Foreign Language Faux Pas

I love language.  I love learning new languages, and I love trying out what I know.  In many ways, this is a good thing.  It means that I can pick up the local dialect relatively quickly.

It also means I say lots of embarrassing things.

For example, when I lived in Costa Rica and misspoke when bartering with a street vendor.  He was selling hand-carved knives that were clearly his pride and joy.  Instead of asking if they were made out of wood (madera), I accidentally inquired as to whether they were made out of shit (mierda).

My bad, Mr. Costa Rican vendor man.

I’ve probably said a lot of equally embarrassing things in Indonesian, but 1) I don’t know enough Bahasa to realize it, and 2) Asian culture so values saving face that no one tells me.

Yesterday, though, I knew enough to realize my mistake.

Now, before I start in on this short story, you must understand how I feel about cockroaches.  I HATE THEM.  I can deal with snakes.  I have no problem with spiders.  I’ve ridden a crocodile and swum with sharks.

But I don’t do cockroaches.

I know this might seem a bit pathetic, but they’re the worst.  They’re fast and they crunch if you try to kill them.  Which is disgusting.

So I walk into my classroom during our break, and there’s a gigantic cockroach sitting underneath my desk.  We’re talking, like, two inches long.

I run out into the hallway in search of a savior.  A student refuses me, the secretary is on the phone.  Then, I spot my favorite janitor at the end of the hallway, standing there like some knight in shining armor.

Only problem:  upset self doesn’t mix so well with the whole language barrier thing.

So I sprint toward the man, doing my best to communicate my thoughts in Indonesian.

“Pak, saya ada cockroach di kelas saya!”*
“Sir, I have a cockroach in my room!”

“Anda bisa datang dan mati!?”
“Can you come and …


Yup, that’s right. I asked the janitor to come to my room and die.

Thankfully, he’s a dealing-with-me-and-my-struggling-Bahasa genius, and he came, killed, and removed the cockroach for me.

*Please note that this is most likely no where NEAR the correct way to say this.  But I do my best and usually get the idea across okay 🙂


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