5 Stories of the Language Barrier Gone Wrong

Every time I travel to a place with a different language, I try to teach myself a few words and phrases. I usually go with “hello”, “thank you”, “how much?”, “where is the bathroom?”, etc…..sometimes I like to be risky and step outside of my comfort zone and try to speak the language with what I’ve learned along the way.
Let’s just say that hasn’t always worked out in my favor….

1. Wait, do you expect me to drink all of this?

I met a guy named Zach on my travels and we ended up spending a couple of weeks together. We finally arrived to our next city, Santiago in Chile, after being in the desert for 3 days. We were so excited to go to a nice restaurant, get a hot meal and a glass of wine. We ordered, in Spanish (they don’t speak much English), and the server kind of gave us a surprised look and walked away. Instead of asking for glasses of wine….apparently we had asked for bottles. Nothin’ like chuggin’ down a bottle of red wine at a restaurant……

2. Please don’t cut off my foot, I need that…..

So….I injured my foot while I was in Bangkok, Thailand. Before I left for Asia, I heard crazy hospital stories and how they tend to be extreme with “fixing” things. I was in a lot of pain and limping, but I had to make it to Chiang Mai that day….so I sucked it up. When I arrived in Chiang Mai, I asked my homestay host if there was a doctors office I could visit. She gave me directions and I slowly made my way there. A doctor looked at my foot and said “emergency room”. Great. The doctor in the emergency room was trying to ask me questions in English, and it was clear she didn’t know much English at all. She was talking to another doctor and she looked concerned. She looked at me, worried, and with broken English she said “we cut your foot”. Immediately I thought I was losing my left foot. Excuse me? It can’t be that bad….right? Nope. She ended up showing me what she was going to do. Just made a small incision. I still have two feet.

3. I just met him on the street 5 minutes ago….

I was walking down the street in Madrid, Spain with my big ol’ bagpack on. I was on a mission to find my hostel. I saw a guy my age, also with a backpack on, looking a little distressed. I asked him if he needed help. Turns out he was from Belgium and didn’t have a hostel for the night. He didn’t know where to go. I told him he could walk with me to the hostel I planned on staying at, and we could see if they have space for him too. He was so thankful and we started conversation as we walked the winding streets of Madrid. We got to our hostel and of course, the receptionist spoke broken English. I spoke broken English with him to make it easier. I asked “beds open for 2 people tonight?”. He said they did, grabbed a key and told us to follow him. He opened a door that led to a beautiful room….with one queen-sized bed. Beds for two people…..ohhhh….he thought I meant….NO! We all laughed and it ended up getting figured out. We did share a bunk-bed in a dorm room, however.

4. Wait….I didn’t just ask you what your name was?

This was probably the most embarrassing I’ve had to date. I was at a pizzeria in Cuzco, Peru with my two friends. It was a small, very quiet restaurant, holding only maybe 6 tables. We were the only ones in the restaurant, and the owner had left the building. The only person other than us was a younger male, the one making our pizzas. In the midst of silence, I decided I was going to ask him what his name was. Fail. As soon as I attempted my Spanish, the boy blushed and it seemed like he may not have heard me entirely. Both of my friends looked at me like I was absolutely insane. Instead of saying “te llamos?”, which basically is just “your name is….?” I said “te amo”…..which means “I love you”. As soon as the owner returned, the boy was laughing and told the owner what I had said. Everyone was laughing together and the wedding was set for the next week. How embarrassing. I’ll never live that one down.

5. One way ticket to…..where am I?

Public transportation in a foreign country is the most confusing thing to figure out. Always. I’m pretty good at it now, but my first backpacking trip in Europe was a different story. I was trying to tell the employee at the train station where I wanted to go in Switzerland. Apparently two cities names’ sounded almost identical….I had no idea where I was and nobody knew what I was looking for. Turns out I was in the wrong city and I got to experience the same train ride over again. Oh well.

Do you have any funny stories about the language barrier getting you in some trouble? I’d love to hear ’em. Hope this post made you laugh. Travel isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. Life happens, just have to laugh it off. Ohhhh, the memories.

Thanks for checking out my blog post. If you have any questions feel free to contact me.


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