There was a time that I was invited to speak in a Brazilian city that I had never visited before. I was at a point in my language learning when I could do OK in a conversation but needed a translator for public speaking. So, after one extended meeting, we went out for all-you-can-eat pizza. It was nearly midnight. I was tired from the meeting. If you have ever are learned a new language, you will know that to try to communicate in it when you’re tired can be a recipe for disaster. This was no different. So, the waiters were serving different kinds of pizza. One was sliced chicken with a certain cheese topping that I liked at the time. However, it was one of those Portuguese words (“catupiry”) that I believe almost any foreigner would have a hard time pronouncing correctly. Being tired, there was no way I would be able to say it correctly if couldn’t say it when totally alert. The word that came to my mind was mixture of that cheese and the word for computer.
When I spoke out my desire for THAT pizza, my translator, a fair, blond-haired lady, who was sitting right next to me, dropped her mouth so fast and turned the deepest shade of red that I can ever remember in my experience, and started saying, “I can’t believe you just said that!” She started alternating between shock, laughter, and sheer embarrassment. “Say what?” I had no clue. Finally, after a few minutes of the internal terror of, “What did I just say?!”, someone translated my gaffe.
Imagine this: I am one of featured speakers in a conference, and I just used one of the worst swear words in Portuguese. It is a punchy word that sums up all of the gross things that prostitutes do in their sexual acts. I had just spoken out loud that I wanted all that on a pizza … with chicken.
Joseph – DC