When I was studying French in school, my teacher at the time warned the class about faux amis. Literally translated this means “false friends”, but what she was getting at is that there are some words that are similar in two different languages which might lead you to assume that they have the same meaning, while in fact they do not. The classic French – English example that she provided was the word magasin, which you might assume means magazine, whereas in reality it means shop. While this is a perfect example of what she meant by a faux amis, it was not a particularly humerous one.
It was not until I started learning German, however, that I found a language filled with hilarious faux amis in relation to English. I remember being puzzled over ads for apartments which kept refering to their living rooms as “gross [and] hell”, which actually means large and brightly lit. I burst into laughter at a shop window with the word “Schmuck” plastered across it, only to discover that it actually means “jewelry”. Also, make sure you don’t offer someone a present and call it a “gift”, as that actually means you are offering them poison. My favorite German – English example though is probably the way that the parking ticket machines and highway signs politely wish you a “Gute Fahrt!” as you go about your way.
That is not to say that the hilarious faux amis only go in one direction. Describing the thick mist you had to cross in the countryside will get you laughed at, as you are actually describing the thick bullshit you were slogging through. I also personally spent a whole 5 minutes repeatedly using the word “mushy” to a student in describing the consistency he needed to blend his worms down to, only to be informed by my sniggering colleague that “mushy” in German means “pussy”, and not the one of the feline variety. Credit to my student though, he did not so much as crack a smile during my entire monologue.
However, despite the numerous examples that I have already come across despite my novice grasp of German, I think that there is one German – Romanian faux amis that just might trump them all.
My boyfriend joined me a few months after I had moved to Germany. He arrived one night, exhausted from his trip, but decided to join me and my colleagues on a traditional Kneipentour, which is a sort of bar hop often done as a leaving party for students. The typical way to do this bar hop is to have one shot and one beer in each location, so of course everyone clinks glasses and cheers before drinking. The fact that there is also a German superstition that you must look people directly in the eye when you cheer with them, lest you wish risking 7 years bad sex, added an extra wrinkle of hilarity to this story.
This being Germany we were not saying “Cheers” when clinking glasses, but rather “Prost”. After three rounds of people staring into each other’s eyes and saying “Prost” over and over again, my boyfriend finally asked what that means in German.
“It means Cheers”, I said.
“Oh”, he replied. “I thought it might. In Romanian, Prost means asshole”.
That has got to be my favorite faux amis of all time, even with all of the English ones put together. Everyone roared with laughter, made a point of emphasising the word Prost throughout the evening, and made a mental note to not say it in random bars should they ever visit Romania. It could lead to… an awkward misunderstanding.
So, do you know of any other amusing faux amis? Do you think you can beat “Prost”?