25 Times Language Barriers Led To A Funny Interaction

Published 1 month ago

Travelling in a different country can come with many challenges. Some of those difficulties can be extremely entertaining. Today we explore a collection of stories described by Redditors of when they were tourists of foreign cultures where they had a funny interaction resulting from a classic lost-in-translation moment. Scroll to read these hilarious anecdotes that are an absolute hoot, in the gallery below. 

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#1 Went into a clothing store in Paris, browsed through the racks, declined offer of assistance from clerk. After I left I realized it was a dry cleaner.

Image source: IndependenceFree2364, Arina Krasnikova / pexels (not the actual photo)

#2 Just moved to france, started new job, haven’t spoken french for a long while and am quite rusty. i need to set up a meeting with a colleague. she happens to be a woman. instead of telling her ‘let’s meet at your room in the office’, i translate from italian and say ‘on se voit dans ta chambre’ e.g. let’s meet in your bedroom. she had a good laugh.

Image source: hyp_reddit, Brooke Cagle / unsplash (not the actual photo)

few days after, another colleague, still a woman. i need a favor (work related) and in italian one can say ‘mi fai un favore’ or ‘mi fai un piacere’. of course i translate the second saying ‘j’ai besoin d’un plaisir’ which very roughly translates to ‘can you pleasure me’. she also had a good laugh, luckily.

i am proud to report my french greatly improved since then.

#3 My sister and I both worked at Target in college. One day she called me on the walkie-talkies when we were both on shift and said:

“Hey, I have some Spanish speakers and I have no idea what they’re asking me, can you translate?”

“Sure, what are they saying?”

“They’re looking for (heavy Spanish accent) an ‘eyes cram ma chin’”

I was laughing so damn hard and responded “they’re speaking English not Spanish, they want an ice cream machine!”

It’s been over 10 years and it still makes me laugh.

Image source: TheRealMrsNesbit

#4 I introduced my boss as my egg while in Colombia for work.

Image source: Tiny_pufferfish, Klaus Nielsen / pexels (not the actual photo)

#5 My partner is allergic to peanuts and in Japan we used Google translate to communicate it. It worked well except in one cafe where the waiter came back with a Google translate screen saying there might be peanuts in the poodle.

Image source: llamaesunquadrupedo, Lucas Pezeta / pexels (not the actual photo)

#6 My favorite was when I was in a tiny town deep in the Pyrenees in France just after coming to the country. I was running to catch a train and could hear it coming but couldn’t figure out where the station was (pre-Smartphones) and I started panicking. I saw an older couple walking towards me but all of the French I knew flew out of my head because I was in such a tizzy.

Image source: pharmdoll, Nejc Soklič / unsplash (not the actual photo)

So, basically I ran up to this nice couple and yelled “Ooh ay el choo-choo” while making the “pull the cord” motion. This nice couple pointed me in the right direction but they were doubled over laughing the entire time. Couldn’t blame them, honestly. Made my train

#7 I was in Milan recently. I speak a little Italian. It am not confident enough to hold a conversation. I was caught off guard by somebody asking me a question in Italian. I replied with “No hablo inglese” which means I do not speak English…..but in Spanish. I’ll blame it on the jet lag. I’m sure I confused that person thoroughly.

Image source: NJAKBSH, Andrea Piacquadio / pexels (not the actual photo)

#8 I was living and working in Italy for a few years, and I really tried to learn the language. My Italian isn’t too bad now, but initially, it was pretty rough at times.

During that early period, I once stopped in at a cafe’ to get a sandwich and a drink. I saw that they had peach tea in bottles in the cooler, so I asked for “tè alla pesce”. The woman at the counter gave me the strangest look. I figured that I’d pronounced it poorly, so I again said, speaking as distinctly as i could, “Vorrei un tè alla pesce, per favore.” She then burst out laughing.

I was ordering fish tea.

I should have asked for “tè alla pesca”. That’s a mistake I definitely never made again!

Image source: gonzojeff

#9 First time in Spain, this is 16 years ago. I didn’t speak a word of Spanish when I went there, but I had to learn because not many people spoke English.

You always speak about weather, right? And it was hot, end of July, beginning of August. I had this tiny English-Spanish wordbook, no Google translate at that time.

