Faux Amis

The good thing about living in a foreign country is that you can learn a new language. The bad thing about living in a foreign country is that you often learn a new language the hard way. No wonder then, does the tonsured guy at the airport take offense when he hears someone shout “Hey, bald man!” in his direction. Much as his glare and angry fist may sound justifiable at that point, I assure you there would be some who might empathize with the poor German instead, for the slip. Having realized the horror of his faux pas a tad too late, the hapless Herr has no choice but to emphatically repeat – in German – “Hey bald Mann! Komm doch bald!” (Hey soon man, come on soon!). Phew, a close shave, indeed!

If you speak more languages than one, you must surely have come across false friends, or as the caviar-connoisseurs would say, faux amis. The kind of friends who talk to you smoothly, and get you into trouble just as smoothly. Like Juan, this suave Mexican friend I had back in the university. If there was one thing that gave either of us a juvenile kick, it was to embarrass the heck out of other at the most opportune moment. Imagine then, how the tables were turned on me when in my naïve triumph – and my broken Spanish – I exclaimed “Está intentando dejarme embarazada!” Naturally, I was certain I was saying “He’s trying to make me embarrassed!” It was the price I paid to learn a new word that day. Embarazada, in Spanish means pregnant. Not embarrassed.

Let that be a lesson, my friends. You’ve often been told appearances are deceptive – but don’t let that fool you; they really are deceptive! Your German friend may well want to give you a Rat when you’re already feeling low and confused. Believe me, she means well. Of course, you could repay her kindness with a Gift on her birthday, if you want to. But then, you don’t want to. When in France, avoid sitting on a chair. But even if you do, don’t fall off it when someone casually mentions they put their clothes in an expensive commode.

And finally, bear in mind – a jar of peanut butter should be the very last place to look for a preservativ, almost any place in Europe. Unless of course, you are – in more ways than one – f**king nuts!

81 responses to “Faux Amis

  1. ROFL laughing my head off at the last line! Came here from your blogadda interview, brilliant brilliant style of writing! Must thank blogadda for introducing to this blog. Subscribed :D

  2. Haha! Another brilliant one! Where has this blog been hiding? Do you really know/speak all those languages? Superb play on words! I’m subscribing :)

  3. lol Embarazada? that sounds funny ..m sure you would have been too embarassed for words then.. :)

    i had written about my experience of mal people trying their hand at Hindi…check it out if you are interested http://www.composedvolcano.com/wp/mindi/


    • Of course I was! And I mean the English one :P Your post is hilarious :)) I can vouch for people from other regions having their share of gems too – well my mom can vouch for it for sure, despite the darling that she is :D -g

  4. Great post ! ROFL at your getting pregnant by embarrassment !
    Such examples are ample in Bangla words . The outcome, when a bong tries to hindify bangla words, are often hilarious !
    Jhol- means gravy (as in machher jhol), while it means ‘major problem’ in Bombaiya Hindi.
    Ghum- to sleep in Bangla.
    So when the bengali mother asked her hindi speaking maid’ “jao , bachhe ko ghumake le aao”, she wonders why the maid goes for a stroll outside……..


    • Thanks, uh. Gosh, Bangla seems to have onek onecdotes like these :P LOL@ghumake le aao. Even RI’s choti example was hilarious! -g

  5. Got here from Vishesh’s blog.

    Great blog. Nicely written…..
    ….in reply to ‘Yawn’ above!

  6. That was awesome! Hopped here from Vishesh’s awards post – and loved this :)

  7. ROFL!! awesome post! blogrolling u btw :-)

  8. Whats so funny about this story? And I don’t see what all those complements are about. If you want to know what funny means, read this or this I think you’re hyped.

    • Yes, it is a nice day, isn’t it? :) Well, I don’t see any ‘complements’ here either – “about” anything or otherwise. But as for compliments, I was saying just this to a friend 2 days ago – and ironically, in the context of negative comments:
      A comment reflects more on the commentator than the uh, commentatee. For instance, your comment (and I.P. address :P) says a lot more about you than it does about me. People stop by and put in words of encouragement because they are nice. Ever looked at it that way? :) -g

      • Gauri:

        It’s nice that you gave “Yawn” a complimentary lesson in spelling.

        Now maybe you could complement that lesson with a refund of the money he paid to subscribe to your blog. :-P

        PS: Serves you right for making jokes about bald men. I told you it was a sensitive subject.

      • LOL, I must complement your style, neo. Or wait, did I mean compliment? ;) And FTR you said bald men thought they were sexy! Alright, bald bad idea, point taken :P -g
        PS: Thanks, n – you’re the nicest! :)

  9. LOL!! i remember i used to think..Herren like in Her was woman..and Damen like in men was men….you know with the toilets you are in trouble…

    • LOL! You know, in all these years I never really looked that it that way! So I guess your mnemonic has been “oh it’s the opposite”? :) Thanks for stopping by, Mathew! -g

  10. well when I am caught up in a place , where I don’t speak the local language , I gesticulate and use broken English..it works :P

    • It’s probably only the gestures working. :P Try it next time with broken Chinese, it’d still work ;) Welcome here :)) -g

  11. G,

    Got here from Indiblogger. I couldn’t and didn’t vote for you because I had already voted before I discovered your blog. And there are loyalty issues. But I came here specially to tell you yours is one of the best blogs out there, I’m very impressed. All 5 posts you put are extremely hilarious and even your music plagiarism post is excellent and very well researched.

