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Sunday, 28 September 2008

In Translation: Language Gaffes in Brazil

Written by Katie O'Hara
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Learning a new language can open you to a new world. In Portuguese, when you ask if someone if they have been to a place before, the direct translation is, “Do you know…?”

After living in Brazil for two years, I feel confidant in saying, “Yes, I know Brazil.”

For me one of the best parts of learning a new language are the slip-ups.

Here are some of my favorites:

Pay Day


Learning a new language can open you to a new world. In Portuguese, when you ask if someone if they have been to a place before, the direct translation is, “Do you know…?”

After living in Brazil for two years, I feel confidant in saying, “Yes, I know Brazil.”

For me one of the best parts of learning a new language are the slip-ups.

Here are some of my favorites:

Pay Day

In Translation: Language Gaffes in Brazil, funny travel stories, learning a language, learning brazilian portuguese, Katie O’HaraOn Fridays, we usually played games in class. The kids were crazy for “Life.” The one where you drive around in a car, get married, have babies, and buy houses, the typical ideal suburban life. It’s funny.

My seven to eight-year old Brazilian students were getting so excited about landing on “Pay Day.” I know that I get a little thrill about “pay day,” but I am an adult and receive real money. Every time they landed on that space, I would exclaim ‘pay day’ and give them a stack of money.

“Pay day, pay day” They would break into a hysterical fit of giggles. In the afternoon class, it was the same, “Pay day, heeheehee, pay day”

“Alright, Angelo, what does ‘pay day’ mean in Portuguese?”In Translation: Language Gaffes in Brazil, funny travel stories, learning a language, learning brazilian portuguese, Katie O’Hara

Pedei—I farted.”

“Ah ha, the mystery is solved.” Now I could laugh along with them. Great, now all the kids expect to receive money for farting.

If You Eat Me

It was my first Carnival. I had been in Brazil a month and I was practicing my Portanol (Spanish/Portuguese) on my Carnival boyfriend. We were sitting at a kiosk near the beach. His shirt was off and he was hand feeding me french fries while we watched the Botofogo soccer game.

My plan was to stay up all night dancing, which I knew would not be possible on a stuffed stomach, so I kindly refused the next soggy fry-dipped in molho rose (ketchup and mayo).

Não Obrigada,” I said, “si me comes cuando estoy bebiendo, vou dormir.”

He swiveled his head to face me. “O que!! What!!”

I repeated, carefully and pointedly pronounced each syllable, “Nao Obrigada, si me comes cuando estoy bebiendo, vou dormir.”

Fala de novo. (Say it again,)” he said with amusement in his eyes.

I scrunched up my forehead, and repeatedly it, slow and unsure this time. “Si me comes…?” He almost choked on a fry. “Cuando estoy bebiendo?” Falling out of his chair, hysterical.

I pursed my lips together. “I not going to talk again.” I crossed my arms and looked toward the game on TV, pretending to be upset.

Once he had calmed down, I glared at him. “Okay, what I talk?”

In order to make me understand he had to use motions. “If I” he began, pointing to himself, “have sex with you.” He demonstrated this by standing and pulling his elbows back at his sides, thrusting his hips forward in an uh-uh motion. “You” pointing to me “you will go to sleep.” He put his two hands next to his ear and laid his head down.

I slapped my hand over my mouth. “I said that!?”

Then it was me that was laughing uncontrollably. Here, I had meant to say: If I eat when I drink, I get tired. And I basically told him in very dirty language: If you eat me (also slang for f*** me) when I am drinking, I will go to sleep.

I am a Mess

I have a way with the curse words. Later, with the same guy, I looked in the mirror at my messy hair and announced. Sou uma babaca.”

A serious expression came to his face, “Oh no, honey you’re not.”

“Yes I am,” I said. “Look at this hair!”

Of course I had meant to say. “I am a mess (bagunça),” but instead, I used (babaca) a very dirty word for asshole, usually only used by men.

Pressure in your Sheep

I was describing how an airplane flight would feel to friend from a small town in Brazil, whom had never flown. The word for the outer part of the ear is orelha, and the inner part is ouvido, and if you mix the two together, you get the word for sheep, which is ovelha.

So basically, I told him, “That when the planes descends, he would have to hold and blow his nose to release the pressure in his sheep.”

Breastfeeding

Marcelo, my boss gave me a ride home from the gym. I sat in the back and tried to make small talk in Portuguese with his wife who had recently given birth to a baby boy.

“Jane, does he sleep through the night?”

“Oh no,” she said, “He wakes up every three hours.”

“Ughh,” I made a face. “I really want kids, but I want one that sleeps through the whole night.

Marcelo laughed. “Then you go and buy a baby doll.”

“Jane, are you still breastfeeding.”

Marcelo snorted and she giggled.

I reverted to English. “What did I say Marcelo?”

He tried to get a hold of himself. He lifted one hand off the wheel and wiped his eyes that were tearing up from his laughter.

“You asked if she,” he motioned to Jane, “is still sucking.” He laughed on and off the whole way home.

I Don’t Eat Chicken

While my friend Jessica was living in Spain, the idea of vegetarianism was a strange concept for many of the waiters to fathom.

When she told them she didn’t eat meat, they would serve her chicken or fish, neither of which she ate.

One day, she sat down at a restaurant with her boyfriend, his mother, father, grandmother, and younger brother. Instead of creating a scene later when they tried to serve her one of the other animal products, she told the waiter up front, “Yo no como carne, no como pez, y no como polla.”

The waiter had a look of confusion on his face, so she explained again, “Yo no como carne, no como pez, y no como polla.”

The entire family looked up from their conversation. She had told the waiter, “I don’t eat meat. I don’t eat fish, and I don’t eat dick,” confusing the word pollo (chicken) for polla.

Climbing Without Ropes

Another friend, Casey, an avid rock climber was spending a semester abroad in Spain. After her classes at the University of Alicante, she went to the rock gym to climb. She asked one of the workers where there was a place she could go bouldering, (rock climbing without ropes.) She asked him, “Hay un lugar puedo escalar sin ropa.”

Only she had used the word for clothes (ropa) for the word for rope, so she actually asked, “Where is there a place I can climb without clothes?”

“You can imagine the look on his face,” she said to me recalling the story.

Baby Dog

One of the first words I learned in Korea was dog (Kae) and I looked up the word for a baby animal (Saekki) since I was looking for a pet kitten. I wound up at the local pet store three times a week asking “Koyangi-saekki issoyo?” Cat-baby do you have?

My director and his wife were driving me out to dinner my second week on the job. There were three darling puppies beside the road. Excited that I knew the word for puppy, I pointed and triumphantly announced, “Kae-saekki, Kae-saekki.”

They both giggled, but I only learned later that I was yelling “Son-of-a-Bitch, Son-of-a-Bitch.”

Macaroni

Another friend, Lara Lee, whom I was living with in Brazil often confused two similar words: maconha and macarrão. Marijuana and macaroni.

The look on a guys face was priceless after he asked if she smoked. He was referring to cigarettes, and she responded, “You mean, do I smoke macaroni?”

The look on the lunch lady’s face was even funnier the day when Lara Lee told her that she would like to eat beef, tomatoes, cabbage, and just a little marijuana.

©Katie O’Hara

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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