The dangers of speaking a foreign language!

I am always trying to ingratiate myself with the locals when I travel, by attempting to speak at least a few words in the local tongue. Whilst it often has a good effect sometimes it gets me into trouble, particularly in countries where the language is tonal in nature.
Cantonese for example has six tones (some say 9), none of which I can differentiate. While living in Hong Kong I often, while dining in a restaurant, ordered an egg at the end of a meal when what in fact I wanted was the bill, (luckily most Hong Kongers work out what that the stupid Gweilo murdering their language is saying, based on the context)
I have also during the monsoon, commented on a large fish when I wanted to say that it is raining heavily. It is for reasons like this I suspect that very few expats in HK ever really master the language.
The Thai language is also tonal with 5 tones and it caught me out on my last visit to Bangkok.
Visiting my friend’s office I met his secretary and remembering her name from a previous visit thought I would get into her good books by greeting her effusively in Thai. “Sawasdee Krup Khun Noi” (Hello Miss Noi) I pronounced while giving her the traditional wai (two palms pressed together in prayer position).
I noticed her looking a little unhappy while out of the corner of my eye caught my friend sniggering in the background.
Catching him alone a little later I asked him what I had done wrong. “You called her Khun Noi“ he said. “Isn’t that her name” I asked.
“Yes but you said Noi”
“Exactly” I said.
“No it’s pronounced Noi” to my ears sounding precisely the way I had said it.
“Well it surely doesn’t make much difference” I replied with more than a trace of irritation.
“Oh yes it does” he said. “You just called her Miss Pubic Hair!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s