If you've ever been anywhere where the culture isn't the same as you're used to or you have to negotiate in a foreign language, you are sure to have had some embarassing moments along the way. Here's mine:
In Albania, the custom is to shake your head when you mean 'yes' and nod when you mean 'no'. Of course, that is an immense source of confusion and led to many problems. On one occassion though, I was visiting a family who had a severely handicapped child. The child would be crying constantly and biting itself in a very disturbing way. The family asked me whether I wanted them to take the child away. Of course, I shook my head confidently trying to convey that it was fine by me. Unfortunately it meant the opposite to what I meant to convey and the child was taken away. There were a lot of sad things I saw in Albania, it was unfortunate to not manage to communicate better in this instance.
Great post Pete,
I can't remember any really culturally embarrassing moments but there is a bit of an episode I can recall in Barcelona. We were sitting in the back of this restaurant having some tapas and I went to the bathroom right before leaving. There was some toiletpaper on the ground which I kind of rubbed off my shoe, or so I thought.... anyway, I washed my hands and walked off to join the rest of my friends outside. After having walked through the entire restaurant I finally noticed at the door that the end of tp which was still stuck to my shoe was actually also connected to the roll hanging in the toilet so there was a trail of tp following me and my footsteps out of the restaurant. Boy, I had some laughs over that one
Culturally speaking, I didn't realize I had to give business cards in HK with two hands the first time I was there and I also had to dig them out of my wallet instead of having them ready like most HK businessmen....quickly picked up on that one though!
Hope to see some more interesting/embarrassing posts; we're all human after all!
Two embarrassing moments spring to mind, but one is much worse--in 1978 I took my first trip overseas. We went to Germany. The very first day there, we went to a large department store. I went in to use the toilets, and I knew that on the way out I should tip the 'caretaker' woman. However, I had no idea how much money to put in the dish. Well, I put the equivalent of about 12 US cents in the dish. The woman lost her temper, started screaming at me very fast, in German (which is my third language, so I'm kind of slow), and waving a mop at my head. I was terrified.
Luckily, a friend who speaks German better than I rescued me by telling me to throw in a whole Mark! We ran out of there.
First and foremost, this was a cultural fumble of some sort. I was at a dance club for Thai's once. Naturally, after drinking so much I needed to go to the restroom so I went. When I stepped up to the urinal a guy came up behind me and started giving me a massage and put a hot towel on my neck. Needless to say, I couldn't finish let alone START my business. Yea, no tip for something I didn't want. Boy, was I embarressed even though I didn't know what had just happened.
Lastly, a languge lesson. We were learning Thai in my Thai class at school in Thailand. We were learning weather and the Thai word for snow is 'he mah tok' so when I go into town I try and practice everything I learned. But, in Thai, there are short tones and long tones... something I wasn't too familiar with. So instead of saying 'he mah tok' I said 'hee maah tok' which is kind of a Thai joke which translates loosly to 'falling dog vagina.' Whoa, was I red. Thai is fun like that.
These are great... I reckon the guys should make a whole forum on this?
Can't say I've had that many embarassing cultural experiences having only travelled Europe and now in Australia.... although the Ozzies DO have some weird ways about them....
You probably just raised the amount of times those words are going to be used in Thailand by factor x
I did something similar actually which I forgot. I am trying to learn Norwegian at the moment and decided to mimick what I heard everyone say all the time "kjempe fint"...the problem is that you hardly hear the "n" (at least I didn't) so the first girl I know that walks in I say "kjempe fitte" .... ooops. Instead of saying "very good" I had just said "large vagina"....needless to say, it was hard talking my way out of that one to my girlfriend
so I know this is horrible and might get censored, but I swear it is true.
In America, and other places, there is a phenomena call Pokemon.
pronounced Poe Kee Mon. When my newfound friend brought me to his home in KL Malaysia little did he know I'd walk around to his nephews and nieces each and thinking that I was in asia Pokemon would be popular.
Sadly as the night wore on, my friend Gerard Flether, if you ever read this I'm sure you're still laughing... I am. Pulled me aside and asked me what I was saying to his little nieces and nephews.
I told him about Pokemon and that I thought his family's children would relate. Anyways... Anyone here who speaks Malay is likely familiar with the slang term
Puh-ki-ma, which is what pokemon sounds like with a New York Accent.
For those who don't speak Malay Puh-ki-ma is a slang term telling someone you want to do indecent things to their mother. As I found out much to my chagrine that night.
Needless to say my friend understood the mix up and all was forgiven, but it was a day or two before i could laugh about it.
[ Edit: Wiki reference added. ]
ok so here goes...this happened to my friend. In Chile, they love hot dogs. They call them "completos" and do not eat them like Americans do. We like mustard, Ketchup, relish or pickles, sauerkraut or chili. Chileans like them with mayonnaise, avocado, lettuce and tomato like a sandwich. Well, new to the Country, my friend was eating at a small restaurant with a bunch of locals and ordered a "completo" with no pickles. She did not know the Spanish word for pickle so she gestured and said the word in English. Everyone broke out into fits of hysterical laughter much to her confusion. Apparently, the word "pickle" sounds a lot like the Chilean Spanish word for a male's "unmentionable" body part.
I stumbled on this old post and think it's great! So, back from the dust bin...
I don't really have a cultural mishap, that I can think of (except I pronounced crema catalana as "crema catalina" in Spain, and the waiter guffawed... maybe I missed something?).
But my to-date (bacause I expect more) most embarassing moment happened on my first blind date ever. It was raining, so we ran from the car into a movie threatre downtown, and just as I was saying to myself "Jeez, these floors are slippy" down the stairs I went... right in front of about 100 people waiting in line to get their tickets. One woman leaned over and asked if I was OK, and I replied nonsensically "Oh, yeah, I only landed on my elbow (???)". Needless to say, I just wanted the night to end...
I was in Chile when I was approached by a student trying to sell me his poetry (a common practice in Santiago around Plaza Des Armes). We exchanged a few phrases in Spanish, and then he said something I didn't understand.
"Lo siento," I said, "halbo español un pico," thinking I was saying, "I'm sorry, I only speak a little Spanish." But instead of using the word poco for little, I used pico, which means beak, but is Chilean slang for small penis. Not that it made any sense, but I think the small penis thing just got him laughing.