Embarrassing mix-ups

Chinese is one of those languages where just getting a tone wrong can result in something completely different from what you’d intended, although every language has certain words that are very easy to mix up. The worst is when you are absolutely convinced that you are using the correct word, but it turns out that you just asked for something ridiculous.

The other day, I was telling my teacher that it was OK to eat steak rare, as long as it’s fresh (鲜, xian with a high tone). Unfortunately, it sounded like I was saying 咸 (xian with a rising tone, meaning ‘salty’). Obviously, it’s easy to be misunderstood in these situations (and I need to be more careful with my pronunciation).

My teacher then told me a story (I think to make me feel better about my slip up) about a mistake that one of her other students had made. Apparently he was convinced that the word for aubergine (茄子 qié zi) was 孩子 (hái zi, meaning child). So, when he went in to a restaurant and asked for fried child with his rice, the proprietors were so freaked out about a big foreigner asking for something barbaric that they told him they were closed and pushed him out the door. It wasn’t until he wondered why my teacher had been playing with an aubergine (when it was really a child) that he realised his error.

What was your most hilarious (or embarrassing) mix up?

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