    Don’t go by contest results, it’s more a networking contest than content. You’re gifted with a very unique way with words. Just keep at it and you’ll go places. Read all your posts from the start (and your caveat lol) and hope to read more soon.

    Now I don’t feel so bad for not voting for this blog J

    • First of all, thanks so much for taking the trouble to stop by and comment – I’m touched. I appreciate your sincerity and candor. For what it’s worth, I’d take words like yours over winning – as you put it – networking contests, anyday :) I got an email from Indiblogger, so I just added my blog well aware (and in spite) of my limited readership.

      Much as you bypassed it this time, do stop by again with the link to your blog the next time you pass by :) (Yes, else you couldn’t have voted :P). I’d love to read what you have!

      Thanks again for your kind words. -g

  12. This post is hilarious! :) I can totally relate because I’ve spent my whole life living in various countries, traveling & experiencing different cultures..and oh la la, language always makes for interesting experiences.

    I have a good amount of Latin friends, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wanted to say one thing and it comes off as something totally different! Then again, Spanish tends to roll off my tongue easier a few drinks down. :P

    Anyway, glad I came across your blog. Definitely looking forward to more posts!

    • Thanks for your comment, Archana. Yes, it gets even more interesting with Latinos, because a harmless domestic word in Peru will invariably some curse word in Chile, or a compliment in Argentina could be just the opposite in Colombia. It was hilarious to watch a group of South Americans misunderstand each other in what one might believe was a “common” language! -g

  13. Esta mondo llenar con locos!

    ‘because english is a funny language’…..
    taxi driver in tassy, on the day i land there, asks me…
    “Are u here to-die mite”
    Poor old English challenged me stood there blinking, trying to comprehend why would he ask me such a thing. And why would i want to die in a taxi in tassy! I could instead take a walk on a “pedestrians only” lane and be knocked down by a car back home. Funny bugger!
    Life is so rife with it….
    Great stuff g…keep it flowing.


    • Hahaha!! You should tell him you were looking for “Diana, mite!” ;) Reminded me of “Mi casa es tu casa” :D So glad you stopped by, b – made my day! -g

  14. ‘Choti’ in Bangla is a pair of slippers. In Hindi, ‘Choti’ is the name for plait. No surprises, then, when a Bengali teacher instructed her Hindi speaking students to leave their footwear outside (sab choti khol ke aao) and was taken aback to see her pupils undoing their plaits in a hurry! And then, when the Bangla teacher went home, she wanted her maid to wash the shirt after having it turned inside out. So she asked her maid to ‘ulti karke’ kaachofy the shirt. The maid definitely didn’t feel like puking on the shirt though!

    Wishing you all the best for the Indiblogger Award :)

    • Hahaha, that must have been a sight! I’ve always been fascinated by Bangla – hope to go beyond ‘Roshogulla’, ‘Kyamon ache’ and ‘Ami bujhta pari na’ some day! And thanks for your wishes, much as we both know what lurking among big shots means ;) -g

  15. Wow! You have a great blog here! Adding you to my blogroll.

    Regarding the topic, I am learning Bengali these days, and thankfully its not that different from Hindi (debatable!), but my problem is that i end up using words that don’t mean anything -and listeners are always like “what?!”.

    Oh! The other day, I actually called somebody “Square Lemon”.

    • Thanks, Gaurav! Yes, to those of you whose tongue can roll out Bangla like Roshogullas, it’s very similar to Hindi. To us mortals, not so much :P But it’s funny isn’t it, when you try to Banglacize a Hindi word or the other way round? :) -g

  16. Interesting read. I have also faced problems like these once I ended up in a remote place of Gujarat for a while. I could only speak in English n Hindi and the natives there could only manage Gujarati. I did have some tought time there.
    But thats the way life is. We need to make others understand what we feel, even though they may not be in a position to do it.
    Great work.

    • Yes, one shouldn’t let language get in the way of communication, if you know what I mean :) If all else fails, what are Dumb Charades for? Glad you liked it Dev – thanks for stopping by! -g

  17. a good example came recently from feanor’s blog..


    Bardak in Turkish is glass
    In Russian Bardak is brothel…

    • Wow! Looks like Turks living in “glass” “houses” should not throw stones at the Russians :-|. Thanks for the link; it seems to be a very interesting blog! -g

  18. Great post, seriously. Why don’t you write moron (other things in life)?

    • Thanks, doc. I’d write moron (other things in life), but life’s too pedestrian at the moment. Good to see you surface :) -g

  19. LMAO @the condom punchline! You never disappoint me. If you write a book, I’ll be the first to buy it!

    Aki (aka can’t fool me)
    PS: I hope this is “relevant to the post” ;)

  20. This made an interesting read, G.

    Remembered an embarrassing moment in Kerala years ago. My brother and I at a distant relative’s house talking in Hindi ‘Kundi kholo…kundi kholo’ without realizing why everyone in the house burst out laughing. :P

  21. that would be me, cyn. sigh. this double identity thing is confusing.

