For me it was when I was talking to a co-worker who married an African woman. He said he wanted a dog but his wife refused to let him get one. He went on to say it’s because in the village where she grew up, they looked at dogs differently than we do here.
I replied, “Oh, is it because they eat them?”
He looks at me in disgust and says “Jesus, NO, they don’t fucking EAT them man! The dogs are used to protect the village and they are usually pretty vicious so she’s scared of them. Eat them? REALLY?”
I felt like the ignorant white guy that day.
The only time my (Japanese) grandfather yelled at anyone was when my mother wasn’t slurping her soup because it was making my grandmother upset by not doing so. When she tried to explain that it is rude in western culture he roared back at her, “WHEN IN ROME, DO AS ROMANS DO!”
Granted, this was the same grandfather that learned english by memorizing one page of the dictionary at a time front and back and then eating it to ‘internalize’ it. I miss him.
My mom really liked the fried noodles that were served with soup at this asian restaurant. She asked what they were called, and decided to tell everyone about the “Kwan Chi noodles.” It was a good while before she realized the waitress was just saying “Crunchy Noodles” with an accent.
Went to a fancy Thai place for a sort-of-formal business dinner. When it comes time for the dessert, the waitress described a very delicious-sounding chocolate creme brulee called Mi-Raj. When it comes time for me to order I ask for the Mi-Raj and she looks at me kind of confused. I repeat myself with again no response from the waitress. The guy next to me finally pipes up with “He wants the Mirage.”
I met a French girl and when she approached me to salut she kissed me in the cheek, I quickly retreated to talk normally but she moved forward approaching my other cheek which she kissed as well. At that point I was a little bit unaware of what was going on and backed a little more to try to talk normally but she kept moving forward to kiss me again in the other cheek… I was kinda confused but smiling and then since I saw her smiling and looking me straight I kinda thought she wanted to make out right there, so this time it was me who went forward and tongue kissed her in front of everybody, her boyfriend included. The rest you can imagine.
I was at a conference and we had brought in people from all over Latin America. I was a sort of host and group leader for a pack of them. After the evening activities one night, one of the very pleasant female participants and I were riding the elevator up to our hotel rooms and I was already picturing her in some acrobatic positions, you know, as one does. As we were getting off and preparing to go to our separate rooms, she leaned up and kissed me on the cheek out of nowhere like it was nothing. Well you don’t have to tell me twice. She was good looking and maybe 7 or 8 years older and I figured there we were in a hotel and nobody knew we were alone together and we both spoke the international language of horizontal mambo, so I just went into hookup autopilot and leaned in and started giving her a good one. After a brief moment she pulled away startled with this look on her face like (8O. And the look on mine was :-D until I saw her confusion and mumbled out something like, “Oh! I… I thought you… I mean, when you…” as i pointed at my cheek. And she got it and blushed was like, “I jhoost saye goodnieeght,” while gesticulating a bit as she backed up. Aaaand I didn’t get laid. Didn’t get fired either, though, so that’s nice. I kept hoping she’d change her mind after the initial shock and call me but no dice. The next morning I just pretended nothing had happened but she gave me a kind of amused eyes-down look when she saw me. Ahem.
I was sleeping over at my friend’s house, and I wanted to get a bowl of cereal. I told my friend, and he said “okay, go for it.” I got my bowl, ate, and returned to the festivities after putting the bowl in the sink like a civilized person.
Everything was fine… until the morning when I heard a scream. It was his mother, and she was freaking out about the bowl. She saw the spoon in it, and putting two and two together found out that I had eaten cereal out of it. Apparently, these were special meat bowls, as they belonged to Orthodox Jews. No dairy can touch these bowls, lest their kosherness be compromised.
She wanted me to bury the bowl. It was pretty crazy.
This was more a cultural understanding. I was in Istanbul a couple months ago. I started my period and ran out of the supplies I brought. I had no clue where to buy them from as I hadn’t seen a grocery store around our hotel. I had noticed a little corner store so walked over there. They sold things like toilet paper, so I figured they would have what I needed. I walk up to the guy at the register and asked if he spoke English. He shook his head and started talking in Turkish. I’ve looked all around the store but can’t find any pads or tampons anywhere. I put a hand on my chest and say “for me.” I need something “just for me.” He gave me a nod, reached under the counter and wrapped something up. I paid and left with a mysterious newpaper wrapped bundle still not sure if I got what I needed. When I got back to my hotel I unwrapped the package to find pads. It was a good day.