Just saying, it’s a miles wide difference between “hace calor” and “estoy caliente”. I just thought it meant that I feel hot, because it is very sunny and high temperatures.

Turned out, that what I was saying had a whole different meaning. A nice Spanish girl told me not to say it like that, because yeah, it means I am hot – but like in sexy, not because of the weather.

I wished the ground would swallow me. I had been using that phrase for at least two weeks. I was sooo embarrassed. Nowadays, it’s a funny story.

Image source: ToeInternational3417

#10 At a hostel in Nicaragua I said in Spanish “I’d like to poo here for five days” instead of “I’d like to stay here for five days” (cagar vs quedar) ?.

Image source: annapumer

#11 I used to live in Japan and when I first moved there my motto was “I’m okay with making 10,000 mistakes daily.” This was my first major one.

Image source: trivial_sublime, Ryan Franco / unsplash (not the actual photo)

I was invited over by a very sweet couple in my apartment complex for dinner one of my first nights. They had a baby.

When I entered the house I wanted to show off my newfound Japanese skills from my paper dictionary. What I meant to say was “ie ga kirei” – or “your home is beautiful.” What I said was “ie ga kirai” – “your home is disgusting.” They kept their smiles up but I could tell they were a bit jarred.

It got worse. During dinner I said the other thing I had learned “akachan ga sugoi kawaii” – “your baby is very cute,” but what I said was “akachan ga sugoi kowaii” – or “your baby is terrifying.”

This time they weren’t so stoic and the dad sort of choked on his food. I asked what was wrong and they told me that they weren’t used to people being so direct. I told them what I was trying to say each time and they looked SO relieved and we all laughed until it hurt. I worked with the husband and everyone at work the next day thought it was absolutely hilarious.

That was the first of many, many situations like that.

#12 I was backpacking in Patagoina and were trying to re-enter Argentina after being in Chile for a month. The boarder officer demanded to see my sheep’s, and I understood nothing, cause I never had any sheep. We got more and more frustrated with each other until the officer went to get a colleague who spoke better English. The other officer checks my papers and again ask me about the whereabouts of my sheep. I explain that I left Argentina on a ship, and that’s when it clicked for us. Turns out, according to my documents, I left Argentina on a sheep and they wanted to declare it before I came back.

Image source: Icy-Abbreviations224, Pixabay / pexels (not the actual photo)

#13 In Germany, I asked where the badezimmer (bathroom) was, and they were confused and told me they had toiletten (toilets), not bathrooms. Where I live in the US, it would be the same thing asking for a bathroom or toilet (although more typically a barhroom), and everyone knows you just need to go to the bathroom. Apparently, there it matters which you ask for because badezimmer is assuming you need to take a shower whereas toiletten assumes you need to use the toilet. I learned in this experience that just because you know what words mean the cultural context of a word or words is key.

Image source: ultimateclassic

#14 My Thai friend taught me how to ask for a glass of red wine and fried shrimp… or so I thought. I ordered and once the staff and my friend stopped laughing they let me in on the joke. I asked for red chicken and fried mosquitoes

Image source: heliepoo2, Jessie McCall / pexels (not the actual photo)

#15 Tried to teach a Japanese gentleman how to make puns in English (he was an English teacher). We were in a restaurant so I picked up my glass of water and said: “Hey, water you doing now?” (bad pun but it was just for educational purposes). He laughs and says: “Oh yeah I get it! So, hey bro… potato salad!” I laughed so hard that he thought he had made a great pun.

Image source: Mysterious-Metal-309, Nadin Sh / pexels (not the actual photo)

#16 I hired a tour guide in Hanoi. At one of the stops he explained that we were at the temple of Little Richard. So I ask “Did you say Little Richard?” He nods proudly “Yes, Little Richard!” I’m like “This temple is dedicated to Little Richard?” He is emphatic “Yes! This is the temple of Little Richard”. I want to tell him that I’m pretty sure it is not, but just shrug “okay, whatever”. Later I looked it up and discovered we had visited the temple of literature.

Image source: Civil_Connection7706, gokudo man’yūki / pexels (not the actual photo)

#17 In Salzburg as a group of about 15 family and friends. We asked a nice German woman to take our photo. She takes one then says “OK, Back up” so we all shuffle as a group like 3 feet backwards. She immediately starts laughing and explains she meant she was taking a backup photo. Safe to say the smiles in the second photo were genuine.

