Oops… I Did It Again

As you know, I have learned my lesson. No more literal translations from English to Spanish of American expressions. After calling our friend Teré a slut when what I meant to say — sort of — was she was sexy, I most definitely learned my lesson. And Jerry is trying to be careful with his pronunciation of Spanish vowels to ensure he doesn’t inadvertently say something he doesn’t mean to say — like polla, which is cock (and not of the poultry variety), instead of pollo, which is chicken. So, you’d think I wouldn’t be getting myself into any more trouble. Or, really, you’d think I wouldn’t be giving my Spanish friends anything more to laugh — or blush — about.

But then yesterday, while having a conversation about smoking, I decided to tell Teré and Miguel a story about my sister that took place in my parents’ apartment some years back.

One day, when my sister, Dale, was not quite 15 and I was not quite 13, we were in the apartment alone. I found her sitting on the couch smoking a cigarette. Except that she wasn’t so much smoking the cigarette, as she was blowing into it. Sparks were flying across the room. I was taken aback. “What are you doing?” I demanded to know.

She sniped back at me, “What does it look like? I’m smoking.”

I said in my pre-teen wisdom, “Well, you’re not supposed to blow into it. You’re supposed to suck the smoke into your mouth.”

She had a very logical response. “I tried, but I don’t like it. It makes me cough.”

“Then, you shouldn’t smoke,” I announced. “You don’t look cool.”


Now, you might have guessed that my Spanish faux pas had something to do with the translation of “blow” or perhaps “suck.” But, you’d be wrong. My problem was in naming the room in which I found my sister. My parents’ apartment has a formal entry, what is known as a “foyer.” My family has always used it as a den of sorts, with bookshelves, sofa and TV. My sister was sitting in that room on that sofa when we had our exchange.

The Spanish equivalent for “foyer” (of French origin) would be entrada. But that didn’t occur to me as I told the story. I mentioned the “foyer,” pronouncing it the un-classy American way (foy-ur). Miguel and Teré didn’t know what I meant. So I then pronounced it the French and/or pretentious-American way (foy-yay). Miguel tittered and Teré blushed and laughed. With further explanation, it was determined that I meant “entrada.” But, Teré said in Spanish, “You do realize that follé is the past tense of follar, don’t you?” I shrugged. No I did not. Nor did I know what follar was.

I took out my phone and looked it up on Google Translate. Oops. I had dropped the “f bomb”; the “f word”; the word described by an extended middle finger. Don’t make me spell it out. You know the one I’m talking about.

I will not be any more specific — in English at least. The Dowager Duchess will read this post. She will see me swear in Spanish. She won’t be surprised, but she won’t be happy about it.

Anyway, The Duchess will probably be more shocked that her daughter smoked a cigarette…Well tried to smoke a cigarette.

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..

28 thoughts on “Oops… I Did It Again”

  1. Speaking another language must be a complete fooking minefield LOL!

    I have trouble with English Mitch so you're doing well, faux pas included. :-O

  2. In French, a foyer is a fireplace and, by extension, a household. I don't know why we Americans use it to refer to an entry hall.

    Still, it's amusing to know it allows you to talk like a Spanish sailor. Hey, maybe it's because of the galeon…

    1. Walt the Fourth:
      I had looked up foyer and was surprised to find the definition as "household" after using it for all these years. In any case, I will stop being pretentious and I will pronounce it the American way. I'm too old for the Navy.

    1. Mark:
      There's always the risk that hand signals mean different things in different parts of the world. Anyway, it's wonderful to have you visit again… and comment. Even if it IS a smart-ass comment. I was going to translate smart-ass into Spanish but who knows what THAT would produce!

  3. You did it again Mitch! In Canada we say 'foyer' the French way and when we here the American version on TV we find it peculiar. So I can just imagine your Spanish friend's reaction when they here your faux pas….lol!
    I'd be so lost in a foreign country for so long!

    1. I had a friend in college who was shocked when she met my sister. She said it was as if we were twins. She went on to clarify, "except she's beautiful and you're not." I decided to take it as a compliment (well, at least for my sister).

  4. I love love love love translation problem stories. Have you ever read/listened to David Sedaris's Me Talk Pretty One Day? There are some hilarious stories in there about his attempts to learn French while living in France. The one story made me laugh until I cried. Please keep making mistakes like this!! : )

    1. Jenners:
      Absolutely love David Sedaris and "Me Talk Pretty One Day" is my favorite. I promise. with absolutely no effort, to keep making mistakes like this.

  5. Gee, we always said front porch at my house, even though it was not much bigger than a closet. I wonder if the use of "foyer" would be a regionalism, like "front stoop" in NY was called the "front steps" in Minnesota.

    1. Ms. Sparrow:
      Foyer seems to be very common (although not in Spain). And "stoop" was even regionalized within NY. When we lived on Long Island, we called them the front steps. I learned to call it a stoop when we moved to Brooklyn, otherwise I wouldn't have known where to play stoopball.

  6. Once again, a learning curve…a ever so challenging bendy wendy curve…now that smoking issue…haven't we all tried that disgusting thing…cough cough and it's all effing over!

    1. Ron:
      I smoked for 16 years. Jerry wouldn't let me smoke in the house. So, one winter night in Connecticut as I stood freezing on the back deck, I decided it was time to quit. I haven't had a cigarette in more than 25 years!

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