Avoid the Oops

Using Embarrassing, Inappropriate or Offensive Words 

“I am very pregnant; I do not like beans.”

It’s easy to say the wrong thing when you’re in another country and dealing with a language barrier. Suzanne Miller, director of Nursing for St. Luke’s Wood River Hospital in Ketchum Idaho, knows this well.

While in college, Miller studied in Guadalajara, Mexico, where she had a mix-up with the Spanish word “embarazada,” which of course, sounds like embarrassed. However, it doesn’t mean embarrassed — at all.

 “For two weeks, I didn’t eat my meals because they always included refried beans. Finally, my host mother asked me [in Spanish] “Do you not like my cooking?’ So then I said  [in Spanish], ‘I’m so, so embarazada, because I don’t like beans.’ My roommate, Jen, was fluent in Spanish and told me, ‘You just told Señora that you are very, very pregnant.’ Senora was stunned at first but Jen eventually cleared it up.” — Suzanne Miller.

To avoid issues with communication, many US travelers head to the UK, Australia and New Zealand because these countries share the same language as the US. Or do they? Can you say the wrong thing in your native tongue when you are traveling in an English-speaking country? Absolutely! Slang varies from dialect to dialect.

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Getting Schooled in Aussie Slang

Some of my crazy but lovable year 8’s
© Stephanie Glaser

Teaching eighth graders, who are pubescent pundits, is challenging no matter where you are. But when you are teaching in a new country and you don’t know their slang, it’s just plain brutal.

I discovered this the hard way when, as an exchange teacher, I bumbled my way through one year of instructing Year 8’s in Adelaide, Australia.

I already knew a few tidbits before I arrived. For example, never say, “I root for the team.” The connotation of that statement would be that I do way more than cheer for my team to keep their spirits up. I also knew not to freak out when kids would say that they wore their thongs to the beach; they meant flip flops not G-strings.

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