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Travelling across different countries not only introduces you to the wonders of other foods, beverages, scenery and cultures but to other languages too. In all my time of continent skipping I haven’t usually had too much of a problem communicating; a mixture of signing, their good English and my effort (as I always make) to speak a few words of their language has got me by. However I can remember one very clear incident when utter confusion from dissimilar tongues caused bewilderment and hilarity.


One year I spent the entire summer in rural Spain, this meant that my Spanish improved immeasurably but not without fault. I am someone who is quite happy to try and cobble together a sentence in another language that might sound jumbled or in the wrong tense. I enjoy endeavoring to speak new languages, even if I am looked at with crazed or puzzled eyes when I get it wrong. When grammar isn’t right, it REALLY isn’t right, and can make you sound quite insane.

So with spurious confidence I plunged myself into all manner of social situations where I would be required to speak some Spanish. It wasn’t all bad and I became quite fearless. However one morning I ventured out into the small town and was headed for the beauty and pharmacy shop, a tiny little place, looking for some hypoallergenic soap. Explaining this to the rotund, bearded counter man I asked if he sold special or hypoallergenic jamon. I was tired, unthinking and slightly nervous as to whether they would understand what I needed.

The man’s mahogany irises widened and his eyes took on an expression of complete disbelief and, to be honest, he gave me a look like I’d asked to eat the entire window display of soap. With trepidation and my confidence a little broken I bravely repeated my request. He puckered his lips and gave me a quizzical look and suddenly burst out laughing. He called to the guys in the back of the store and from what I could catch, was shouting: listen to what this lady wants! He told me that I was in the wrong store. I said no, I wasn’t, and this is where I was told you could buy special jamon. He asked me what I wanted this ‘special jamon’ for. I told him to shower with and to wash my face with. That seemed to shock him. Taking a step back and shaking his straight, russet-coloured head of hair, he said, was this something regularly practiced in my country?

By this point, I was depleted and started to feel humiliated by the background hum of chuckles. I explained, as best I could, that it is totally normal in England and it is available everywhere: again with the laughter. Pero por que? Que loco! He repeated this on an endless loop and then, sobering up, said if it was jamon I wanted I should go next door, to the butcher.

Aghast, I suddenly realised my dreadful, dreadful mistake; I stood frozen, staring at him, incredulous of what I had just said. All this time I had been asking for special ham. I had tangled the words ham and soap in my head and simply misplaced one, very important letter. I meant to say, all this time, jabon not jamon.

I had walked into a beauty store and requested special ham for my face, so I could use it in the shower. Of course, I can see the similarity in the two words immediately, but he just didn’t click my jumble, as to him, the words were very different.

I wanted to exit with alacrity but instead I stayed to explain myself (as I didn’t want to be known as the crazed girl in the village who washes with meat). He was totally amiable and giggled, as he understood my muddle. We parted and I was glad to see him looking at me with kindness and not like someone who revels in splashing around with uncooked slabs of meat.

Do you have any embarrassing or hilarious stories where language confusion results in strange events? Tweet us with any of your silly scenarios.


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