When the recent earthquake hit in Japan, I was at the Narita Airport on a layover. Part of the airport was damaged, and they shoved everyone in the airport into a single terminal as the examined the entire airport for structural damage. (I should mention that the roads were shut down, so there was no leaving the airport.) We ended up being kept in the terminal for a good 24 hours, during which time my period decided to pay a visit. I had to make do with toilet paper, but given the chaos that was happening to the rest of the Japanese people, I didn’t really think I had much to complain about.
Finally, they began letting us into other areas of the airport, and rescheduling flights. They opened one general goods shop, and I wandered in, pretty desperate for something, anything. (At this point, most of us hadn’t slept or showered for 2 days.) I tried asking one of the staff for feminine products, but none of them spoke any English. Finally, after pointing at myself several times and saying, “Tampon. Woman. Medicine.” one of the girls working understood. She ran behind the counter, made a phone call, the came back to me with a little pamphlet with a map of the airport on it. She pointed to a little shop on the far side of the airport, way to hell and gone. There was a little cross symbol there. Then she pointed at my nethers, gave me the thumbs up, and handed me the map.
The phone call she had made was to get someone to open the pharmacy for me. By the time I had wandered over there, the metal grate was up, and some fat guy had already bought toothpaste.
American here. I was studying in Vienna, Austria during college. Halloween rolled around and a bunch of us decided to get dressed up for the night. I lived quite a bit away from downtown to had to take public transportation to get to where my friends were.
That night I learned 2 things: 1) Austrians don’t dress up for Halloween. 2) A 6’3″ werewolf complete with fangs and fake blood scares the shit out of most everyone taking public transportation in Vienna.
My vegan friend would wear this this t-shirt that said “Murder King” (a stab at Burger King’s meat) all the time. He lived by it, would always tell us the horror stories from the slaughterhouses he protested at.
So we walk into this dinner buffet, and everyone just stops and stares at us, giving us these mean ass looks with faces of shock, disgust and rage. Before he said anything, we noticed a higher than normal attendance of black people at this buffet. Yep. It was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Fastest he ever walked out of a restaurant.
I had a gay, Indian coworker (which in itself was a whole hodgepodge of mixed up stereotypes) who once invited me out to “eat his curry” on his lunch break. He told me it was in his car in the parking garage, and I started sweating a little cause he kept winking at me and licking his lips and shit. I followed him regardless cause I figured there was no way he was gonna make me eat out his ass or something in the fucking parking garage on our lunch breaks, right?
So we get to the parking garage and he tells me he’s on the fifth floor but he “hates elevators,” so he makes his way to the stairs and I notice he keeps his butt eye-level with me as I come up behind him. I really started getting nervous then. We finally made it to his level and he walks me over to his car, unlocks the door, and pulls out a giant tray of homemade curry.
I started laughing, and he was like, “What’s so funny?” I said “Dude, I thought you were gonna, you know, try to make me suck your dick or something.”
“Ewww. You’re not even close to my type. Here, grab a plate.”
That stung more than it should have.
My co-worker is from China. This sometimes leads to interesting mistakes…
One day he came in happy that he joined a new club. When asked what kind, he said, “Fisting!”
“Yes! It’s great! You should join too!”
“Are you sure it’s a fisting club?”
“Yeah! It’s really cool!”
“So… uh… what do you do at this club?”
“Work out and stuff.”
“Ooohhh!!! You mean “fitness”, not “fisting””
“No! Fisting. You know.”
“I really don’t think that means what you think it means…”
“What does it mean?”
“I can’t explain it. Just look it up on google images.”
“Oh my god! Why?!?!?! Why would someone do that? Why?!?!?”
(it was an image of a dude by himself…)
“Needless to say he doesn’t call it a fisting club anymore…”
I spent time in Kenya, where people freely picked their nose. They’d look you right in the eye while having a conversation, digging for nose gold.
Initially I was offended, but I quickly learned to love the freedom of it, and did it without regard. When I got back to the States, I learned quickly that job interviews are not the location to pull bats out of the cave.
I asked my American friend who ‘Ped Xing’ was. I was pretty new to the US, and kept seeing this name on streets everywhere. I figured he was some famous Chinese guy widely revered in America, and decided to confirm the reason for his popularity.
I bit my thumb in 16th-century Verona. How awkward.
Not exactly cultural, but… When I was teaching in Tanzania I studied Swahili pretty hardcore. Studying so fast, I was bound to confuse some verbs. “Tembea” means “to walk” in Swahili, while “tombea” means “to fuck”.
Making conversation with dozens of villagers in a day (in the villages you are expected to socialize with almost everyone), I repeatedly told several groups of people that I was tired from fucking all day in the intense heat. People laughed uncomfortably, but then I thought I was just making a grammar mistake.
