Thanks for the memories: The last "Hebrew Hear-Say" column obviously hit close to home for many new and veteran immigrants; readers found various ways to send in their stories of the beautiful bloopers olim make. As the saying goes "I don't like spreading rumors; I just don't know what else to do with them." Similarly, I have no way of checking the authenticity of the stories, but these gems are too precious to keep hidden. If they are urban myths, they deserve at least to be legendary.
Many of the contributions were sexy stories, and I wasn't surprised that most readers requested anonymity. Some intimated they would die of embarrassment if their names were used; others said their kids would kill them.
In the previous column I noted the frequency with which new immigrants make a spectacle of themselves confusing mishkafayim (glasses) with michnasayim (pants). I have since heard of a male dentist who got it unfortunately the wrong way round when telling a lady patient what he wanted her to take off. At least her mouth opened wide.
Another veteran, when still a student with apparently a lot to learn at ulpan at WUJS in Arad, visited Beit She'an on a trip which included an evening with the mayor and his pregnant wife. Instead of asking "Kama zman at hara?" - ("I didn't know then to say: 'Kama zman at beherayon?', the more common version of "How long have you been pregnant?") - the then-student asked "Kama zman at chara?" "How long have you been a shit?" There was barely a pregnant pause before the laughter.
Another reader offered "the famous - perhaps apocryphal - story about Henrietta Szold who, when she met a friend she had not seen in quite a while, wanted to tell her that she had not changed over the years. Instead of 'lo hishtanet,' she is reported to have said 'lo hishtant' (You haven't urinated)." That's what you get for trying to mind your "pees and q's" in an unfamiliar language.
Several readers scrambled their eggs. The Hebrew "beitzim" is the word for what hens lay, but is also commonly used for "testicles," like the English "balls." The fan who offered the Szold story was left with you-know-what on his face when, many years ago, at breakfast on his first day on the Hebrew University's One-Year Program for Overseas Students, he ordered eggs and asked the cook in the university's cafeteria to flip them: "You can imagine how my request, 'lahafoch et habeitzim sheli,' while perhaps technically correct linguistically, nevertheless caused all the Hebrew-speakers within earshot to break out in hysterical laughter."
My dad made a refreshingly innocent mistake when a passerby on a Haifa street asked the way to Beit Zim, the Zim shipping company's building, and my father directed him to several different grocery stores where he could buy eggs.
Linguistic problems are often compounded when the usage of technically correct terms has changed over the years. (Tinkerbell's light might go out for ever were she to learn what people now believe of "fairies".) One religious reader as a newcomer looked in the dictionary for the term archeology before telling friends of her career aspirations. An English-Hebrew dictionary gives the term "hasfanut" - an antiquated word replaced by "archeologia," which led the young lady to inform everyone that she intended to become a "stripper" ("hasfanit") instead of an archeologist.
A heavily pregnant woman who wanted to warn a passerby that he was about to step in a puddle (shlulit) instead shouted at him to "Mind the placenta!" (shilya).
And a boyfriend trying to show his girlfriend how much he cared, promised before a trip abroad that he would send her the Pill every day instead of sending a postcard - glula/gluya. No wonder they say romance is dead.
A soldier metaphorically almost shot himself in the foot by complaining that he had been ordered to do kitchen duty when in fact he had been sent to the firing range: mitbach/mitvach.
A woman at the hairdresser was cut down to size when she confused Titulim (a well-known brand of diapers) with "taltalim" (curls). Talk about curling up with embarrassment.
The common practice of writing Hebrew without vowels has also led to misunderstandings. I like telling the story of how my mum at Hanukka-time saw a sign which she read as "latkes" (Hanukka pancakes) which was actually the direction "To the ceremony" (Latekes). I love telling the story because there is always someone who either goes very quiet or laughs way too loud. Apparently it's a mistake more common than you might think.
Stories came from readers formerly from England, America, Canada, Australia and South Africa.
A veteran Jerusalemite was willing to admit that when once asked her nationality, she answered "achzar Amerikai" - "a cruel American" - instead of "ezrach Amerikai," "an American citizen."
Another American immigrant who, when it comes to Hebrew, confesses to being a walking comedy of errors rather than poetry in motion, told me, not proudly: "The best is probably yet to come."
Watch this space...