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<   No. 866   2005-06-10   >

Comic #866

1 Monty: So Dr Smith fooled us all, and is racing to Moscow with the Atlantean orichalcum.
2 Monty: I guess that means you can't shoot us because now we make an agreement to cooperate to recover it, yes?
3 Haken: Ha! We may be Nazis, but we are not that stupid!
4 Monty: Oh? How stupid are you?
4 Erwin: Nice command of English, Herr Kolonel.

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Learning another language can all too easily lead to amusing results like this. On my recent trip to Thailand, I memorised the Thai phrase for "She doesn't eat meat" so I could let waiters in restaurants know that my wife didn't want any meat in her meals. The trouble was, whenever I said this to a waiter, they looked at me strangely, and it was only after a lot of gesturing and careful repetition that I managed to get my meaning across.

After this happened a few times, I checked my phrasebook to make sure of the pronunciations.

I discovered I'd been using the wrong pronoun all along. Instead of telling the waiters "She doesn't eat meat," I was telling them "You don't eat meat."

2014-08-05 Rerun commentary: On another trip I was holidaying in Germany. At one restaurant we went to, I managed to order in German and the waitress took the order and delivered our food without either of us speaking a word of English to one another.

When my wife and I had finished eating, we were quite full and decided to skip dessert. At this point when the waitress (or waiter) comes to collect the plates, I am used to them (back in Australia) asking if we would like to see the dessert menu. The waitress picked up our plates and asked me something in German. I responded semi-automatically, "Nein. Die Rechnung, bitte." ("No. The bill, please.") She walked away from our table, and only at that point did my mind process the German question she had asked.

I don't recall exactly the phrase, but it was something like "Schmeckt es Ihnen?"

Those of you who know German are no doubt laughing already. Because what she'd asked me was, essentially, "Did you enjoy the meal?" And I'd responded by saying "no" and asking for the bill!

Fortunately when the waitress returned I explained what had happened and begged forgiveness (in English, which fortunately she understood) and said the food was really very good, and she was very good humoured about it.

Ah, the perils of language. I probably have similar stories about speaking French and Spanish as well, if I could remember them. And possibly Japanese, only I don't recall ever realising I'd made a language error in Japan.

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