Native English speakers enjoy lots of perks in life, so it’s no surprise that when traveling abroad to countries where the primary language is not English, most locals even speak some English in an effort to communicate with travelers.
If you’re traveling to a country where the primary spoken language is not English, a quick hack is to learn common words like “hello,” “thank you,” and other useful phrases such as “how are you.” But what about parts of the world where English-speaking travelers feel they have a grasp on the language—places where English is the main language—yet some words are used differently or hold double meanings? This is an especially tricky minefield for business travelers to navigate.
Even in these countries, there’s room for comical situations to arise—which brings me to false cognates and words that simply don’t translate from one part of the English-speaking world to another. These words could get Anglos into a world of trouble and might even wind up costing you the deal you traveled to negotiate. That’s because they sound, and in many cases look alike—yet hold different meanings. Check out these nine words any traveling English speaker should avoid using if they wish to shy away from a series of awkward and unfortunate events that could wind up hurting your bottom line.
I know what you’re thinking. As simple as it sounds, the word in North America just means pants. In other parts of the world, it means something quite different. If you’re heading across the pond and ask for a pair of “pants,” you might just be given a pair of what North Americans call underwear. You should try to avoid using this word in U.K. and Ireland in the context of jeans, as they call pants “trousers.”
Be careful if you’re heading to Germany and traveling with someone named Richard. If they wish to be called “Dick” (the shortened form for the name Richard), there’s room for many awkward moments. This word in German means “fat” or “thick” which can potentially be offensive if you’re yelling to get your friend’s attention and someone else overhears you, assuming you’re talking to them.
This is not your mother’s fanny pack. In fact, that would just be awkward to say in the U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, where the word holds a vastly different meaning from the bag you wear around your waist to hold your money, passports etc…In these countries, it means “vagina.”
If you’re in a Spanish-speaking country, and ask for “sopa” after using the bathroom you’ll be in for quite the surprise. That’s because the word doesn’t mean soap, it means soup. Don’t be surprised if you’re given a big bowl of chicken noodle goodness. I know I wouldn’t.
Die in Israel means “enough.” So, being a vigilante in an Israeli supermarket to a parent who has simply told their child “enough,” or more accurately, “that’s enough” or “stop” is not necessary.
Pronounced “f**k,” this French word means a seal, as in the animal, not the singer.
In Spanish, this word does not mean exit. If you want to ask where the exit is you should use the word “salida.” If you’re asking someone in Spanish, “Donde Esta el exito?” you’re really asking “Where’s the success?” You just may get a few puzzled looks.
This one seems pretty clear, but it’s not. This is a whole new kind of crap, and it’s Romanian for ‘carp’ (the fish).
This word is not quite related to flatulence, although it does involve a trek of sorts—as the word literally means ‘journey’ in German and if you add the word Aus as a prefix (Ausfahrt) it means to exit. Again, not a fart.
Before you set out on your next adventure or arrange a meeting with foreign clients, be sure to reference this list and research other ones like these to avoid getting into a quagmire you can’t easily slide your way out of. There are also a number of tools available at your disposal, such as mobile applications that provide you with real-life examples and their pronunciation that allow you to practice before you set off to your travel destination. After all, traveling can be stressful, especially when it comes to business, but it should be stressful for other reasons outside avoidable misunderstandings.
Théo Hoffenberg is a French engineer, avid language-lover and Founder & CEO of Reverso, a mobile / online translation tool provider that specializes in high-quality machine translation.