"Excuss Me Miss, Did You Say You're Pregnant?"
by Leslie Woodford
My friend Christi was living in Chile. She was there as a missionary for our church. As missionaries, we pledge to spend full time preaching the gospel and serving the people of the country where we are assigned. That means no dating. In fact, we travel in same gender pairs so that we are never alone with someone of the opposite sex.
As she learned Spanish, she discovered that in many ways it is very easy: A lot of words are the same:
• television – television
• transportation – trasportation
• cable – cable
Some other words become Spanish with the addition of “o” (for masculine) or an “a” (if it is feminine) to the end:
• delicate – delicado
• famous – famoso
Anyway, Christi is pretty. She has long thick hair, and is delightfully charming. She is the kind of woman that naturally draws men, but ... as I mentioned, she was a missionary and committed to living an extra pious life during her mission. No dating; no hanky-panky. The missionaries interact regularly with the church members--it is well known that they are committed to a higher level of piety.
One day, she did something a little embarrassing ... I don't remember what it was. Later that day, she tried to explain the story to a church member. She started her story by saying, "Estoy embarazada ... " There was, shall we say, a "pregnant" silence? She assumed that the word "embarrassed" would translate easily to Spanish instead, "embarazada" means "pregnant." Indeed, it was an embarrassing day for my friend
I had my own embarrassing "translation" moment many years ago as a child when I told a joke in school. I had recently moved from the US to the Solomon Islands. They were a British protectorate at the time and spoke British English. The joke involved a pair of "pants." In British English, they say "trousers;" the word "pants" means "underpants." I was mortified as I stood in front of the room talking about underpants.
Finally, one more missionary story: This from a New Zealand friend. She was also serving a mission for our church. She was at the Missionary Training Center where missionaries go to be trained prior to going to their assigned mission. She and her companion went to the bookstore in the MTC. She needed an item that in the US we call "eraser." Unable to find it on her own, she asked the clerk, "Where are your 'rubbers'?" Rubber is a slang word for condom. You can imagine her embarrassment after repeating the question several times and receiving numerous gawking expressions from the clerk and the other missionaries close enough to hear her query.
The lesson learned is that words don't always translate well from one language to another--even from one English-speaking country to another English-speaking country. You can read more details about these stories as well as other interesting stories about working across-cultures at YourLanguageGuide.com
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