Saturday, November 15, 2008

Some good gaffes

I'm no stranger to verbal and social gaffes in english. They are hazards of the opinionated, loudmouth extrovert trade. But they tend to not be due to grammatical or vocabulary errors. In french, however, I'm probably averaging 1.5 errors per sentence. Most are just simple mistakes, probably making the listener unconsciously wince at worst (sometimes bad enough to earn a much-appreciated correction). But every now and then I make a real howler. Here is a good one:

My office is on the third floor and we have a buzzer and intercom phone for people on the front door below to contact us. It's some left over attempt at doing things Toronto style long since abandoned since the front door is never locked. We use it mainly to yell stuff at people smoking on the front porch. However, the handle on the front door sticks and the physically and mentally weak who lack initiative often stand out at the front door and buzz the buzzer. This is annoying to me as anyone with any chi would just push the freaking button on the handle down harder. So one day the buzzer goes off. I pick up the phone (which is in the hallway; where half the organization happened to be having impromptu hallway discussions at the time) and say in a really loud voice:

"La parte est ouverte! Il faut baiser la poignée!"

Now if you know french, you'll be laughing already. In french two s's sounds like the letter s in english. One sounds like the letter z. "Baisser" with an s sound means to lower. "Baiser" with a z sound means to make love to.

Enough said.

The hallway exploded in laughter. It took a long time to die down and this incident is still brought up from time to time.

For the record, I really should have said something like "il faut pousser la poignée". Baisser is like lowering as in volume or from high to low. Everything is so specific in french.

4 comments:

Buzby said...

That's really funny. I cringe as I write the next part of this comment because I hate everything about David Sedaris and his cool, over stylized, pseudo counter culture, I'm so liberal and too cool for America motif. Nevertheless, he wrote a short story about his experiences learning French in Paris and one of the funniest anecdotes was about his inability to figure out the genders for each noun and compensating for it by speaking solely in the plural.

Redwing said...

And so you said you have to make love to the door harder?

Olman Feelyus said...

@buzby, couldn't agree with you more on both counts, re Sedaris himself and that joke.

@Jarret, not harder. I just said "You have to make love to the handle!"

beemused said...

the more common translation/usage for 'baiser' is actually 'to f*ck'! that may explain the raucous laughter ;-)