New countries. New languages. New mistakes.

My grammatical screw-ups are many and frequent when speaking my second class languages (Italian, French, German and Bosnian): like saying I’m ‘soft tired’ instead of dead tired (Italian), or ‘put the chicken in hell’ instead of into the oven (Italian), or ‘put a mouse on your face’ instead of a smile (French).

But here for you all now, are my top three favourites in the category of “Sorry, I’m not from around here”:

In 3rd place, for its quaintly surreal twist on our day to day reality, in Italian (while in Metrosexual mode no less, and speaking about facial care routines) I referred to someone’s over-cherries instead of their eye brows.

Thank you. Thank you. Very proud of this one.

In 2nd place for being so far off the mark for so long, amongst some French speakers I spent the better part of the evening wondering what was so wrong with everyone’s dog. Naturally, stupidly, I asked: “Is there some dog disease passing around?”

Have you noticed how people go stiff when they want to laugh but think the courteous thing would be to hold back?

So, after the stiffness and then the inevitable laughter, someone (I think it was my wife to be) explained that the expression wasn’t about a dog, but rather that something was giving someone the shits.

See, it really is the language of romance.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the 1st place title holder for the last decade (and unlikely ever to be displaced), the Bicycle Story:

I was in Berlin about a month when this happened. I’d just finished my German language class for the afternoon (oh, the irony) and had come out to find my bicycle had a flat tyre. ‘No big deal’, thinks the fool, ‘Have dictionary, will survive’ (oh, the shame).

So I consult my Langenscheidt’s Concise Dictionary of Words in the Language of the People of Germany (literal translation) to find the English word for pump – as in the thing one uses to inflate flat tyres.

Easy find (the Germans are also big believers in the alphabet – just in case you wanted to know).

Pump = Tanzschuh.

Problem: I didn’t see the little 1 written next to the word. And what that means is, see, is that there is another word, of a completely different meaning (as it happens), which you can consult if you turn the page, as was the case on this occasion. But, and I stress the but, why would you turn said page if you thought the little 1 referred to the fact that this was the best definition of the English word Pump. Answer, you wouldn’t.

My confidence, of course, was peaking. ‘I’ll show these sour Krauts a thing or two.’

Into the closest store struts the fool, armed with his new found word and the perfect sentence construction to put it in:

(translation) “Excuse me, would you have a Tanzschuh I could borrow?” And while saying it – just to be sure (you know how slow these Germans can be) – I made the international sign for a bicycle pump – which is to make a fist with both hands and pump the two in and out from each other (also sometimes mistaken, curiously, with the sign for double-handed masturbation).


The shopkeeper just stared at me. The look on his face quite close to horror as he stammered out in English, “I am, married. To a woman. Yes.”


“Excuse me, I’ll just be fucking off now … sorry for the … ahh, whatever it was.”

And what was it?

Tanzschuh = Pump (as in a lady’s dance shoe).

There is some store owner in Berlin who still thinks he was propositioned to go dancing followed by a quick tug in the toilets.


2 Responses to “New countries. New languages. New mistakes.”

  1. Hi, I just nominated you for a Versatile Blogger Award. I was nominated for it recently and you’re one of my nominations ( Congrats!

    The rules of this nomination are as follows.

    1. Thank the award-giver and link back to them in your post.
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  2. snagglewordz Says:

    Now…I’m. Laughing. Out. Loud.

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