When I got my first German text book (aged 12) I was confused. Deutsch Heute? Weren’t we learning German? Not Dutch? And I didn’t know what ‘heute’ was, but it sounded painful. I was no less confused when I received my first Spanish textbook, Exito. Was it really imploring me to leave now?
It took a while to decipher it was actually promising ‘success’ but by then I’d discovered that Spanish is blessed with a wondrous and plentiful supply of equally false friends.
Since I’m feeling brave (bizarro) I shall relate to you another tale about bizarre (extraño) false friends and unnecessarily confusing communication…
Some friends decided now was the time to start a family, and we all agreed how exciting (which, of course, by then I knew to be not éxito, but emocionante) it would be to spread the news (noticias). But instead of making the announcement in a nice (simpático) straightforward (sencillo) way we agreed that it would be fun to use a code word to spread the good news.
I can’t remember now why we felt such an announcement should be couched in obscurity (ocultar; not to be confused with oscuro, which means dark). Perhaps it was something to do with the amount of wine we had consumed – we were at a wedding (boda; not to be confused with bodega, although perhaps this particular boda had much in common with a bodega!).
Instead of a simple “Great news! We’re going to have a baby!” we decided the happy proclamation should be made with the phrase “John has a long moustache!” (“¡Juan tiene un largo bigote!”). A phrase full of joy for the avid false friend aficionado.
Some months (mesas) later (posteriores) we received a phone call (llamada). Greetings were exchanged. Then:
“John has a long moustache.”
Followed by a significant intake of breath… (what you might call a pregnant pause?).
Embarrassingly (¡qué vergüenza!), my partner scrabbled around desperately in his hazy memories of that afternoon (tarde) as he tried tardily (tardio) to recall what that could mean…