Getting to Chinatown

Since our arrival in Sevilla in July, Jerry and I have said some funny things in Spanish — while not intending to say some funny things in Spanish (remember when I said cojones — anatomical balls — instead of cajas — cardboard boxes).  And Margarita has misunderstood some of what we’ve said (remember when she thought we were saying Jerry was from Santacoda as opposed to South Dakota, and then tried to find Santacoda on a map).

But the “lost in translation” flub that now has me laughing is one I heard Friday night at a wonderful dinner arranged by Albert and Lola, when we met Manuela, Alejandro, and Alejandro’s sister Pastori.

Alejandro knows only a few words of English and he told his story of going to New York some years ago.  He was in Midtown Manhattan and wanted to visit Chinatown.  The extent of his English at the time was, I think, “excuse me,”  “hello,” and possibly “thank you.”  Alejandro is not shy.  He figured if he simply hailed a cab and then said to the cab driver, “Excuse me, Chinatown,” the driver would understand and get him there.

The New York cabby did a double-take when this burly, well-dressed man jumped into the back seat and announced in a rich basso voice “Kiss me, Cheenatown!”

Author: Moving with Mitchell

From Brooklyn, New York; to North Massapequa; back to Brooklyn; Brockport, New York; back to Brooklyn... To Boston, Massachusetts, where I met Jerry... To Marina del Rey, California; Washington, DC; New Haven and Guilford, Connecticut; San Diego, San Francisco, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Irvine, California; Sevilla, Spain. And Fuengirola, Málaga..

24 thoughts on “Getting to Chinatown”

  1. Love it!

    Once, while trying Spanish in front of Carlos, I was talking about leaving a pair of tickets on a table, but I said "pelotas" instead of "boletas" which is like saying 'I left my balls on the table.'

    He laughed for nearly an hour.

  2. I need to remember that one…lol. Last year whilst on tour in Italy my friend and I started speaking to strangers in Italian. We went up to a group of guys in a bar and my friend said in her best voice "Io sono facile" (I am easy) instead of "Io sono felice" (I am happy) and wondered why we were met with hysterical laughter and come hither eyes.

  3. Jeff:
    These are going to keep me laughing for days. Once, when I was in Italy, I walked a couple of miles to visit a friend. When I got there I told her I was tired because I came by foot (or so I thought). What I actually said was I was tired because I changed my foot. She was very concerned. Anyway, hope your friend got lucky.

  4. Yes, we've all got our own funny stories of this situation.
    I know I've said this in a previous comment but there comes a point when it sometimes requires a greater sense of humour than some of us can muster to laugh it off repeatedly. To be specific, when speaking another language I get exasperated when I detect a half-smile on my listener(s) as though they're just waiting for me to drop a howler. When it's a one-off listener it's not so bad. But perhaps I make more gaffes than most.

  5. Raybeard:
    So far, my sense of humor has remained intact and I enjoy the smiles I see sometimes at my peculiar attempts to make sense in Spanish. I hope it stays that way! (Better to make the gaffs than to not try.)

  6. It's better (most of the time) to try your best and fail than to be unwilling to try at all….I've lived in Germany and Hungary when I barely knew the language, but was learning and have said hilarious things (in retrospect) which alarmed or amused or totally baffled the local inhabitants……But it's good to try, even if one completely messes up.

  7. Kristi:
    I absolutely agree. I have really relaxed about it. When we were here in January I thought I needed to say everything perfectly; that simply meant I could barely speak. Now, I just let if flow. Jerry, too, is bravely saying what he knows or thinks he knows. It's liberating, and people have been extremely kind (and appreciative that we're trying).

  8. I learned very quickly in the States that a rubber was not an eraser… had the entire office in stitches when I asked if anyone had a rubber.

  9. Nubian:
    Everyone's own stories are even funnier than my original post. My mother mortified my British brother-in-law when even after 10 years she refused to get that they used bum bags in England and not fanny packs — fanny, in England, being another word for…

  10. Back in college I even had trouble with English, in England. I asked the Bobby how to get to "Traffle-gar Square"; "Oh, you mean Trafalgar!" Last spring on return to London I mentioned this to the very friendly customs agent. He responded, with typical English humor, "Oh they're still talking about that one!"

  11. In France, you can request a pound of something at the market two ways: 500 grammes, or une livre (a pound). One particular vendor didn't miss a beat when I asked for un livre (a book) of carrots.

    But he had a huge smile on his face when he handed them to me and said, Voilà, UNE livre de carottes.

  12. Talk about using the wrong words…I once took a group of Brazilians to St. Disney and at the end of the trip they had an elaborate dinner where they toasted me and thanked me with a hefty present. When I got up to give my appreciation speech I said: "Estou muito contente pelo agasalho que me tem oferecido" (I am very happy with the compliment you have offered me) following I see people rolling on the floor with laughter. You see, agasajar in Spanish means pay tribute to but in Portuguese it means to fuck somebody in the ass. Live an learn.
    enjoy your adventures a lot.


  13. Raulito:
    I'm not sure I get it. Are you saying that wasn't the correct thing to say at that time? But, seriously, I'm glad I haven't said anything that embarrassing… yet.

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