Seven years ago, I was doing an internship in Mexico and attempting proficiency in Spanish. One night at a club with some friends, I nearly broke my face after slipping on the booze-soaked floor. Had I been with English-speaking friends, I would have dusted myself off and uttered with a sly smile, "Well, that was embarrassing." Instead, I looked at my Mexican buds and pooed a clumsy "Estoy embarazada." Their jaws dropped. I'd forgotten for a moment that "embarazada" does not mean "embarrassed." It means "pregnant." The Frisky: My Boyfriend's Parents Were Racist
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I dated a handsome, punk-ish Mexican guy for two months during that trip, and once while making out in his Nissan, I gave him the throatiest "Me gustas" ("I like you"/ "I'm into you and I want to rip your clothes off") I could muster. My grammar was correct; I think my accent was fine; and even the verb's sexual connotation (when used to reference a person) was on the money. He totally laughed in my face. The Frisky: Would You Go To Europe To Find The One?
I later went on to teach Spanish in grad school, and my students would often ask me why native Spanish speakers couldn't understand them, even when their grammar was perfect and accent not half bad. Rather than go into the complexities of semantics—something I barely understand—I would tell them that we just sounded weird. Even now, after having worked in Spain for a year and reaching a level of bilingualism that landed me my first job in NYC, I would still probably sound like a weirdo if I were back in that Nissan. In fact, it would probably take me another 10 years abroad to not sound at least a little off. The Frisky: MERRIMe, A New Web Comedy About Online Dating