Misleading words: they understand sex, you meant public transport

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Traveling is wonderful. The friends you make, new places to discover, new cultures, gastronomy, languages and a lot of stories to tell. I no longer live in my home country for four consecutive years and have gathered great memories along the time in the different countries I’ve lived. Among them, the funniest ones generally are caused by misinterpretation problems.

Let me explain: the misinterpretation problems I’m talking about are the ones related to misleading words, those who are really similar to terms you are already familiar with in your language, therefore you tend to understand them in a different way and, sometimes, use them in a little inadequate situations. And after a while living in a country that doesn’t speak your native language, it’s quite common to spot these things, because they are generally followed by the good and old awkward silence from your friends, looking at you and trying to adjust your phrase to the context, sometimes with no success.
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In Spanish the examples are infinite. Due to the similarity of the languages (Portuguese and Spanish) a lot of people think that it’s super easy to speak one if you know the other – and there’s where a lot of people are wrong, because a lot of terms have completely opposite or different meanings. The funniest (and most embarrassing) moment that I’ve been through was, when asking which bus I would need to take to work, they told me that I needed a buseta – what made me blush for a few minutes until I understood the context. In Spanish, what means a small bus, in Brazil is a very vulgar word to describe women’s private parts.

Men’s private parts aren’t left outside either (no double meaning intended): The Spanish word carajo is generally used as an interjection in the same way we say damn! or wow!, but saying it in Portuguese is something typical only for independent or adult movies, if you know what I mean. I still remember the first time I heard it, coming from my landlady, a very religious woman in her sixties.

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In English things are different: even though there are a lot of words with different meanings, these are nothing compared to the shame you feel when you choose words that are not so common and end up being interpreted in a whole different way (and usually sexual) – this makes the simplest of acts become something obscene. When I bought an ice cream for the first time I gave a lot of material for my friends to be remembered in every chat for way more than a week – instead of asking for two scoops of ice cream I asked for two balls (the “measurement” unit mostly used in Brazil to refer to it, without knowing that in English balls are also used to refer to testicles). Apart from that (and still with no clue about what was going on) I asked them loud and clear if anybody would like to lick my balls. Needless to say that nobody wanted to come near my ice cream.

The examples are many and each episode is a single case, what would give material for a lot of chatting, but maybe another day.

What about you? Have you been through a similar situation? Tell us your story in the comments :)

[Português]

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