Language bloopers abroad

By Ira van der Merwe

Adjusting in a new country can sometimes involve misunderstandings, especially where communication is concerned. Ira van der Merwe tells about the language bloopers they have made abroad.  

The ghosts of Poznań

So, we arrived in Poznań for hubby’s half marathon. At reception we ask about tourist attractions that are suitable for small children. The receptionist’s English is about as bad as our Polish, but we are thankful for her effort. Creatively we decide to fill in some of the gaps. One of the popular things to see is two “ghosts” who were going to appear at twelve o’clock. With limited time to our disposal, we didn’t waste any more time enquiring (which was stupid, I know). We take off to the town centre in a hurry.

When asking a few confused Poles about the ghosts, they just frown and shake their heads. Suddenly we notice a group of people converging at the clock tower, realising that this is probably the spot where our youngster is about to see her first ghost. Perched on her daddy’s shoulders, she brims with excitement. Our heads are spinning with her incessant questions about different people’s views on the eternal soul, ghosts, white sheets and why anyone would say “boo” after dying. As the clock strikes twelve, two goats come into view.  They were not going to “boo”, but “baah”.

Poznań’s emblem is two goats, a fact we learn during our Google search afterwards. Next time I will remember to do some research beforehand, and to carry sweets with me in case children cry about a ghost they were not able to see.

Misunderstanding at the hair salon

One day I arrive at the hairdresser as chuffed as someone on the front page of Huisgenoot, because someone used the word “artista” in the salon, which means artist. I hear people “ooh” and “aah” and I am very impressed with myself.  

In the meantime, my hairdresser is still busy on the phone, and she doesn’t seem well. I assume it is a result of a woman losing herself over my woolly, goofy 40 kg Goldendoodle that has accompanied me. She acts as though she is on Oprah and George Clooney has just entered the room.

Everybody smiles and wants to pat Jabu. (Humbly I realise that the “oohs” and “aahs” were not directed at me.) I retrieve some dog treats and the mutt starts doing tricks like a circus horse. It is a jolly affair: faces are being licked, dog biscuits are flying around, and everybody seems to be enjoying themselves.

Pleased with myself, I decide that this is going to be a good emigration day. My hairdresser finally gets off the phone and approaches me with a worried expression. My courage fails me. She mumbles something in Polish that I cannot understand. For a second, I am glad that I decided to bring pictures, in case the language barrier results in me walking out of the salon looking like a 1983 Cindy Lauper. The word she keeps repeating forces me back to reality. A part of me realises that I am supposed to recognise the word, but my brain has decided to strike. I stand there with a blank expression, waiting for the synapses to fire. Nothing. I grab my phone to open Google Translate. I attempt to hide the fact that I haven’t had enough caffeine and I try to buy time while trying to recall wat on earth piątek means again. It seems as if my fingers have also decided to strike, though.

Suddenly. Friday! It means Friday! Yay! And then the realisation … today is Thursday.

Hopefully I will learn my lesson – to not touch my calendar with a child on my lap. And to never step out the door unless I’ve had my third espresso.

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