An Excerpt from Lite Whines & Laughter: Mild Rants and Musings on the Mundane from Lee Gaitan

Lite Whines & Laughter is a book of humor, inspiration and survival. Lee Gaitan is the Queen of Resilience. If you are having a tough time or know someone going through a tough time, get them this book as laughter is the cure for all those pesky obstacles that get in our way. So proud to have this book as part of the HOPress-Shorehouse Books family. To find out more about Lee Gaitan, head to her blog  Don’t Just Bounce, Bounce Back 

Lost in Translation

If you’ve ever been offered baked goods made “from scratching” or asked if you give hard “testes,” there’s a good chance you teach English as a Second Language (ESL). Our crazy language is a minefield of unintended consequences, just waiting to ambush new learners. One seemingly insignificant change in spelling or pronunciation can affect meaning in a very significant way.  I had the same experience a few years ago when I changed one teensy little vowel in Italian and instead of asking for my room key ended up inviting a hotel clerk in Florence to have sex with me. In the most explicit terms possible. (Not that I was opposed to the idea, mind you, but I still needed my key.)

Those teensy little changes will get you every time. That’s all it took for one of my favorite students to become temporarily—but hilariously—lost in translation. Olga had been in the U.S. only a few weeks when she enrolled in my adult ESL class. One day she came to my room about fifteen minutes early and we began chatting. She told me how hard she was working outside of class to improve her English. She had started reading the newspaper in English, she said, and as a result, she’d made an important life decision.

“I read an article about how is good for the woman to have the condom,” she told me with great certainty. “So, I decide I want buy the condom.”

As Diet Coke was shooting out of my nose, she quickly reassured me of the wisdom of her plan.

Si, si, Lee, I think is very good idea,” she insisted, nodding her head vigorously. “You have the condom, Lee?” she asked.

“Well, not on me,” I said, a little flustered. “I don’t really, I mean, my husband had a vas—um, never mind. No, I don’t have a condom.”

She was looking at me quizzically when suddenly—pop—the light bulb flipped on for her, but not quite all the way. “Oh, Lee, I know what you think. You think I am crazy. Is so much money for buy the condom.”

“No, it’s not that,” I said, puzzled.

“No worry, Lee,” she continued. “Is cheap for me because I no buy new condom. I only buy used!” She dramatically drew out the word “used” for about three syllables.

I couldn’t even speak. All I could picture was a clothesline of freshly laundered condoms, just a-swinging in the breeze.

In my head I was screaming, Oh, dear God, here’s ten bucks—please splurge, buy new!

Then suddenly—pop—the light bulb again flipped on, but this time for me and, I was pretty sure, all the way. “Olga, what do you think a condom is?” I asked.

“Uh, is like apartment,” she answered with a casual shrug of her shoulders.

“No, my dear Olga, it is most certainly not like an apartment,” I said emphatically.

I then filled her in on the difference between “condo” and “condom.”  One teensy little letter.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the particular shade of red her face turned. When the blood, shock and laughter finally receded, she shook her head and said, “Ah, si, it is like you say in the class. One little letter makes the big difference.”

Ah, si, indeed it does. And in this case, adding one teensy little “m” could be the difference between converting that spare bedroom in your condo into a home office…or a nursery.

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