I told my entire host family, including their four small children. I told my students, a roomful of 4th-graders. I told farmers I met on the road, young men fixing motorcycles, my friends at a barber shop. I told the old women’s sewing circle, one of the most respected institutions in the village. It wasn’t until I was saying it to a bilingual kindergarten teacher in front of his entire class that he stopped me, mid-sentence, and told me in English what I was saying.
When I moved to Mexico (I was 13 or so, ended up fluent but at this point I certainly wasn’t.) I was going to a birthday part for my friends brother (who I of course had a crush on)… I fell in the street walking down the hill towards their house and banged up my knee pretty bad. I walk in the door of the house, and announce to a living room full of people who I didn’t know, including the boy I like and all of his friends, “Cagé!” Silence. I repeat, louder, “Me cagé en la calle!”.
Silence, then laughter. Caer means to fall. Cagar, however, means to shit. I said loudly and proudly that I shat myself in the street.
I was in Spain traveling for a few weeks with my Sis who was living there. I went in to a bar/bakery? to order a couple pastries. There was a bunch of rolls on a shelf behind the bar but only one kind had a little sign hanging from the shelf under them that said ‘something something borrachos’. I didn’t necessarily want those, but they were the only labeled ones, so naturally I waved the guy behind the counter and ordered “dos borrachos por favor”. I had to lean up close behind a couple patrons at the bar because the little place was packed with old timers sipping coffees and chatting.
I was pretty timid with my Spanish, so I kinda whispered it. The men sitting near me at the packed counter all stopped talking simultaneously and looked at me.
The proprietor, very seriously, said, que? quieras? (what do you want)
I shyly said again, with less confidence “dos borrachos por favor.”
Then all the old men at the counter around me started snickering.
The uber troll barkeep again asked me what i wanted, and he was getting louder. He was raising his voice over the din of the whole shop. He told me to speak up. Most of the tables that had patrons also now were quiet.
I was getting a bit frustrated, and embarrassed. I thought he was making fun of my accent or i was pronouncing it wrong. I looked hard at the sign, thought back to my AP Spanish class, made sure to roll my Rs and and dull the B to a V correctly, and I just kinda shouted “quiero dos borrachos!” ( I WANT 2 BORRACHOS!) and pointed at the sticky buns on the shelf behind the bar counter.
He pretty much shouted “aaaaah, quieras dos BORRACHOS!” This time he couldn’t keep a straight face and started guffawing, and the whole place erupted.
I had no idea what the fuck was happening so I just slinked out, empty handed and humiliated.
I went back to the room where my sister was just waking and said it was no joy on getting us some breakfast pastries.
I told her the story, and she started laughing and said why the hell were you trying to order 2 borrachos?
I told her about the pastries and the little sign.
She then explained borrachos means “drunkards” and the sign probably said something to the effect that “drunkards were not welcome here” and that sign just happened to hang under their pastry shelf…
I had just shouted to a full cafe that I WANTED a couple of drunk men.
Back in 2006 I was in Borneo doing some backpacking around SE Asia. At the airport of Kota Kinabalu I went into what I though was the bathroom.
As I enter the room I see what looks like a piss wall, with water flowing down it and such. At the base are at least a dozen pairs of shoes. There’s no one around though.
I really have to pee so I’m already unzipping my pants a few paces from the piss wall. While I’m doing this, though, something in the back of my head knows this situation isn’t right.
Just as I get close to the piss wall, holding out my penis, I put up my free hand against the wall, about ready to release, I hear an approaching voice and look over my shoulder as one does. From the dark adjacent room I see 2 barefoot muslim men (they’re in kurtas) coming towards me, stopping in their tracks, and suddenly… I have a Usual Suspects moment.
That nagging feeling in the back of my head became clear. The shoes, the water fountain, the men in kurtas… I suddenly realized I was in the airport mosque. The shoes were off because they cleaned their feet in the “piss wall” fountain before going to prayer.
In a split second I know that I could be in big fucking trouble. I’m clearly a westerner and I already could foresee a lynching. It’s flee, die, or improvise time. In the next split second I realize that the angle they’re coming from the next room they wouldn’t see the front of my pants and me holding my penis out. So I lean more on my outstretched arm that is against the wall, with the other hand I pinch my penis to not pee (oh god that hurts..) and stop the whole process (ouch ouch ouch) and slip my dick back in my pants. I look briefly over my shoulder to see if the 2 men saw anything and notice they’re still a couple meters away, stopped talking, and they’re looking at me suspiciously. I move my ex-penis-holding-hand towards one of my feet (bending over on an exploding bladder is hell) and make to untie my shoes… and see if they’d buy the idea that I wanted to wash my feet as well. I manage to untie one shoe and as I’m sliding it off I glance over at them again and smile. They still look like they’re not sure what I was doing and if it was kosher (or hallal I guess) but haven’t said or done anything yet. As I make to take off the other shoe, I hear an airplane announcement. I realized later that the announcement wasn’t even in a language I understood, I just let out a sigh and say in English, “Oh well, that’s my flight. I guess I won’t have time for Allah after all”. Quickly I slip on my shoe and turn towards the door, away from them, discreetly zip up my fly on my way out and hoped like hell that they bought the whole act and weren’t about to jump on my back, pin me down and gut me.
