Learning a new language is hard. When you add in accidental mispronunciations and phrases that don’t quite translate between languages, you discover whole new ways to embarrass yourself in front of strangers and new acquaintances.
Once while I was on a business trip in Brazil, a colleague (whose command of the English language was excellent) jokingly asked me if I was going to spend all of my money on the bitches of Brazil.
“Uhhh, excuse me? What did you just ask me?”
I was assured that where I was going had incredible bitches. Beautiful bitches.
I’m embarrassed to say that it took me an excruciating amount of time before I realized he was talking about Brazil’s beaches.
But the Foreign Language Gods soon had their revenge on me. I have spent the past year in France stumbling through the French language, butchering its beautiful sound with a multitude of mistakes, mispronunciations, and tortured grammar.
Keep reading for four common situations rife with opportunities to humiliate yourself in casual French conversation and how to avoid them.
Do we kiss when we say ‘hello’?
In France, it’s customary to give little air kisses on both cheeks when greeting others. For newcomers, it can be awkward at first and it is not always clear who you should and should not kiss hello.
If you’re unsure, it’s okay to ask! However, it is really, really important that you ask if you should “faire la bise.” DO NOT ask if you should “baiser” your new acquaintance.
“Un baiser” does mean “a kiss.” But when used as a verb, it means to f**k. Really not the best way to introduce yourself.
And yes, I learned this lesson the hard way.
I am so excited!
Americans, god love us, are an easily excitable crew. We are excited about everything! Especially in France! The food! The culture! The art! The people!
So, let’s say you’re in Paris and you’re planning a trip to Versailles. You can’t wait to see the Hall of Mirrors and tour the gardens where Marie Antoinette once roamed. “Je suis excitée!” you exclaim.
Alas, unless you’re the world’s least subtle flirter, this is probably not the message you’re trying to convey.
“Excité” does mean excited—but in a sexual way. Instead, you’re better off using the phrase “J’attends avec impatience,” which loosely translates to “I can’t wait” or “I’m looking forward.”
Talking about the weather: Completely harmless, right? What can be easier than talking about the weather on a sweltering summer day.
“Je suis chaude,” you say, smiling weakly at the person next to you on the métro as you fan yourself with your hand.
Nope, nope, nope.
You’ve just announced to this person that you are horny.
In French, you should say, “J’ai chaud(e),” which literally translates to “I have hot.” Confusing, I know. French is diabolical like that.
You’re lucky enough to get invited to a French person’s dinner party in rural Provence. The conversation sparkles, the wine flows freely, and the food is divine. You laugh, you eat, you drink, you eat some more. Finally, you’ve stuffed yourself with so much delicious food, you can barely move. Your host offers you a plate of cheese, but you politely decline.
“Non, merci,” you say, contentedly patting your enlarged belly. “Je suis pleine.”
Weird looks. Uncomfortable silence.
You were trying to say that you are full. But, unfortunately, “plein” is how the French refer to pregnant farm animals.
Next time, just say, “J’ai bien mangé.”
Now go out and speak your new language! You will absolutely make embarrassing mistakes, but as a wise Welsh woman once said, there’s always wine!
Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash
2 thoughts on “How to Humiliate Yourself in Everyday Conversation: An Expert’s Guide”
[…] New country, new language, new culture—being an expat is a humbling experience and little humiliations are daily occurrences. Now you laugh it all […]
[…] This post by Emily is a close runner-up and so wonderfully captures what it’s really like to be an expat. Embarrassing! It’s also got several great tips on speaking French, which I need to go back and review–often. […]