If you travel abroad frequently for work, or if you have an e-commerce store with customers from all over the world, it’s worth noting that there are a number of English words that, phonetically, don’t work in other countries and can lead to double entendre or unintended offence territory. Here are 20 of them to help you ensure that your communication isn’t lost in translation.
“Preservative” Avoid asking about preservatives in France; you’ll probably be met with strange looks. It means ‘condom’ in France.
“Bra” Do you sell luxury underwear? Whilst you and I might initially understand the word to mean a garment that covers the breasts, if you’re in France your French colleagues might think you’re selling arms. Literally.
“Pick” If you’re visiting Norway, don’t use the word ‘pick’. Your Norwegian colleague is unlikely to be impressed – it means ‘dick’ over there.
“Fitter. Does your business specialise in fitness products? Be mindful that in Norway, the word ‘fitte’ refers to a woman’s genitals.
“Peach” Going to Turkey? Avoid asking for a peach in the supermarket or anywhere else for that matter. It means ‘bastard’ in Turkish.
“Gift” ‘Never look a gift horse in the mouth’, we’re told; perhaps more so in Germany where the word means ‘poison’.
“Latte” In Germany, latte doesn’t mean the frothy, milky concoction you get from your local Starbucks. It means ‘erect penis’ in some German quarters.
“Salsa” Out for a Mexican in Korea? It’s probably best not to ask for salsa: it means ‘diarrhoea’ in Korean.
“Speed” Try not to talk about speed when in the company of others in Sweden. It means ‘fart’.
“Bump” If you’ve had the misfortune of a bump on your car, note that the word ‘bump’ in Swedish means ‘dump’.
“Speed bump” Put the above two words together and you have the phrase ‘speed bump’, which in Swedish means fart dump.
“Kiss” If you ask your Swedish host or hostess for a kiss, they might very well direct you to the toilets. In Swedish, the word means ‘pee’.
“Pay Day” If you’re in Portugal, refrain from singing with happiness that it’s ‘pay day’. No one will be impressed. In Portuguese it means “I farted”.
“Exquisite” Extend a compliment to your Portuguese host by describing something belonging to them as ‘exquisite’ and you might be met with askance looks: ‘esquisito’ in Portuguese means ‘weird’.
“Cookie” If you’re visiting Hungary, whether on business or for pleasure, avoid asking for a cookie. It means ‘small penis’ in Hungarian.
“Jerry” It’s perhaps a little late for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, but if you’re in Japan, avoid using the word – it means ‘diarrhoea’ over there.
“Tremendous” Refrain from boasting about the tremendous prices you offer your clients. In this country, ‘tremendo’ is the word for ‘terrible’.
“Bill” Asking for the bill might raise a few guffaws in the Netherlands: ‘bil’ means ‘buttocks’ there.
“Lager” It might confuse your Dutch colleagues if you were to ask for a ‘lager’ when having a few drinks with them after work. Lager means ‘storage’ in Dutch.
“Cool” The word cool is too close for comfort to the Spanish word ‘culo’; a crude term for ‘bum’. Best avoided.
That some words can be misinterpreted not only has relevance for those who frequently go abroad on business, but as Tictail point out, also for online businesses where ‘borderless’ transactions take place. So if you’ve often wondered why your “exquisite Madagascan chocolates” fly like hotcakes everywhere in the world except Brazil and Portugal, perhaps you now have the answer: weird, dodgy chocolates just won’t sell.
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