Lost in Translation Moments


We say what we mean, but do we really mean what we say? We asked our readers to tell us  funny moments when they had misinterpreted conversations, fumbled with words, or got lost in translation.

We are amused with the submissions, and here are our favorites.

I Knew the Song All Along

I belong to an international community of priests who serves a country parish.  The language spoken in the house is French and I’m the only one who understands English.  During our Christmas dinner, one of the priests told me of a very popular holiday song, which the anglophones calls “Silong-nij.”  I told him that I haven’t heard of it. He then replied that it’s actually a German song translated into several language, and  that it inspired a famous Christmas ceasefire during the First World War.  Then, to convince me, he sang the first few lines: Si-hilong Nij, O-oli nij” and it dawned to me, he’s pronouncing in French the english lyrics of Silent Night.      

- Virgil, France

What did you just call me?

I used to live in this boarding house. One time I was cleaning the floor in the kitchen, when the date of one of my housemates arrived and found me scrubbing away on the floor. He said “Hey, you missed a spot”, to which I replied, “’Excuse me, my name is not Mrs. Spot!” 

– Helen, California

The Notebook

I was fairly new to the US when I joined an IT company. One work day, my boss passed by my cube and told me to go catch a meeting. “And by the way,” he said, “bring your notebook.” I scrambled for my pen and paper and hurriedly arrived at the conference room. I looked around the group of attendees, and realized I was the only one without my laptop.    

- Phoebe, California


Can’t Find Comfort

I needed to go use the restroom… badly. But there seems to be no public restrooms around so we went inside this craft store to ask permission to use their facilities. I asked the lady at the store standing by a stack of scissors and craft papers, “Excuse me, where’s your comfort room?” and she went and looked at the stack of scissors and craft papers and said, “I’m sorry Ma’am but I don’t think we have those.” It got me to wonder why a store such as theirs would not even have a comfort room, and why was she looking at the scissors? 

– Edna, Arizona         

What Ref?

My Aunt wanted her daughter to put the leftover food in the refrigerator to avoid spoilage so she instructed her to put all the food in the ref.  The daughter’s reply was “Mom, a ref calls the fouls in basketball, that cold thing is a fridge.”

- Julianna, California



I was so busy with the amount of work one time that I didn’t have time to eat. I did mention to a co-worker how starved I was but there was so much to do that there is no time to eat. An hour later my co-worker asked if I had something to eat and I said, “No.”. Out of concern she said “But weren’t you hungry?” and I said without really thinking, “Yeah, but now I’m not cause it seems that my hunger has already passed me by.” — aka “nalipasan ng gutom” in Filipino)

- Deanna, Illinois

Do You Have Towels?

My friend and I were craving for some kare-kare so we went to the grocery store to buy the ingredients. We had everything else we need except for the tripe, but at that time we didn’t know what they were called, so I went to the butcher, used the best American English accent I could muster, and had asked him, “Excuse me, do you have towels?”  

-Ann, California


One time when I was in Damascus, I had called the hotel concierge for an ‘adaptor’. After explaining what it was and thinking the guy understood me, he ended the conversation by saying he hoped I would feel better. I wondered why he said that when all I needed was to plug in my laptop- Did I sound overly emotional when I was talking to him? So I called him again, and as it turned out he thought I was sick and needed ‘a doctor’. In the end, I had to go out and find myself one and had to actually use my hands to demonstrate what I needed when I was asking a shop owner:  English, one word, sounds like ‘a doctor’ + gesture to shape my hand to fit an actual adaptor, point to a power outlet, demo to pretend I was fitting my adaptor-shaped hand to the outlet + typing in over an imaginary keyboard to show the association.

- Melay, Dubai



Do you have a “Lost In Translation” moment? Please share it in the comments section below.

We will read each one of them, and if we like it, we will shine a spotlight on your submission.

Thanks to everyone who contributed!

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