I’m Sorry, I Only Speak American


This is the story of that time I thought my teacher was yelling at me about female anatomy. 
Last month, I took my first (and last) pole dancing class in Wellington, New Zealand.  My friend Halley and I were the only Americans and the only beginners in the class.  After our teacher taught us how to prance around the pole while winking, she walked to the other corner of the studio and taught the advanced students a move she called “Hello, Boys.”And what does a move with that name entail?  It involves spinning around the pole spread-eagled.

I heard a bit of grumbling from the advanced students and the teacher sweetly admonished “Now, girls.  No one says ‘cu*t in my class.  If you say ‘cu*t’ you have to do five push ups.”

Halley and I gaped at our instructor.  The ‘C’ word is one of the worst, most shocking words you can say in America.  My tender Midwestern sensibilites were being offended!  “You hear that, Halley and Sarah?  No ‘cu*t’ in this class!”

Out of pure shock I gasped “Oh no!  We don’t say that.  Americans don’t say that word.”

She stared at me for a few counts and then nodded with a bit of a smirk.

It wasn’t until we left the class that I realized she hadn’t been using a crass word for the female anatomy.

She’d been saying CAN’T.

I.am.awesome.


Share your stories of cross-cultural, cross-dialect confusion!  Have you ever made a similar mistake?

31 Comments

Han

I was about to comment that I didn't get it and could you explain it – I then opened the post and it was because Reader chopped off the end lol. Now I get it!

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Jen

Lol. Where to start? Mine aren't quite so offensive but were embarrassing.

When I lived in Spain, it took me a month to realise that my new flatmate was actually telling me not to worry when she said 'tranquila' rather than telling me to be quiet.

Now I live in Germany. When I first arrived here and had my first day on my new job, the boss asked me how I had arrived and I replied 'by car' which made him chuckle. It wasn't until later I realised he meant how had my arrival gone i.e. good, bad…

And when Bird Flu was going around a colleague asked me what it was in English. My German wasn't very good at the time and when she commented that the victims must have been misbehaving, I just laughed with the rest of the group and tried to get the joke, it wasn't until someone else asked for clarification, I realised she thought I had said Bad Flu!

I love language and accent quirks like this!

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Poses for the Life's Camera

I had some similar problems esp. with my British prof who pronounces wall with his accent as wool in american english.
The lectures we had were over some optical equipments and wall was acting as a place you see the results on. I was totally confused on the first two sessions, thinking why we use wool in form of big plates to show the results on!

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Courtney

I'm American, and while visiting Scotland a friend and I went to a small restaurant. When we sat down the waitress came over and asked us a question. Unfortunately, her accent was rather thick and my friend and I could not understand (at all) what she was asking. She was looking more at my friend when she asked, so at least I didn't have to be the one to ask her to repeat herself. Finally, after my friend apologized and asked her to repeat herself a third time she said, "have a look at the menu first?" over-enunciating and pointing at said menu. It's pretty embarrassing when you know you're speaking the same language as someone and you have absolutely no idea what is being said. Sheesh.

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MP

Oh my, that was hilarious. The most confusing mix up I've had was when my Chinese students were trying to convince me that Andy needed to eat a fetus so that he would be super fertile and we could have a baby. After a long discussion I finally realized they meant placenta. He should eat placenta. Perhaps ewww worthy, but better than fetuses!

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Edna

I have a very tall English friend who lives in Japan and we were discussing her height one time and I said :you must have a hard time finding pants that fit." She sort of nodded and the conversation moved on. A few minutes later, I realized that to English people, pants mean underwear and proceeded to burst into laughter and try to explain at the same time.

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Sharisse

I kept my (former) Syrian relatives endlessly entertained with my attempt to speak Arabic with my southern drawl. It was an ice breaker at least!

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Davinia

No misunderstandings, but I had some American friends who were endlessly amused by the way I said water (woh-tah, instead of wadder) and made me repeat it over and over again just so they could learn it.

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Brett Minor

I lived in Puerto Rico for a time and my neighbor told me a story about the different Spanish dialects.

A woman moved next door to her who had just come from the Dominican Republic. The woman came to her door one day asking to borrow a penis. She thought maybe this was a crude way of asking for a favor from her husband. Maybe she needed some furniture moved.

She called for her husband to come to the door and the Dominican, confused, asked the question again. Her husband was taken aback for a moment and then began to laugh. He had traveled to D.R. and realized what she was saying.

