Question: Embarrassing moments with a foreign language

Have you guys ever said something in another language only to find out that it meant something you definitely did not expect?

Thankfully, I have tried it only once in Korean because of a mispronunciation, but my former language parter made a point of not translating it, and just said it was a “bad word” so I don’t know exactly how incriminating it was. However, I am aware of a few other… erm… incidents.

An example from my life to get us going:
In Sweden “fika” means that you meet with someone for coffee and something sweet. You sit down, relax, and enoy the good company – and drink coffee and perhaps have some cake or the traditional cinnamon bun. “Fika” can be used both as a noun and a verb.
As it turns out, it doesn’t have quite the same connotations in Italian…

When I was on exchange in Italy it turned out there was a really cute Swedish cafe close to school, and I went there many times with other Scandinavians as well as some local students who were big fans of their sandwiches and cakes.
So on the very last day of class in one of my courses, I and a Swedish girl asked the entire class if they wanted to go out for Swedish fika in the break (we were only about 10 people). The room went silent. Our otherwise super strict professor looked a bit perplexed and asked “fika???”.
In hindsight his reaction should have set off some alarms…

We nodded and added that it was quite popular in Sweden, and we thought it was “missing” a bit when we met with people in Italy, but since the class was so small, it would be possible for all of us to go to this Swedish place we knew of.
The professor quickly looked at the rest of the class, which remained dead silent, before nervously saying “I have to agree with you that it’s missing in Italy, but what do you plan do about it?”. We replied that of course it’s about what people prefer, but in Italy having coffee is more like a Formula 1 pit stop, whereas in Sweden you sit down, relax, talk, have some coffee and cake.
The professor: coffee and cake?
Us: mhmm, coffee and cake. In Sweden it’s basically an institution, and from 3-3:30 pm it’s close to impossible to get a hold of any faculty at university because they are all out for fika so we thought it would be a nice way to end our semester together. Just having a chat and a little something to refuel since it was such a late class.
Him: so it’s just coffee and cake?
Us: yes…?

The “fika event” never took place, but we realised afterwards that the Italian word “fica” is pronounced the exact same way and is slang for a woman’s private parts. Oh the horror when we found out what he initially thought we had invited the whole class out for.

Have you also tried embarrassing yourself because of a linguistic misunderstanding? Please share 😀


2 thoughts on “Question: Embarrassing moments with a foreign language

  1. alodia

    ㅋㅋㅋ I had one mistake before when I still don’t know 올해. There’s 작년, 내년 and I thought and assumed THIS year is 이년! My Korean friend stopped me right away saying it doesn’t sound right (since it’s a bad word :p ). Though now I know 이년 is ‘acceptable’ if you mean 2 years.

    1. koreanlearner Post author

      Hahaha oh nooo! Thank you for just making me look that up and saving me from a future moment of embarrassment! 😀 Note to self: always use 올해 or 이해 instead of 이년.


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