advertising for a beauty business. And this is before we even get onto the proliferation of ‘Sexy Shops’ in Italy.
In Spain and Italy you have to be particularly careful about words to do with food as there are so many double entendres it is like going shopping in a Benny Hill supermarket. On a date with a Spanish guy I was trying to tell him how much I loved eggs. I said ‘me encantan los huevos’ uttering it with true gusto, as all good Spaniards do. Unfortunately I wasn’t to know that huevos had a double meaning and also mean balls, therefore I had shouted out in a bar, ‘I love balls’. It should also be noted that ‘leche’ is not merely ‘milk’ in Spanish and beans, peas and potato all refer to male and female genitalia in Italian.
As a final thought, it’s worth noting that, as words don’t translate, neither do expressions, so when in Rome, don’t do as the Romans do (they’ve never heard the saying)….
In order to prevent the above happening to you, consider taking a few language classes…
For more amusing mistakes made in foreign languages see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/yoursay/dont_try/