28 July 2011

Greek Is Not Polish is Not West African

When I worked for a Greek family a few years ago, I had a few times when words from Greek or another language would be discovered to be similar to a word in Polish.

One day, my Greek boss was on the phone talking very loudly to a customer.  I knew the customer was an older Greek gentleman, having met him before myself.

From his office, I heard, "Rucha!  Rucha!  Ochi!  Rucha! (blahblahblah Greek words)  Ru-cha!"

The first time, I didn't pay attention, I had a lot of work to do.

The second time, I blinked, turned and shook my head.  No, I heard that wrong.

The third time, No, it must mean something else.  Those Greek words sometimes don't sound the way I think they do, especially with an American accent.

The fourth time, No, No, I'm hearing this right, I think.

After a few minutes of hearing this word again and again, I couldn't take it anymore.  I walked into his office and said, "Excuse me, but can you please tell me what Rucha means in Greek?"

He stopped, glanced at my very red blushing face, covered the phone's mouthpiece and said, "Clothes.  Why?"

I started laughing, shook my head, and said, "That's not what it means in Polish.  OK, thanks."

I later explained to him what it meant when he wasn't on the phone.

There is a rhyme, a very ugly one, in Polish.  Mucha rucha karalucha.  I don't want to translate it...

I suppose this was the equivalent of when I was yelling at a man on the phone from a country in Africa who's nickname was Mouni.  A group of Greek men came in the office mid-conversation, paused, looked at me with confusion and then smiled, saying something in Greek to each other while laughing, and went to meet with one of the Greek family I worked for. 

Later, I was told that "Mouni" in Greek means a particular body part.  Super, no?

It explained why those Greek men wanted me to eat lunch with them later that day.  And asked if my blonde hair was natural.  I have to wonder what they thought with me wearing a wedding ring and saying that.  Or, perhaps, it's better not to wonder.

Have you ever had a situation where an innocent word in one language was taken to mean something inappropriate in another language?

Na razie...


Megryansmom said...

OK you must translate for me privately, because I have never heard that word or the rhyme and now I am very curious.

Alena said...

What comes to my mind is how some Chinese names sound in Russian (such as Suki, or Hui). I still remember how hard I laughed when I saw a pretty normal Chinese name "Sui Hui" in one of the places I worked for ("sui" could be translated as an imperative form of the verb "stick/poke" and "hui" is a slang for a male body part).

Luisa Rodríguez said...


That same thing has happened to me many times (Portuguese/Spanish words are very similar, but NOT always)


Great post!!