Setting: Walking into a restaurant and asking for the bathroom.
Me: (Walks up to a waiter.) 厕所在哪儿?
cèsuǒ zài nǎr?
Which translates directly to, “Toilet is where?” OR
Where’s the damn bathroom? I’ve got to pee really bad.
Waiter: (Super confused look.) 什么??
This means WHAT in Mandarin if you couldn’t figure it out. *stale face*
He looked over to his coworker to help him out, but she didn’t know what the hell I was saying either. She looked confused, but eventually realized what I was trying to say. But by that time, I was frustrated and found the bathroom on my own.
I told my teacher what happened in class the next day. When I repeated the question to her, she also couldn’t understand what I was saying.
“I’m trying to say bathroom or toilet,” I said.
“OHHH. You mean tuh-swoh.” Apparently I wasn’t putting enough “t” in my pronunciation. Whatever.
The “c” in Pinyin, the phonetic Chinese system, is pronounced like the “t” sound followed by the “s” sound, “ts.” I pronounced it solely with the “s” sound. Still, I didn’t understand how that produced a completely unrecognizable word. (I’m just salty.)
Lesson: Learn another word for “bathroom.”
Setting: Ordering what I believed to be macaroni and cheese.
Let me preface this by saying that macaroni and cheese is my favorite food. Of all time.
So imagine my excitement when I saw “macarrones con queso” on a menu outside a small restaurant in Spain. This translates directly to “macaroni with cheese.”
Could it be real? Could I order a slice of heaven right here in Spain, just like home?
The next day, I looked forward to walking into that restaurant and ordering my beloved dish. I even told all my friends how excited I was to get some macarrones con queso! My love for mac and cheese is real.
“Quiero macarrones con queso,” I said proudly to the waiter after class.
“Vale,” she said. No, not vale. Not vale at all, damnit! I didn’t know then. (Vale means “ok” in Spanish and it’s quite overused in Spain.)
Seven minutes and 22 seconds later, she brought out a steaming plate of penne pasta topped with a tomato meat sauce. Come to find out, the “queso” in “macarrones con queso” was a sprinkle of cheese atop the pasta.
SHÉNME? I thought.
It wasn’t even macaroni!
No big deal, you’re probably thinking. You just ate the pasta and laughed it off. But my embarrassing moment does not end here.
I don’t eat red meat. It’d been fine without the meat, but now I was at a loss as to what to do.
I tried to explain to her my dilemma. “No como carne,” I said. I don’t eat meat.
She gave me a “bitch better have my money” look and went to go get the chef.
This is the macarrones con queso that you ordered, he said. And some other stuff I didn’t understand in Spanish. I felt so stupid. More importantly, I was still very hungry.
I sat back down and fiddled my thumbs for quite some time and decided to order something else. I didn’t want to be that black American girl who just walked out the store and make them hate black people forever. Lol.
I ordered a plate of fries with a chicken sandwich. Oh how I love Spain’s hard bread.
When it came for la cuenta, the bill, she charged me for the fake plate of macarrones con queso that sat untouched on the table and the fries and sandwich as well. Raining euros.
My embarrassment wouldn’t let me go back there again!
Lesson: Don’t expect Spaniards to know the delicacy that is (real) macaroni and cheese.
It’s inevitable when you’re learning a new language. Just laugh it off.
What’s your embarrassing experience whilst learning a foreign language? Comment below!