    • Aah, I’d never have guessed :P But while we’re at sorting identities, this would be me, g/gauri/litterateuse. ;) -g

  22. ..ah a marwari friend was taught the following words “aga” , “ishya”, “kaitarich kai” ( with the proper cadence) if you have any marathi genes or familiarity you might know that these are terms used by very (kakubai) ladies in old marathi movies. Of course, she was informed that these words meant “open the door” or something innocuous as that. much fun ensued.

    pregnant eh? hm.

    • Lol, you guys are too kind – I know people who taught their friends the worst swearwords ever as “Thank you”, “Please”, “Very nice” and the classic “X is an idiot” for “My name is X”. Don’t quote me saying this, but boy, those were good times! :P -g

  23. In a large engineering company where I supply some components, there is a Bengali gentleman on the shopfloor. As peaceful looking a guy as you ever saw.

    One day, when I was there with the shop GM, there was a huge commotion and the said Bengali came in with a Marathi gentleman in tow.
    Bengali: He slapped me
    Marathi: Saheb, if you knew what he said to me, you’d slap him too.

    Turns out that Mrs. Marathi had delivered and Mr. Marathi was distributing sweets on the shop floor. And Bengali, on learning of the happy occasion asked him in his Bengali accented hindi “Tumhara Bhaife aur Bocha kaisa hai?” (How is the wife and the baby). Unfortunately, Bocha in Marathi is a very indelicate term for a body orifice. Much mirth resulted in the GM’s office, since nearly everyone present was marathi or familiar with the language.
    Take home message for Bengali – Don’t go asking after bochas no more.

    • lesson learnt! but what about the Bhaife?! Or is that an even more private orifice??!!!!!

    • LOL. Tell me you didn’t make that up! On an entirely unrelated note, I remembered a Dada Kondke movie title – “Bow chya khali Tie” Yes, sorry to digrees :-| -g

  24. LOL at Embarazada, atleast you were a woman and the sentence made sense. Just imagine what it would be like, if I say that sentence to someone!

    • Trust me, I’d have been happy to be a man at that particular moment. At least it’d make it completely unbelievable :P -g

  25. Quirky Indian

    Embarazada, eh? ROFL!

    Nice one.


    Quirky Indian

  26. That made amusing reading! :)

  27. Well, when in Chennai, I was amazed when girls asked for “Chumma” so frequently. I was almost on the verge of giving one to a lady when I was told that it meant – “Just like that”. Phew! Close shave!

  28. Rotflol @embarazada.
    That was hilarious!! I remember my mother going ‘choodu choodu!!” at the maid trying to tell her not to touch hot tawa. The maid looked all around while taking the hot tawa with her bare hand and promptly dropped it with a ‘aiyyo’ :P In Telugu ‘choodu’ means ‘look’ and in Mallu it means, ‘hot’! :)

  29. “embrasser” in french is “to kiss”.
    I have made that mistake once, of telling a stranger, in french, that I am embarassed.

    • Hehe. I’m glad I’m not the only one. And you must be glad you didn’t tell the stranger “You embarrass me”. -g

  30. thats the fun I am having with Malayalam and Bengali these days :D
    but seriously “Está intentando dejarme embarazada!?

    oh to be a fly on the wall that day :D

  31. Was reminded of advertising goof-ups:

    Parker Pen’s ball-point pen ad in Mexico: “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant”.

    Coors’ slogan, “Turn it loose,” in Spanish: “Suffer from diarrhea”.

    Pepsi’s “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” in Chinese: “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave”.

  32. g,
    Would love to dig up the etymology of such words.
    May be you can help us with that.
    Embarazada- LOL stuff :D


  33. *sigh*..so many people I could give such great ‘gifts’ to!!
    Great post!! I first met a most wonderful false friend in Gult-land when I learnt that ‘randi’ meant ‘please come in’ in the most formal terms in Telugu. I had a lot of problems uttering that word to my MIL!!!

    • ROFL. I can imagine your plight, hahaha. How could you say it with a straight face?! -g

      • I always do a quick check around the room to make sure there are no north Indian people!!

        Another f.a. in Telegu is to suffix the sentence with ‘andi’ for respect! One of my bengali friends asked me why I kept talking about my ‘undies’ to my in-laws!!

      • :D Alright, I had better watch out before I say anything with my Telugu friends around. I’m sure they have some reverse phenomenon for their share of laughs – this is hilarious! -g

  34. You reminded me of my days in karnataka and my attempts to learn kannada. Though I did fairly well with it, I miserably failed to learn malayalam and I had “good friends” who would make it a point to make me learn and mispronounce almost everything and the entire meaning would change. They had a good laugh! :)

    Now I have started learning French. I hope I do well! :)

    • Haha. Some of my friends who were hostelers would do that to anyone new – teach the most offensive word in the most benign & polite environment. Wicked, lol! Nice that you’re learning French; I’m sure you’ll do well :) -g

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