There is a type of large pot used in Caribbean cooking which is called by a different name in the Dominican than it is in Puerto Rico. The Dominican word sounds almost identical to the Puerto Rican word for 'penis."

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Alli (One Pearl Button)

Hahaha! That is awesome.

Speaking of that word and that general part of the world, I have a few close friends who are Australian, and bandy about the c*nt word without a thought. I find that if I spend enough time with them, I'll start to pick it up too (much to the chagrin of my midwestern upbringing), and have to monitor myself in a group of Americans. Ha!

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Dacia Michal

Hahahahaha! That's awesome! I had several similar experiences when I moved to NZ last year. LOL! Thanks for the literal "laugh out loud" and also trip down memory lane 😀

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Yume Ninja

sarah, sorry, I laugh so hard!

I can't say I've been in the same situation, but my mother, an Asian immigrant with a heavy accent, has often been misheard saying 'fu*ker' instead of 'father', due to the way she pronounces 'father'.

My dad also has his equivalents as he also has a heavy accent.

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cheezyk

My American science teacher once told a group of teenage girls to "shut up and get off their fannies" – innocent enough in American English (bottom) but in Australian English it means the same part of the female anatomy as discussed in the post!

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Chelsea

I work in a small architectural firm & our gorgeous New Zealander draftsperson refers to any small decks she has to draw as "Wee Dicks"…& I know it's totally juvenile, but I can't help but secretly giggle every time she says it. When she has to use building terms like erection etc in the same sentence it just adds to the hilarity 🙂

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Lovers, Saints & Sailors

Haha! Ah the Kiwi accent. That's fantastic.

On a somewhat similar note, when we were kids, my cousins and I used to say "are so" instead of a$$hole.
Because as far as we could tell, it sounded exactly the same!

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Anonymous

I am a kiwi and loooove using the c word that offends you so much 🙂 But this made me giggle.

When I was in Canada recently I bought a ticket up the Harbour tower in Vancouver and I noticed how terrible "deck" sounds in our accent.

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Pooja

LOl! I can imagine your horror. I have a hard time understanding the different (from me)accent. I refused "hubty" when a friend offered it to me, not knowing what it was. Then I learned it is nothing but HERB TEA.

Also I was sniggered at and called "takabeeka" for a long time, when I actually said TAKE A BEAKER!

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Anonymous

All of this is so funny! Children have similar issues with words. The other day my grandson apologized to his Dada for calling him an asphalt.

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sometimessheblogs

Hilarious! I'm American and work with many people from Indonesia and the Phillipines. One day, I was talking to a co-worker from Indonesia, and he was telling me that he'd visited Texas, which is where I'm from. He was so excited to tell me about how he'd been to a country club. So I asked him if he played golf. He looked confused, and kept telling me that it was a country club called Bill's or Bob's or something and that there was music and billiards.

Finally I realized he was talking about Billy Bob's which is the world's largest Honky Tonk… a dance hall and bar where many many great country singers and bands have played. So yeah, it's kind of a country club! I felt so silly, he'd described it so perfectly, but I thought he just had some snobby, rich friends!

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Pull Your Socks Up!

I'm a Kiwi but been living in Oz for 21 years. I know when a Kiwi is about to have an accent faux pas. A Kiwi woman new to my office was speaking in a very loud voice on the phone about renovations to her house. She was about to say to her builder "I need you to put a deck up" – I shouted out before she could say it " SAY VERANDAH!!". The whole office fell on the floor laughing when she ignored me and said "I need you to put a DICK up".

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Christi

Hi! I'm a first time reader and this was the first post I read and I laughed so hard! I continued to read the comments and I laughed so hard I'm currently looking at the screen with tears in my eyes, it was all so wonderfully funny. You guys are all awesome!

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Lylim | Flyleaf

LOL I love this post! Growing up in Malaysia, that is EXACTLY how we say 'can't' and I never thought anything about it until I moved away and quickly realised exactly what other people thought I was saying when I said 'can't'. Language is a funny thing.

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Aliya

This is too funny! I laughed so hard when I read this!!

I'm from Singapore and we speak British English (well, we're supposed to but sometimes we laspe into Singlish).. Anyway, I was writing my blocking down on my script for this musical I was in. I wrote the wrong instructions down and asked out loud for a 'rubber'. The cast, which was made up of mostly Americans burst out laughing and I could not understand why. They didn't realise I meant an 'eraser' not a… well, 'rubber'!!

xx Aliya

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