10 Foreign Phrases That Won’t Make You Sound Cool

Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw

Language-training website Babbel describes itself as “the shortest path to a real-life conversation in a new language.”

But the company’s 100 linguists know that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, so they \compiled a list of expressions and words that travellers commonly use abroad, but which can actually be awkward, or even rude. Some might surprise you. Some you (us) may have used.

  • Bon appetit (French) – this near-universal pre-meal expression is actually taboo in polite French society. It literally invites diners to ‘a good digestion,’ suggesting they are so hungry that they are willing to jump at any food offered.

  • Mamma mia! (Italian) – this clichéd Italian exclamation is antiquated, and best used solely for referring to Abba. So really, best not used.
     
  • Du (German) – don’t get the formal ‘Sie’ (you) mixed up with the informal ‘du’ while speaking to a policeman in Germany; calling a government employee by ‘du’ can earn you a fine of EUR 500.
     
  • Garçon (French) – sometimes misinterpreted by diners as the appropriate approach to a French waiter, the term ‘garçon’ is actually considered patronizing and snobbish. Kind of like a French waiter. (Did we say that out loud?)

  • Wie geht’s? (German) –With many Germans this common expression which we might think of as a ‘How’s it going?’ will result in a lengthy explanation of everything going on in their life.

  • Zut alors (French) – A native French person will find this outdated phrase bemusing at best. But it sounds great, so we’re not going to stop. Zut alors!
     
  • Sacrebleu (French) – see above. And in Canada you can safely include ‘tabernacle’ as well.
     
  • Hasta la vista! (Spanish) –As opposed to a triumphant victory cry while shattering a frozen nemesis into pieces, this is actually a cheery way of telling a Spanish-speaker you’re looking forward to seeing them again. And don’t add ‘baby’ unless you mean it.
  • Ooh la laa! (French) – in France, this is an expression of negative surprise, rather than sexual innuendo. (Oh, that explains a lot.)
     
  • Voulez-vous coucher avec moi? (French) – according to Babbel’s cunning linguists, the come hither words conveyed so convincingly by Patti LaBelle sound strange to the French ear,. Zut alors! We’ve been doing it all wrong! Sacrebleu!



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