Image source: Nimble-Crabb, Kampus Production / pexels (not the actual photo)

#18 I was in Japan a few years ago with a friend of mine. We flew in to Tokyo to stay for a few nights in Shinjuku before using the rail pass to travel around. We checked into the hotel etc then headed out for food and some drinks, my friend had researched a place called Piss Alley to go to, which despite it’s name was a good idea. We went into a little restaurant for food and they’d put out a perfectly square piece of tofu to snack on, although at that moment we had no idea what it was. We figured it must be soap to clean our hands before eating, which seemed logical, so at the same time we picked up the tofu and started smushing it into our hands. All the staff and other customers just looked at us horrified, after a few seconds we figured it wasn’t soap!

Image source: MiserableScot, Lara Jameson / pexels (not the actual photo)

#19 When traveling solo in Vietnam, I boarded a public ferry in the lower delta.

I noticed that everyone on board was white and dressed kind of fancy, but I figured it was just Europeans traveling in SE Asia.

Then, 15 minutes into the ride someone started pouring champagne and passing it around to passengers. I was impressed with the service on a public ferry…

The person pouring champagne got to me and gave me a puzzled look as I reached for a glass.

It was then I realized I got on a private boat.

We had a good laugh and they dropped me off at the next public ferry dock.

Image source: viceadvice

#20 My boyfriend visited me when I was living in France and kept mixing up “excuse me” and “thank you.” Pretty simple and harmless, but the scathing looks every time he bumped into an old lady and thanked her were withering and priceless.

Image source: TheHighestOf5s

#21 We were in Rome in an old hotel by the Colosseum. It was very loud in our rooms. My friend went to the front desk and kept explaining to the receptionist that it was too loud in his room. The guy was not helpful and my friend was pissed. He then got out his Italian book and realized he spent 15 minutes telling the guy “I don’t like my ears!”.

Image source: Missmoneysterling, Helena Lopes / pexels (not the actual photo)

#22 In Boquete, Panama whilst attempting to buy jeans I spent five minutes telling a store order about my desire to buy pants for horses (caballos) instead of men (caballeros) in my broken Spanish.

Image source: TomMFive, MART PRODUCTION / pexels (not the actual photo)

#23 Ive posted this before in a similar thread, but English is not my first language. We were visiting chicago. I had been to New York before so I knew of the subway there. I did not realize the term ‘subway’ was unique to the style of train. We couldn’t find where to get on the railway in Chicago so stopped at a gas station and I asked how to get to the subway. The guy gave me directions. We walked about 20 minutes, turned the corner to where he said it’d be, and found the restaurant Subway. It was such a funny moment.

Image source: SH0OTR-McGAVIN

#24 The Greek word for ‘yes’ is ‘nai,’ which sounds negative. The situation we experienced was:

Image source: MatijaMaverick, Nataliya Vaitkevich / pexels (not the actual photo)

Me: Excuse me, could you tell me if this is the way to the Acropolis?

Elderly locals in Greece: Nai.

Me: Ah, I see. Well, thank you anyway. I’ll try to find another route. (As it was clear that they do not understand English very well)

As we turn around, the locals are left bewildered, even though they just confirmed that we are on the right path.

Later on, we realized that in the Greek language, ‘nai’ means ‘yes,’ even though it sounds negative. We’ve been going in the right direction! We made fun of this until the end of our vacation. :D.

#25 At a restaurant in Yogyakarta, a woman approached me and asked if I was finished? I said “not yet but I won’t be long” she said “no, are you finished?”
I said “look I’m a fast eater, I really won’t be long, do you really need this table?” To which she said “no, are you from Finland?” Lmao.

Image source: specialagentredsquir

Shanilou Perera

Shanilou has always loved reading and learning about the world we live in. While she enjoys fictional books and stories just as much, since childhood she was especially fascinated by encyclopaedias and strangely enough, self-help books. As a kid, she spent most of her time consuming as much knowledge as she could get her hands on and could always be found at the library. Now, she still enjoys finding out about all the amazing things that surround us in our day-to-day lives and is blessed to be able to write about them to share with the whole world as a profession.

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funny, funny miscommunication, hilarious misunderstandings, language, language barrier, language blunders, lost in translation, travel
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