There’s an old saying that the difference between doctors and journalists is
that the former bury their mistakes while the latter publish them. In a
semi-annual traditional twist, I like to publish other people’s mistakes – and
every time I ask for Hebrew bloopers (be it at Rosh Hashana or Passover), I
always hear about a doctor/dentist who confused the word michnasayim (trousers)
with mishkafayim (glasses) – with predictable results. The offending (or
accidentally offensive) medical practitioner nearly died of embarrassment while
the patient could have died laughing.
Since April, when I published the
last collection of “Did I say that?” memories – memories no one will ever let
you live down – I have received another bumper crop. One new immigrant says she
wished the earth would open up and swallow her when unstuck in the holy tongue:
She confused aduma (the feminine form of the color red) with adama (ground) when
telling a cosmetician what color she thought she wanted her cheeks. By the time
she had been corrected, her face was naturally the shade she wanted.
reader shared this deadly serious mistake: “A friend of mine, who was new in
Israel, was walking in town with her baby and her husband (about 18 years ago,
before cell phones) and they somehow got separated in the crowd. She went into a
store and seemed distressed, and they asked why. She wanted to say she was lost,
but she said, ‘Ani mit’abedet’ (‘I’m committing suicide’). They sat her down,
calmed her down, brought her tea, and she just kept saying ‘Ani mit’abedet.’
“They said, ‘But what about your baby?’ and she answered, ‘Gam hi mitabedet’
(She’s also committing suicide.) They asked her why, and she said, ‘Ki ba’ali
azav oti’ (Because my husband left me.) “Finally, her husband walked into the
store looking for her, and almost got killed by the people who thought that he
had walked out on his wife, driving her to suicide.” Note: the root letters for
suicide in Hebrew might be the same as those for being lost (halachti le’ibud),
but something got seriously lost in the mistranslation.
That, of course,
was a clean mistake. Many of the bloopers submitted gave me a good laugh but
cannot be shared in a family paper. As a colleague pointed out when I first
started collecting these misunderstandings: It’s as if someone were to go into a
store in the US and ask for a sex-pack instead of a six-pack.
one hapless (or helpless) young lady living somewhere without a working doorbell
has put a notice on the door “Na lidfok hazak” which should mean “Please knock
loudly” but doesn’t. It is more an invitation to knock the woman up in the
American slang sense.
Someone wrote in to tell me that she and her
husband participated in a volunteer English teaching program in Tel Aviv schools
last winter. “On the last day of the program, when he returned to our hotel,
another volunteer... suggested I ask my husband what had occurred that day; I
thought it would be somehow connected to sadness in leaving and saying goodbye
to the kids. Oh no! He had decided that he was ready to address the entire
faculty and student body with his goodbye... in his less than toddler Hebrew...
Holding the microphone firmly he said clearly, loudly and distinctly, ‘Ani ochel
yeladim!’ [I eat children]... His buddy whispered to him, ‘ohev’ [love]! Say
‘ohev!’ ... Alas, too late.
“No, the words weren’t even alike; no letters
were transposed. Just a remarkable speech.” The kids were lucky that he’d
actually liked them and not bitten their heads off, I suppose.
newcomers think they know best, as illustrated by this submission: “Forty three
years ago, as new immigrants with my husband and three small children, living in
the Lod absorption center, I quickly learned the word for a train – rakevet. So
when, soon after, my Israeli sister-in-law gave me the addresses to send
invitations for our son’s bar mitzva, I was quite certain that Rehov Rakefet
[Cyclamen Street] was a spelling mistake. So I corrected it!” Well, no one
promised new immigrants a rose garden.
Apropos, a reader “once told my
physician about my problems with the roses (vradim) in my legs instead of my
Another reader still remembers how years ago she went to
a mikve (ritual bath) in Beersheba and informed the assistant she needed a
miklat (shelter) instead of miklahat (shower).
“By the way, at the time
as I was dunking,” she recalls, “I heard the ululating sound – something I had
never heard in my native Toronto. In panic I turned to the mikva lady and yelled
‘mihablim’ [terrorists]. I thought that I had made aliya only to be killed in a
mikva in a terrorist attack. That was my first experience with the lovely henna
party at the mikva for brides before their wedding.”
Another reader wrote
in: “When I worked on a kibbutz for a year in 1966/7 I could not hear the
difference between lehitgaleah (to shave) and lehitkaleah (to have a shower)
with ensuing frequent misunderstandings.
“... as a teenager, my wife went
to a felafel kiosk and asked for a hetzi monit (half a taxi) instead of hetzi
mana (half portion).
“Not to be beaten... one of our daughters in her
teens sitting around a table with friends at a hotel in Herzliya... beckoned a
waiter and said to him ‘Efshar lekabel shtuyot?’ (Can I get nonsense?).” She had
meant to ask “Efshar lekabel (mashehu) lishtot?” (Can I get something to drink?)
A colleague tells of a French-speaking new arrival who requested “mitz gever”
(which translates as “man juice”) instead of the more conventional order of
“mitz gezer” (carrot juice.) Someone else wrote in with a selection of choice
misunderstandings including the following:
“When we first came to Israel, we
lived on a kibbutz. One day we received a visit from the Jewish Agency to
see how all the new immigrants were settling down. One of the new
immigrants wanted to show off his Hebrew but instead of saying: ‘Ani merasess et
hazvuvim’ - I am spraying the flies, he said: ‘Ani mesaress et hazvuvim‘ (I am
castrating the flies.)” Definitely a cut above the rest.
The same reader
had other mistakes to share: “One day many years later when I was studying at
the university, I was waiting in line at the library behind a young man. He
approached a young, very pretty librarian to ask her if they had a copy of
A.B. Yehoshua’s novel The Lover. He asked her in Hebrew: ‘Yesh lach
me’ahev?’ Do you have a lover? “She blushed scarlet and replied angrily, ‘None
of your business!’” And another mistake by the same reader: “Before I retired I
worked for an international firm.
During Pessah [Passover] I wrote a
letter to our Israeli representative at the Japanese branch ending the letter
with ‘Chag Sameach’ and signed my name. For years after I would receive mail
from his secretary addressed to Dear Mrs. Chag Sameach.”
May we all have
a hag sameah (happy holiday), may all our mistakes be good for a laugh and may
the year (and not our veins) come up roses.