The Funny Part Of Being Bilingual

Some Free French Fries?

Free FriesThis story did not happen to my family members, but I heard it happening many times to non experienced travelers from Slavic countries, including Ukraine and Russia.

Little bit of linguistic explanation. French Fries in McDonalds in that part of the world is called ???????? ???, which in the exact translation to English is Potatoes Free.

And the word free has nothing to do with Russian or Ukrainian languages, so people assumed that it is English derived word as well as many other names in McDonald’s  chain (think Big Mac or Muffin). So that’s how typical conversation goes:

Tourist:  I want Potatoes Free, big.

McDonald’s cashier: We don’t have Free Potatoes

Tourist:  What? I want that potatoes free (pointing at French fries)

McDonald’s cashier: Oh, You want French Fries?

Tourist: Huh?

McDonald’s cashier: But it is not FREE, You have to pay for it!

Little bit of cultural shock!

Say what?!

When I came in United States I already could speak descent English and understood most of what people said around. But there were two categories of conversations that were very hard to grasp for me: it is people on the other side of the phone and kids’ play language.

One time my son was playing with neighborhood kids, siblings of 8, 6 and 4 years old, and they tend to express their “love” not in a very nice manner. Looked liked they had an argument about something and all the sudden the older girl said something very loud and younger kids had an expressions of indignation on their faces. And of course those faces turned to me waiting for my reaction.

Well, I did not understand the word that the girls said to her siblings, but their body language was very transparent – it was not nice. I quickly said something like:

“We don’t say things like that”

and rush to my husband seeking for the translation.  Turned out it was definitely not nice thing to say involving words, describing soft parts of the body.

“Oh my goodness” I said to my hubby

“How do such young kids even know words like that?” I was naïve mom of one toddler in that time.  It took me couple more incidents like this to become “fluent” in kids bulling and swearing language!

Broken Telephone

One Beautiful summer morning my 4 year old son is running and screaming that there is a snake that ate the rabbit on our neighbor’s tree! How in the world do we have snakes that big to eat a rabbit here in Wisconsin? Turned out, that out neighbor found nonpoisonous snake that got little frog (I know – it is not something you want to see on a beautiful summer morning, but it is nature!)

He told this to my son and to make sure he understood him made a little frog sound “ Ribbit, ribbit”. But somehow my boy decided that “ribbit” was actually “rabbit”!  So that’s how small snake eating a frog turned into a huge one eating a rabbit!

  • This is so funny! I’ve heard many many stories like that in our Russian culture! One of which (I’m pretty sure it was my husbands grandmother but don’t quote me on that) She went into Winco and asked for Beef Language. What she really meant was beef tongue (YUM!) LOL!

    • Olena Centeno

      Beef language – that is hilarious! I remember beef tongue “holodetz” – basically savory jello. My mom always made it for a very special occasion.

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