Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Don't forget to sing in the box especified for the foreigner

When I was flying to Mexico City over the holidays, the flight attendants came through the cabin with the obligatory immigration and customs cards. I dutifully filled mine out, but just as I was about to sign it on the back, this wonderful phrase caught my eye:

"Don't forget to sing in the box especified for the foreigner."

I had to laugh; it brought a great visual to my mind. But then I also realized, who among us has not made an embarrassing slip of the tongue in our own language, let alone in a foreign language?

I have certainly had more than my share of foreign language faux pas. And it runs in the family, too. My cousin is famous in our family for asking a waiter in Rome at breakfast for preservativi. She thought she was asking for preserves, or jam, for her toast. In reality, she was asking for condoms..... the flabbergasted waiter took her by the arm, led her to the door, pointed across the street and said quite firmly, "Signorina, la famacia é lá!" She also had a hard time understanding why the porters at Fiumicino Airport were all giving her dirty looks -- until she realized that instead of calling them facchino, or porter, she had been using the word tacchino -- turkey.

It's all part of the learning process, and we really do learn more from our mistakes. But I still like the thought of singing in the box especified for the foreigner -- it sounds like so much more fun than just signing on the dotted line!

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