All linguists will know the levels of embarrassment that can be reached when you get something drastically wrong in another language. It’s always important, when learning a new language, to have a high embarrassment threshold and know that people appreciate the effort no matter how wrong you can get it. There are plenty of funny examples but here are our top ten foreign language faux pas:
1) In Portuguese-speaking countries, be careful when giving someone a compliment – ‘esquisito’ means strange, not exquisite. Similarly, don’t worry if a friend tells you that she has ‘constipação’ – it means she has a cold.
2) Be careful when you are at a nice restaurant in Russia. If there is a noisy child on a table near to you, calling him a brat (брат) will not help. In Russian, this means brother.
3) For those of us with a sweet tooth, beware bakeries in Germany, where the German “Biskuit” means “spongecake”, while “Keks” (pronounced similarly to ‘cakes’) means “biscuit”.
4) In Korea, if you ask for service at a restaurant, don’t be surprised if you get an awkward or embarrassed ‘no’. ‘Service’ means a free promotional item or offering on the house.
5) In Italy, be careful not to burn yourself when turning on the tap marked ‘caldo’, which is Italian for ‘hot’.
6) If a Spanish friend tells you she is ‘embarazada’ – don’t give her pity or comfort. She isn’t embarrassed, she’s pregnant.
7) Though Turkish people are known for their friendliness, a casual ‘hiya’ might get you some funny looks since it sounds the same as the Turkish word for testicles.
8) Again in Turkey, if a restaurant has the word ‘Tuna’ in its name, don’t assume it’s a fish restaurant. This is a merely a popular name in Turkey.
9) The Japanese have appropriated many English words but with meanings that have evolved to suit the culture. Identifying yourself as a ‘feminist’ might get you some funny looks. The Japanese ‘Feminisuto’ is a man who pampers women, not a person supporting women’s rights.
10) When clothes shopping in Norway, remember that a dress is a man’s suit, not a women’s garment. Travelling in Norway has its hazards too. At breakfast, if you order an ‘appelsin’ you’ll get orange juice, not apple. Don’t ask for coffee in a ‘mugg’, as this means mildew or mould. Finally, should things go badly and you find yourself needing legal help, you’ll need an ‘aktor’ – which in Norway means a prosecutor, not a performer.