Homework: Cross-Cultural Blunders Listeners share their most embarrassing foreign language flubs — moments when they meant to say one thing, but said something completely different.
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Homework: Cross-Cultural Blunders

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Homework: Cross-Cultural Blunders

Homework: Cross-Cultural Blunders

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

We turn now to you, our listeners, for stories of cross-cultural blunders. Last week, we asked you to tell us about a time you tried to say one thing in a foreign language and something else came out entirely. And, oh, how the letters and calls flowed in. Many involved words too naughty for us to repeat on the radio, but all were funny. Ellen Xyler(ph) of Princeton, New Jersey lived in Paris as a young woman. After serving dinner one night to some French girl friends, she made a pronouncement.

Ms. ELLEN SYLER: I thought I was saying, I hate being fat, but I love the way you get that way. I said, (French spoken).

And they burst out laughing. I said, what have I said? And apparently, what I said was, I hate being pregnant, but I love the way you get that way.

LYDEN: Jason Owens of Brooking, South Dakota teaches German these days, but remembers when he first went abroad as an exchange student.

Mr. JASON OWENS (Listener): My host family took me camping my first day in Germany. They were worried that the air mattress they offered me was too thick or too soft. They laughed themselves kaput because instead of answering, (German spoken), I love to sleep on thick mattresses, I'd accidentally said (German spoken), I love to sleep on fat sailors.

LYDEN: Emily Sy(ph) of Baltimore is a nurse. She traveled to Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami to help with the relief effort. One of her jobs was to carry vaccines from the city to small villages.

Ms. EMILY SY: We took a helicopter from Banda Aceh to a remote peninsula, and I had them in a cooler and they had to be refrigerated, but there was no electricity on the ground, everything had been destroyed and they recommended that I go to a military, Indonesian military ship anchored off the coast there. So I, you know, went onboard and introduced myself saying, (foreign language spoken). And which is, hello, I'm a nurse. So I said, (foreign language spoken).

And all of the officers stood up straight, very serious, austere, and they just stood up and looked at me, and the English speaking doctor said, you didn't just say, you're a nurse. You just said, hello, I'm a virgin. And that is how I represented America in the tsunami.

LYDEN: And we end with a call from Kamil Kakosaki(ph) who made his gaff in English.

Mr. KAMIL KAKOSAKI (Listener): Twenty years ago, I had a meeting with a marketing person and we were trying to calm a customer down. And I got mixed up in my words and I said - instead of saying ace in the hole or ace up your sleeve, I said this is an ace up your hole. Needless to say, that broke the tensed moments in the meeting and all went well.

LYDEN: Luckily, Kamil kept his job. But, dear listener, your next assignment is to tell us about a job you lost. Call in your story to our homework hotline, that's 202-408-5183 or send it by e-mail. Our address is homework@npr.org.

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