A few years ago, as part of a column I was writing on the Hebrew language, I
happened to hit on the topic of bloopers. There must be something winning
about our mistakes – because we just keep on making them and laughing at
There are a few readers who, every time they learn the error
of their ways, dash off an e-mail to tell me. Other people I coaxed to share the
embarrassing moments when something they said left those they were talking to at
a loss for words.
Cleaning out my e-mail and old computer files before
Pessah, I came across some gems.
Colleagues and friends also contributed
One reader (I’ll keep her anonymous because this one has been
in my files a very long time) wrote me:
“My favorite blooper occurred when my
manners were British and my Hebrew very new (it’s a moot point whether my
manners have deteriorated in direct proportion to the improvement of my Hebrew).
My mother-in- law, who didn’t speak any English, was drinking coffee at my house.
I asked her, in correct Hebrew, if she wanted another cup, which she declined. I
did want another cup, and far be it for a well-brought up Brit to go ahead and
drink coffee in the company of someone who didn’t, so I asked her (here it
comes): Ulai at rotza le’hahlif et hasechel
?” I bet she felt like a real mug:
Instead of asking would she like to change her mind, she’d inquired whether her
mother-in-law wanted to switch her senses.
This reader also noted:
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years I thought the song Ya’aleh v’yavo
[May there come and rise] was ‘Yoh, Levi
.’ Nobody ever told me otherwise.”
I know someone who could
relate to that – someone who thought the song “Ten Li et Hayom Hazeh
” (Give me
this day) meant “Give me a pen today.”
Of course, some of the biggest
boobs concern sex: There’s a gender war going on out there – at the expense of
the innocent immigrant.
“I have just committed a major faux pas with my
in-laws,” admitted one new bride.
“I wanted to invite everyone to Seder
and, unforgivably, I called my sister-in-law and told her I would invite all the
family battles (kravot
) instead of relatives (krovim
).” Well, if they fight at
the table, we know who’s going to be blamed.
Discussing with Post
staffers the strange things we say, more than one pointed out the frequency with
which new immigrants confuse mishkafayim
(glasses) with michnasayim
“especially when they take them off in public,” as Greer Fay Cashman once put
Apart from the dentist who tried to persuade a female patient to take
her glasses off while unwittingly exposing himself to harassment charges, an
optician explained to a customer that he could undergo surgery “and would never
need to wear pants again.”
And while we’re on the subject of wide-eyed
mistakes, mixing “adashim
” (lentils) with “adashot
” (lenses) seems to be a
common error for those so new they can’t see straight.
often has people rolling in the aisles: The shmena
(fat lady) continues to be
insulted by those looking for whipped cream (shamenet
) and I witnessed an
extraordinary exchange between a new immigrant who thought she was looking for
goat’s milk cheese (gvinat ezim
) and an old-timer who didn’t understand why she
was asking for “gibenet eiza
.” Who moved my “bold hunchback”? One colleague saw
“a cute girl” carrying several grocery bags at a Jerusalem crosswalk, and told
her: “At shochevet hamon
” (You sleep around a lot) – not the best pickup line.
After he repeated it twice, she, amazingly, got the right message and corrected
him: “At sochevet hamon
” (You’re carrying a lot).
Many, many olim have
been left with you-know- what on their faces because – and I think this should be
included on the curricula of all Hebrew ulpanim – the word for eggs (beitzim
has the same colloquial meaning as “balls” has in English. You have been
“An early immigrant classic,” offered another colleague who
wished to remain nameless: “I went to see my cousins after they had a daughter,
and I told them the baby looked just like their little boy – like twins.” Well,
that’s what he wanted to say.
But instead of “kmo teumim
,” out came “kmo
” (like orphans).
Army mistakes continue to be killers: More than
one very raw recruit admitted mixing “mitvah
” (firing range) with “mitbah
(kitchen) – maybe that’s why so many also confuse the order “Hadal
” (hold fire)
” (mustard). You can hold the mayo, too.
And after I told how
one proud Jewish mother informed friends and acquaintances that her son was on a
course to be a mefahed tankim
(scared of tanks) rather than mefaked tankim
commander), another admitted she told everyone that her son was learning to be
an occupier (kovesh
) when she meant medic (hovesh
). And you wonder what’s wrong
with the country’s hasbara
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