Language Barriers

Language Barriers

My favorite part about travel is meeting new people. And I don’t just mean people from the country you’re visiting. I’m talking about the fellow travelers that hail from all over the world. Often, I find them to be the best company because they are open-minded, daring, and can diversify my outlook on wherever I’m staying. Plus, the meeting of cultures always leaves me with great memories. One of my fondest of such memories is from my most recent trip to Italy.

Our professor Stefania took the entire class out for apperitivi to celebrate the end of the course. While we were all sipping our prosecco and eating the various finger foods brought out by the wait staff, we were chatting and joking amongst ourselves. Laura, a lovely woman from Malaga, was saying that learning Italian as a Spanish speaker isn’t very difficult because they share similar grammar. Stefania disagreed. “But can’t it be so confusing?!” she asked.

I guess it can be confusing…

Apparently, when she was much younger, Stefania and her then lover (I’m not making this up, she used the word “lover”. Stefania is a little bit much) took a vacation in Spain. They didn’t bother to learn any Spanish or buy travel dictionaries as they were confident in their ability to cobble together some semblance of meaning through their shared vocabulary and grammar and with the help of friends. And that plan served them pretty well – right up until they went to Madrid.


Ah, Madrid, home of the morally dubious bull fighting. The young traveling companions forewent the bloody spectacle in favor of a meal and ended up in a trendy local restaurant. Stefania, not knowing much about Spanish cuisine, asked the waiter what he would recommend. If you  know where this story is going, then good sleuthing, detective, because I was entirely unprepared. Pelotas de burro were what the waiter recommended and what the naive Stefania ordered.

At this point in the story, Laura was laughing so hard that she started crying. Stefania’s mistake was assuming that burro means the same thing in Spanish as it does in Italian. In Italian, burro means butter. I don’t really know what Stefania expected “butter balls” to look or taste like, but she certainly wasn’t expecting a steaming plate of bull testicles.

I don’t think that there’s a moral to this story except maybe steer clear of anything labeled “balls” if you don’t recognize the qualifying adjective.

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