WARNING – This article contains some rather raunchy recollections of ‘Lost in Translation” misunderstands when learning another language. If you are easily offended then don’t read it. xx
A rather naughty look at some humorous lost in translations anecdotes from my adventures overseas. We need a good laugh so read this.
One day in Bangkok
My glowing cheeks were redder and hotter than the spicy chillies being served up in the plush cafe in Bangkok. The normally reserved Thai customers were screaming with laughter, their fingers pointing to the ‘idiot abroad’. I was living the tropical dream as an English language instructor at a small school in the centre of the city. I enthusiastically embarked on learning the language with the help of an English/Thai phrasebook. Rapid progress was made by memorising words and phrases to be used when out and about.
This fateful day I elected to visit a rather posh cafe and repeated the phrase ‘nom yen kaew yai‘ (a large glass of cold milk) as I neared the entrance. I stepped into the crowded air-conditioned cafe ready to make yet another good impression. I was the only foreigner. I strode confidently up to the counter and smugly ordered Nom yai kaew yen.
The place burst into laughter. I immediately realised my error. I had mixed up the words and just asked for a cold glass of large breasts. Nom
in Thai can either mean milk or breasts depending on how it is used. The slender waitress smiled and sweetly chirped, “Ti ni mai mi nom yai.”
(We don’t have any large breasts here.)
The customers were almost rolling on the floor now. I felt a right tit as I stood red-faced with hands held high, grinning from ear to ear.
There are many pitfalls when trying to learn the local language. I recall a friend of mine going into a small corner shop in a suburb of Bangkok. He said to the lady serving, ” Phom ow Sokaprok krap.” (Give me dirty, please.)
The startled middle-aged lady asked him to repeat what he had just requested. With a big smile, he announced, “Give me dirty, please.”
She shouted for her husband to come to the counter informing him, “farang ba!,” (The foreigner is crazy.”)
Her hubby appeared and inquired, “Ow arai krap?”
( What do you want?)
My pal repeated, “Give me dirty please.”
The husband suddenly burst into laughter and handed my friend a pineapple before stating, “Ni sapparot, mai chai sokaprok.” (“This is pineapple not dirty.”)
My buddy had embarrassingly mixed up the two similar-sounding words.
And with these sing-song languages, you have to be very careful with the tones. If you are trying to romance a lady by telling her how attractive she is then you must be extremely careful. “Khon suay mark.” (you are very beautiful) must be spoken with a rising tone because in a flat tone it means; you are very unlucky.
Once you become fluent in a language it is fun listening to conversations between the locals who are certain that you are oblivious to what they are saying. On one memorable occasion in Vientiane, Laos, I went a to a mobile phone shop to buy a Tango top-up card to put some credit on my phone. I smiled and said, “Tango.”
The shop assistant smiled back and looked at her pretty female companion and giggled, ”Falang yaak Tangun.”
They both looked at me and burst out laughing. Unbeknown to these two young ladies I fully understood their little word-play joke. Tango was the brand name for a Lao mobile phone company and Tangun is a naughty slang word for anal sex. So instead of saying, “falang yaak Tango,” (The foreigner wants a Tango top-up card) She joked,” falang yaak tangun.” (The foreigner wants anal sex.) And these two neatly dressed ladies looked as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. I kept a straight face and just smiled at the two angelic pictures of innocence not letting on that I was fluent in Lao and knew their dirty joke.
The assistant replied, “Koy hab.” (“I accept”) and they both looked at me and burst out laughing once again.
I handed over the 20,000 kip note and took my Tango card. Then I grinned at the second assistant before winking, “heuon jeow ru heuon koy?”
(Your house or mine?)
The look on their shocked blushing faces was priceless. Five seconds of silence before we all laughed together.
As the famous Lao saying goes Bpaw Bpen Yang (never mind)
A taste of things to come!
Also, foreigners learning English make blunders too. I was instructing at an adult college in Bangkok and finished my writing exercises 10 minutes early. Therefore, I grabbed one of my emergency time-fillers and went around the class asking; “What is your favourite food and why?”
The first boy replied, “Apples because they are healthy.”
The next student voiced, “Sweet green curry because it is spicy.”
Then a dainty girl left me speechless when she innocently smiled, “Cock because I love the taste.”
I was flabbergasted but quickly regained my composure to explain that we say chicken and not cock when referring to food in English.
However, she became the Teacher’s pet from that day on.
On another occasion of utilising a handy time-filler, I realised that I was doing a fabulous job of not only teaching the language but also passing on my naughty northern sense of humour. This time the question was; If you could be any animal which would you be and why?
The first young lady answered, “A bird so I can fly in the sky.”
A boy then responded with; “I would be a fish because I love swimming.
This was followed by the most gorgeous girl in the classroom who seductively oozed, “I would like to be a horse so I could gallop through the fields.”
The next boy just sat there with a smug grin on his face, therefore, I repeated the question, ” Come on, which animal would you like to be and why?”
He proudly quipped, “A jockey because I love riding beautiful horses.”
The class erupted in laughter and even the gorgeous girl was smiling as she lapped up the attention. Teacher Syd had tears running down his face too. I replied with, “I suppose a jockey is an animal too, and ten out of ten for your clever answer.”
Even native speakers of English sometimes get things lost in translation. There are so many differences between British and American English that it is easy as an English speaker to get confused.
For starters, the American President is called Trump but in British English, trump means to break-wind or fart.
I was sat in a rooftop bar in Kunming, China with an Australian lady when an American girl said to us,” My fanny looks great in these jeans.”
Good, God! We almost spilt our beers in surprise. We were astonished to discover that fanny means ass in American English but in British English, it refers to the most intimate part of the female anatomy.
There are so many more. In America Fag means homosexual but in Britain it means cigarette. In Britain bum means arse but in America, it means a homeless down and out. Words such as randy, spunky, shag, knob and period all have totally different meanings which could cause embarrassment.
My little tale with regard to this topic concerns a telephone conversation I was having with an American publicist. She was a super fit bubbly blonde that you could just picture walking on a sandy beach carrying a surfboard. Even more, she was a vegan animal rights activist. Just my cup of British tea. She was kindly advising me on how to promote my upcoming book in America. After a lengthy conversation, she said, “Sorry Syd I am going to have to blow you off.”
I responded, “Don’t be sorry love, I am buying my air tickets to the good old U. S. of A. right now.”
She was confused until I clarified that blow-off in British English refers to a sexual act for which Monica Lewenski is famous. I explained that the phrase in British English to snub someone is to ‘blow out.’
We both chuckled at the differences and who knows we may even meet one day if I ever do a book launch in the States. Nonetheless, if we do I doubt whether I will be brave or cheeky enough to say, “Remember that time when you told me you were going to blow me off!”
Fortune favours the brave I committed countless further hilarious bloomers on my journey to fluency in Thai but ordering a cold glass of large breasts takes the booby prize. However, if you dream of becoming a multi-lingual superstar just like me, then go for it like a bull in a china shop. When you make a blunder, simply smile and laugh at yourself.