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    Category: Language & Words

    (Very) Bad Translation

    | Singapore | Bosses & Owners, Coworkers, Language & Words, Rude & Risque

    (I have a new colleague who can only speak English and Korean. She wants, very much, to get along with everyone at the front office, including the chief concierge, who is a middle-aged, very proper Malay gentleman. She enlists the bellhops to teach her greetings in Malay. They oblige, not knowing that she was going to use what she would learn on their boss, the chief concierge. Unbeknownst to her, all they taught her were curse words. This happens one morning when she is assured that she is fluent in the language.)

    Colleague: “Mr [Chief Concierge], [swear word]!”

    Chief Concierge: *shocked* “Who taught you that?!”

    Colleague: *innocently* “[Bellhop #1] and [Bellhop #2]. I asked them to teach me how to say ‘Good Morning’ in Malay. Did I pronounce it wrongly?”

    Chief Concierge: *angrily* “What else did they teach you?”

    Colleague: *taken aback by his reaction* “Well, some other greetings, like [lots of foul language].”

    Chief Concierge: “Nice girls like you shouldn’t know such bad words! How dare [Bellhop #1] and [Bellhop #2] teach you such nasty stuff? Don’t ever say all that again!”

    Colleague: “What?! They taught me bad words?! I might have said it to a guest!”

    (The two bellhops were standing nearby, horrified, when this incident happened. They were reprimanded severely by the chief concierge.)

    Something Fishy With The Language

    | NC, USA | Bosses & Owners, Employees, Language & Words

    (My mom immigrated to the USA from Africa about 20 years ago. She has an accent but is fluent in English. She was works at a doctor’s office. A well-dressed doctor walks up to my mom when she is filing paperwork.)

    Doctor: “Ugh, I am so exhausted. I can’t wait to go home and relax!”

    Mom: “Yeah, I know. When I get off work I am going to cook some fish for my family”

    Doctor: “It’s fishes.”

    Mom: “Excuse me?”

    Doctor: “It’s pronounced fishes. It is plural so we say fishes, not fish.”

    Mom: “Actually, I am certain it is pronounced fish…”

    Doctor: *getting irritated and huffing* “Well, I understand you are from Africa and didn’t get a proper education in English, but in America we say fishes. I would know; I went to school long enough. But it’s ok. You’re new here so I understand it’s going to take time to learn our language”

    Mom: *trying to keep calm* “I am pretty sure it’s fish. Just like we say deer and not ‘deers.’”

    (My mom’s boss comes into the room and the doctor immediately becomes smug and full of confidence.)

    Doctor: “[Boss], do we say fishes or fish when we are talking about multiple fish?”

    Boss: “We say fish.”

    (The doctor angrily huffs and rolls her eyes before she proceeded to walk out of the room.)

    Boss: “What was that all about?”

    An Overage Of Politeness

    | USA | Employees, Language & Words

    (I call into my mortgage company because they’ve made several mistakes in paying my property taxes, resulting in my taxes being overpaid and them demanding I pay a large additional sum into escrow to cover their mistakes.)

    Representative: “So how can I help you with your property taxes?”

    Me: “You’ve been paying the property taxes on my home without considering the owner occupied deduction for over a year now. You’re paying the first line on the bill, not the ‘amount due.’ That has resulted in my property tax account being overpaid by several hundred dollars. I’d like you to only pay the ‘amount due,’ as well as file for a refund of the overpaid taxes from the tax office, since they won’t release it to me or you unless you request it.”

    Representative: “I see your property taxes were $X this last half-year. We paid that as scheduled.”

    Me: *sharply* “No, you’re not listening to me. You’re paying the wrong line item on the bill. Can you see the actual paper bill that the city sends to you?”

    Representative: “Yes, I see electronic copy of the bill here. The first line is…”

    Me: *again sharply* “Just stop right there. Look down at the bottom of the page. What does it say beside ‘amount due?'”

    Representative: “Looking at that it says… oh, dear, it says that you owe negative $700. We screwed up, didn’t we?”

    Me: *still slightly sharply* “Yes, you did. Now, can you please request that overage back from the city, and start paying the actual amount due?”

    Representative: “Yes, we can fix this. I need to place you on a brief hold to talk to our research department and get them to fix this. Can you hold?”

    Me: “Yes, I can hold. And thank you for actually listening to me.”

    Representative: “I’m sorry, what did you just say?”

    Me: “I said thank you and I will hold?”

    Representative: “Sorry… I’m just not used to people saying thank you to me. Your tone was somewhat angry, and most people who call in like that just curse at me. Sorry, you just confused me with that. I’ll put you on hold now, and get your problem fixed quickly!”

    (She puts me on hold and comes back after a minute to tell me that she’s submitted the request, who to call if it doesn’t get fixed, and when and what I can expect.)

    Representative: “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

    Me: “No, that’s my only issue. I’m sorry for being short with you earlier, but this isn’t the first time I’ve called in about this issue. Most of the people I talk to act like I’m trying to get out of paying a bill I owe and are extremely rude to me, so I gave as good as I normally get. All I wanted was for this problem to be fixed.”

    Representative: “No apologies needed. You were angry, but polite. Honestly, you’re the first person to say ‘thank you’ to me today, so you’re my number one customer in my book. Please note my name, and if this doesn’t get resolved, ask for me if you call back in. I’ll make sure it gets fixed.”

    Failed The Name Game

    | Newcastle, England, UK | Bosses & Owners, Coworkers, Language & Words

    (I work in a clothing outlet store, where we regularly get department reps in to check on their stock. My manager is German and she goes by a shortened version of her name.)

    Representative: “Hi, could you tell me where [Manager’s Full Name] is?”

    Coworker: “That name doesn’t ring a bell; is it a person or a department?”

    Representative: “It should be a person.”

    Coworker: “Hey, [My Name], do you know who [Manager’s Full Name] is?”

    Me: *laughing* “Yeah, it’s [Manager].”

    Coworker: “Well that’s not a very German name!”

    Me: “She’s married to a Brit.”

    Coworker: *to rep* “So, yeah, it’s my manager that you’re looking for.”

    Representative: “I won’t tell her that you didn’t know who she was.”

    Erase That Last Comment

    | Asia | Coworkers, Language & Words, Rude & Risque

    (I’m working at a summer job which teaches local students English as a second language. Although I and other local teachers use British English, I’m currently working on a poster with an older, higher ranking male colleague from America. I’m female.)

    Me: *I make a mistake on the poster* “Ugh. Hey, pass me a rubber, would you?”

    (The male colleague just stares at me, uncomfortable, until I repeat the question.)

    Colleague: “Er, no.”

    Me: “…why not?”

    Colleague: “I can’t do that!”

    Me: “What are you talking about? You have one right there… oh.”

    (I pause, horrified, as I remember some crucial differences between American and British vocabulary.)

    Me: “Oh, God, no! I meant an eraser! An eraser, to rub something out! I made a mistake, so I need an eraser!”

    Colleague: “Phew. Fine then. I thought I was going to have to give a lecture on workplace boundaries.”


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