People always tell horror stories about saying the wrong word in a foreign language and either saying something offensive or sexual. They rally are trying to say something innocent, but the word is mispronounced or the phrase doesn’t mean what the speaker thought. Well, after a few years studying French, I have have finally made that, and I left laughing but embarrassed.
Many people start off making more understandable mistakes like saying “je suis chaud” or “je suis excité.” Both have sexual connotation, but to the person learning French, they mean “I am hot” and “I am excited.” (The correct way to say the first is “J’ai chaud.” For the second, one should continue the sentence and state why he is excited.) However, I seem to have generally skipped these and jumped to one many probably haven’t encountered.
At lunch last Friday, Jacob and I were eating the delicious creations of our incredibly animated and lovable cook Danielle when she asked what we were going to do for the rest of the day. Jacob simply said he would continue sleeping so that he could recover from falling ill, and I listed a couple work assignments before saying that I needed to knit. This led to a conversation about knitting and crocheting in which Danielle learned that I prefer to crochet instead of knit. As the conversation drew to a close, her interest was sparked, and she asked what I am knitting. I told her assuredly I am making a hood for my sister. Or at least that is what I thought I had said, but the wide-eyed expression crossing her face as she tilted her head and leaned slightly forward told me otherwise. “Comment? (What?)” she asked. “Une capote,” I responded without the assurance I had before. She asked again. I repeated while making the motion of putting a hood over my head. I was incredibly confused. I had thought she might ask what I was knitting and wanted to be able to tell her, so I had looked up the word earlier in the week using both a translator as well as a dictionary. I didn’t see how the word could be so wrong. Danielle waved her hands gently in front of her, saying “Non, non, non, ça, c’est pour les hommes. C’est un préservatif masculin. (No, no, no, that’s for men. That’s a condom.)”
Apparently it can also mean a cape or the roof of a convertible, but the first thing a French person will think of when they hear the word ” une capote” is a condom. The word I needed was “un capuchon.” You can take this as the embarrassing story it is or form one of many different lessons that can be found in it. I’ll largely just look back on this story and think of the time I learned the French version of “a rubber” after telling someone that I am making one for my sister.
If you have any embarrassing language stories, please tell them in the comments below.
For those of you interested:
I have officially raised 2575 for my trip! Thank you all so much for your help!
I do still have quite a bit to raise.
If you would like, please visit my fundraising page for more details about my stay in France and about how to donate to my internship funds.