Alliance News Feed – Alliance Workers Uncut, Part 2

What follows is part two of a two-part “most embarrassing language blooper” compilation from our international workers (well, at least the ones we could print). Read at your own risk.

Part 1

Anonymous (Creative-Access Country)

The words for answer and punishment are only one letter different. I was telling someone about how God loves to talk with us, and I said, “If you pray to God, He will punish you!”

I accidentally got a taxi driver to pay me money because I mixed up my verbs. I told him to give me money rather than to take it. They are so hospitable here that he really would have let me have his money, but we got it right in the end.

Early on in language study, I decided to make Christmas cookies and give them out as gifts, so I went to the store to buy some powdered sugar for the icing. Almost everything in the store is imported from Russia, and all the bags on the one shelf looked like powdered sugar. The Russian labels on each bag were just a little different. While comparing prices on the various bags, I chose the largest one because it was the best deal.

When I got home, I started adding butter to my powder, but the mixture wasn’t getting creamier. I added more and more and more butter until finally the icing started to look like icing—it was mostly butter at that point. Surprised that I needed so much more butter than the recipe said, I tasted it. It wasn’t sweet, but it wasn’t bad either. It just tasted like butter. I dyed it and put it on the sugar cookies.

The next day, when my language teacher came to my house, I showed her one of the bags and asked her to tell me what I had bought. She said vaguely that you could fry things with it, you could put it in recipes, it was made from potatoes, you could use it to make clothes whiter and stiffer when you iron them. Then I realized it was potato starch. I gave the cookies out anyway.

My second Christmas in country, my team ladies and I decided to host a Christmas tea for our local friends. I was nominated to tell the Christmas story, so I prepared myself for it. I was in my second year of language study, and I had just learned a new word for love. I decided to use that word in the story, because love is the heart of the story. On the day of the Christmas tea, I told the story to the ladies who politely listened. Except for the power outage, the party went smoothly. While we were cleaning up, one of my teammates asked about my word choice for love. She asked, “Isn’t that the word for romantic love? Isn’t there another word for God’s love?” She was right; I had spent the whole afternoon talking about God’s romantic love for us.

Jeremy Bergevin (Mongolia)

We’re learning Mongolian. Cyrilic script is hard enough in print, but when we finally learned it, they introduced the cursive.

The capitol of Mongolia is Ulaanbaatar, which means red hero. The cursive “T” looks a lot like an “M,” so I read it out loud as Ulaanbamaar.

Our teacher bent over laughing and staggered out of the room, presumably to tell other teachers or classes what I had said. Instead of “red hero,” I had said, “I want to poop red.”

Anonymous (Creative-Access Country)

Our national friend came to our home from work. I served him a cool drink and offered a bowl of peanuts. I wanted to tell him if he wanted to wash his hands he could use the bathroom. What I said was, “If you want to wash your hands or be circumcised, you can use the bathroom.” Like a good friend, he told my husband Ross so as not to embarrass me or have to say it to a woman.

Anonymous (Creative-Access Country)

The pastor of the church we were working in our first term came from a village with the name that was very close to the word used for hell in the Bible. There were just a couple of letters difference between the two words. Every time he returned from a visit to his hometown I’d say, “Welcome back. How are the people from hell?” He would just smile and say, “Oh, they are all fine!” Finally one day we received a package from his hometown with his name on it, and I saw the name of the town written out and realized what I’d been saying to him each and every time for almost a year. How embarrassing.

Anonymous (West Africa)

When my wife and I were learning the local language, she noticed a nice clay pot that could be used for flowers. So we went to the market to buy one. When we got to the area of the market where we thought they would be, two ladies asked how I was.

“Fine,” I answered.

“Who is that?” they asked.

“This is my wife,” I said.

Then they asked, “What do you need?”

And I said, “A clay pot.”

At this, the two of them burst out laughing. They called two more ladies together and repeated what I had said, resulting in more hilarious laughter. Then they called three more ladies over, and the same thing happened. One lady laughed so hard she almost fell out of her chair. Bear in mind the people here are known to be very stoic.

The next day we told our language informant the story. He laughed and explained that when they asked how I was, I responded correctly. And when they asked who my wife was, I used the right phrase. But when they asked what I needed, I said, “A replacement.”

We never did get the clay pot.

Have a language blooper of your own to share? E-mail it to

Source: Alliance News Feed – Alliance Workers Uncut, Part 2

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