Not to me, but I took a Japanese class with a guy I dubbed King Weeaboo. He assumed Japan was this magical land where all the adults read manga and played video games all day long. It was really awkward to watch him try to talk about his favorite games from the 90s or some obscure pop idol with our teacher (who was from Japan). Usually she’d have no idea what he was talking about, since she was a teacher/housewife who wasn’t too into nerd culture. He’d act surprised when she hadn’t heard of the topic, and he’d say something like “what? But everyone in Japan knows about that!” Because, as an American, he clearly knew more about what Japan likes than the Japanese woman…
So it was embarrassing for me, as another American. I guess that story still counts.
Not me, but my friend: He moved here from France when he was fifteen. His cousin told him that a polite American greeting was to say, “Up yours!” For a while he went around enthusiastically shaking peoples’ hands and saying, “Up yours!”
I LOLed when a friend from India told me he was looking at a bunch of pictures of girls his parents had sent him to look at. To pick a wife.
Then later I realized he was serious.
In my defense he did sound like he was kidding, but it turned out he was just slightly embarrassed that I had walked in while he was browsing and he couldn’t make up a plausible story.
I gave a thumbs-up sign to my friend’s Iranian dad – apparently it’s equivalent to giving him the finger.
When I was about 15 and visiting my grandparents for a week, I misunderstood my grandmother’s native language, thinking she asked if I was going to take a shower (to which I responded yes). In reality she asked me if I wanted her to bathe me. Most awkward bath of my life.
26. Gays / gaze
When I was in college I was at this party and started talking to this guy who set off my gaydar like no other. I never asked him about it, he never mentioned it, and frankly I didn’t care that much – I assumed he was gay, but until he confirmed it I saw no reason to make my suspicion known.
But then he started talking about how he possessed the “power of gays” and how that it can make babies cry or animals run away. And so I said, “Um, I’m pretty sure that’s bullshit. Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you have some kind of supernatural power or control over babies.”
He looked at me funny and said, “How did you know I was gay, and what does my being gay have anything to do with this?”
Turned out he was just talking about the “power of gaze” and I felt like a doofus for a good while after that.
27. It was delicious
I’m married to a white woman so this happens all the time in our apt… One of the better ones was during a family visit. Her parents had come to stay with us and her dad wanted to cook…. I told him to go ahead and do his thing. I went to workout while he cooked and when I came back he had made a bunch of fried chicken.
Part of me was insulted…and another part of me was hungry. So I happily ate it. Later that night my wife said that while I was gone her dad asked if he could make fried chicken without offending me. Whenever we went over their house they never made it because they weren’t sure of my reaction. My wife gave him to go ahead and you know the rest.
I don’t even know entirely why I felt insulted…. the chicken was delicious.
My buddy moved from the UK to the USA and got a job at a Catholic thrift store. His boss was a really nice, old, priest. One day my friend told the priest he was going to sneak out back for a quick fag. The priest looked rather shocked but then said “OK, do whatever you need to do but I need you back here in a half hour.”
I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, late at night and at one of those little “restaurants” that opens under an overpass or something with some plastic chairs and stuff only when it’s really late. I ordered a phad kaprow (stir fried pork-with-basil on rice) from the old lady and ate it in silence. When it came time to pay, I didn’t have any money in my pockets. Luckily, for some reason I thought I was in a dodgy area, so I had hidden some money in my shoe, as a safety measure. So when the lady asked for my money and I took it out of my shoe she absolutely flipped out at me, screaming. I couldn’t understand the problem until she grabbed the bill from me and pointed to the picture of the King on it, and then pointed at my shoes. It was only then I understood that since the feet are considered filthy in Thai culture I had committed a terrible faux pas by putting an image of the sacred Thai King under my feet. I tried to explain there was American money in there too, so I had insulted the USA as well, but she wasn’t having any of it.
I had just moved to Australia to study there for 6 months, and I got invited out to dinner with a bunch of Australians. Aussies are really into sports, so I thought I could earn some points by talking about my favorite teams back home. They started asking me about basketball. I said, “Oh, I root for the Lakers!” long pause, stunned silence, then uproarious laughter I just smiled along, pretending to get the joke. I went home and asked my roommate, and found out that in Australia, “root” is a more crude version of the f word. Great first impression.