In Spanish, the word for…: Conversation starters

Odds are, you know at least part of a foreign language. Whether you’re bi- or tri-lingual, a regular polyglot, or only remember the basics from a high school French class, you most likely remember something, and more often than not that word means “poop.”

The  words people remember from languages they don’t use much are the fun words. Swear words, strange idioms, words that are plain fun to say: these are the words that we remember best.

Beyond some greetings and counting to ten, all I remember from my middle school Spanish class is how to say pencil sharpeners: Las sacapuntas. Why? Because it’s so much fun to say! Sacapuntas, sacapuntas. The fun rhythm made me smile then, and still makes me smile today.

When I moved on to American Sign Language, you can bet your bottom dollar that when showing friends what I’ve learned, I went straight to “horny,” “whore,” “bullshit.” It’s fun to know how to swear in secret—and in this case, in silence.

The first sentence I learned in German was Ich bin Blau: I am drunk. My friend taught me at a high school lunch one day.

My friend’s sister who studied abroad in Italy once told us of an Italian idiom that is equivalent “rose tinted glasses:” “Avere gli occhi foderati di prosciutto.” It’s funny because it is literally translated as “to have your eyes wrapped in ham.”

Language is not just important and brain-expanding; it can be a load of fun, too. Bringing up tongue twisters, swear words, and fun phrases in foreign languages can be a light-hearted conversation starter that leads into a linguistic parade. Bring your dictionaries!

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Berlin, England: Conversation starters

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I get compliments on my bag all the time, which is funny because it’s crap. I mean, I like how it looks too—that’s why I bought it. But it was $25 from a street vendor in New York City, made of fake leather that is already falling apart at just a year old.

Its leather isn’t the only thing that’s cheaply made. As you can see from the photo, it’s a map of the world in nice earth tones and fancy calligraphy. It looks great from a distance! But then I’m sitting on a New York subway, admiring my new purchase, and I notice something…

Every single country is spelled wrong.

At first I think, cool! Every country must be in its native language…or something? Or, maybe it’s supposed to be old English? I look closer. The calligraphy is hard to read, but it seems to suggest “Palaka” is Poland. Well, I suppose that could be true. But, “Dalaka” for Germany?palaka.jpeg

“Tuikiye” for Turkey?

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I get more suspicious when I see the Mediterranean is labeled “Madilseeanean,” and Algeria is “Algeica.”meditalgeca.jpeg

Again, I tell myself, maybe it’s old English. But then, the other shoe drops:

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London is labeled as “Berlin.”

Well, that settles it. Somehow, for some reason, everything on this bag is wrong! Could they not get the rights for the world? Do you NEED to get rights for the world?

I don’t mind my terribly-spelled bag. After all, it’s still adorable, and it’s a great conversation piece. People love spending time poring over every misspelling, wondering if it’s this language or that until I point out Berlin, England (or the “United Hingdom,” according to the bag). Then they throw their hands in the air and laugh, deeming the bag a mystery.

I too wonder how and why this bag ended up this way. I can only imagine it’s a knock off of a designer bag, and misspelling/labeling countries somehow got around copyright. But whatever the reason, I don’t mind. It’s a small-talk I don’t mind having, since it doesn’t focus on me. It’s a fun game to play when I don’t have anything else to do. It’s a centerpiece of a love of all things ironic, the love of ridiculous things that are so bad they’re good.

It’s the little things like Berlin, England that make life wonderful. While it’s unlikely you have a bag like this, a piece of jewelry or a shirt with a story behind it are great conversation starters in a pinch! You get to share a story, get a few compliments, and get out of the spotlight as people try to top your story. Good luck:)

What do you do when they sing “Happy Birthday?”

What do you do when they’re singing happy birthday? What do you do, when you’re opening presents, and it’s one gift card after another, like you asked for, but you still have to act surprised and delighted?

My family insists on having a birthday dinner every year. It’s subdued by the fact that my sister’s birthday is the day before mine, so at our joint celebration dinner the attention is split between us. However, it’s still way more attention than I want.

I really just don’t like my birthday. Why do we have to celebrate being born? I prefer when my friends and I just go out for dinner. At least then we all get something out of it. And they never make the waiters sing for me.

My godson and his two older brothers are my saviors, because it’s always acceptable to leave a dinner early to play with the kids—as long as their parents say it’s okay. They don’t care if it’s your birthday as long as they can plunk along on the piano with you and play superheroes. I love ditching all birthday responsibilities to play with the Barbies my mom digs out of the closet. Kids are easy.

Kids don’t make me feel the need to escape and be alone. I guess it’s because they don’t expect much out of you, but still (unless they’re bratty or too young) treat you like a respectable person. My cousins especially are fun to be with, and they always amaze me with how smart they are for their ages.

I also like them because no one else spends as much time with them at parties as I do. People always eventually get tired of them and want to go back to talking with the grown ups, but I prefer chilling with the kiddies, so eventually I get them all to myself.

What is it about kids, and certain other people, that negates the “I need to be alone” factor for me (and presumably other introverts)? I naturally always like time to myself, but with most people it’s like a countdown timer to “I can’t stand this anymore.” With kids, my boyfriend, my best friend, and my sister, the timer seems to be put on hold. I could hang out with them forever, singularly, without ever feeling the need to run. Perhaps I’ll need to be alone, but I never need to run.

I think it’s acceptance. I know they all accept me for who I am, so I don’t need to hide anything or pretend to be something I’m not. Knowing I can act like myself around them means I don’t have to leave them to act like myself. And that’s really what being alone means for me—being myself.