English words that get lost in translation when you're traveling abroad
In my lifetime, I’ve encountered two people that have admitted to genuinely disliking traveling and on both occasions, I had to be practically dragged away from the conversation to avoid bombarding them with reasons why they should change their mind. Traveling is something that I believe everyone should experience, even if that means hopping in your car and driving to the next town over. If you’re ambitious and decide to go overseas, you may eventually find yourself in a communication blunder that ends with you blubbering on about how you don’t understand slang and being the butt of the joke. Some words that may be completely innocuous in English may have different connotations abroad, which may result in you feeling utterly embarrassed or getting reprimanded by one of the locals.
Meaning in English: a light sprinkle of water that floats in the air
Meaning in Germany: manure
I never realized how delightful mist sounded until I wrote the definition above. In most English-speaking countries, mist refers to water in the form of very small droplets that float in the air or fall as rain. When capitalized, (The) Mist can also refer to the 2007 Stephen King movie that made me fear foggy weather conditions for life. But in Germany, saying “I love mist in the morning” will earn you more concerned looks than you want. “Mist” in German roughly translates to manure, so unless you actually want to express your appreciation for the feces of farm animals (hey, it helps our plants grow so it’s not all bad), I would settle for something a little less confusing, like “light rain.”
Meaning in English: a hairstyle where the front of one’s hair is cut in a straight line so it lies across the forehead
Meaning in everywhere else: multiple loud noises
Here’s a story for you: at one point during my semester abroad, I journeyed to a hair salon in town to get my haircut. I had avoided the place for a good three months, hoping my hair would realize how ridiculous it looked and retract back into my head but apparently, that’s not how the human body works. When I showed up, I sat down in the salon chair and asked the woman for a quick “bangs” trim. She chuckled and nodded her head the way someone would when they just witnessed a puppy run into a sliding glass door. “Do you mean fringe? That’s what we call them in England.” I imagined her adding “silly American” to the end of the sentence, because that’s how I felt as she snipped away the last of my dignity. After some preliminary research I discovered that, yes, they do call bangs fringe in nearly every other part of the world and yes, people will call you out on it every time.
Meaning in English: endearing or cheerful way to say “troublesome person” or “brat”
Meaning in the UK and most of Europe: contemptible person; swear word
Many people have claimed that the word “bugger” is comparable to the F-word in English but it really depends on who you talk to. Some Europeans have adopted the lighthearted American definition while others still use the term in a derogative way to offend their friends or to get annoying strangers to leave them alone (“bugger off”). I’d err on the side of caution and avoid the phrase altogether, just in case.
Meaning in English: type of underwear
Meaning in Australia and Western Europe: flip-flops
You’re allowed to wear a thong wherever you want if that’s what you’re into, but don’t expect people to know what you’re talking about in Europe and Australia. In Europe, the word “thong” is used to differentiate flip-flops made of sturdy or comfortable material and regular rubber flip-flops. In Australia, people prefer the term “jandals” which actually have nothing to do with “Jesus sandals” or “jean sandals” like my Google search query suggested.
Meaning in English: article of clothing that you wear over your underwear
Meaning in the UK: underwear
If you tell your friend that you almost forgot to put on pants before you left the house, you might actually be sharing too much information if you live in the United Kingdom. Around England, the word “pants” actually refers to underwear so if you want to avoid having to explain yourself (“I did eventually put underwear on, I promise”), use the word “trousers” for pants instead. (Don’t be too embarrassed. The English have a lot of tricky word differences.)
What other English words should you not use abroad?
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