Real Israel: Did I say that?

Immigrant malapropisms can be a source of embarrassment or mirth, depending on whether you’re the one who made them.

Israeli Supermarket (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israeli Supermarket
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 ourselves.
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 examples.
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:
“For years I thought the song Ya’aleh v’yavo [May there come and rise] was ‘Yoh, Levi yavo, la-aaaa.’ 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 (pants) – “especially when they take them off in public,” as Greer Fay Cashman once put it.
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.
The supermarket 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 warned.
“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 yetumim” (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) with “hardal” (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 (tank 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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