Tienes hambre? Subtle differences can really affect meaning.

Posted by jpeck | Filed under

We´re back for another installment of Misunderstanding Mondays. 

In Santiago there is a popular destination called Mercado Central.  It´s a beautiful old factory-type building that has been converted into an open-air den of seafood restaurants with fish mongers and vegetable stands along the periphery.  Because there are so many restaurants, competition is fierce and each one tends to employ one or more agressive head waiters who duke it out with each other to win diners in their chairs. 

A foreign exchange student with basic Spanish skills, we´ll call her Liz, went to the picturesque mercado to take some photos.  She was approached a few times but told the buzzing waiters that she wasn´t hungry and just wanted to take some photographs.  Much to her consternation, more and more men continued to approach her, asking her to their restaurant and talking to her, but she kept trying to brush them off, insisting that she wasn´t hungry.  They KEPT coming, and kept coming, in spite of her increasing annoyance and insistance that she didn´t want any food and was only there to take pictures.  By the end of 20 minutes she was so frustrated she just started yelling at all of them, and eventually had to give up on taking photos and stormed out.

The following week she relayed this story to her Spanish teacher and was asking whether it was a cultural thing that these men just wouldn´t leave her alone.  Turns out when she tried to brush them off what she thought she was yelling, "no tengo hambre" turned out to be "no tengo hombre"!  Whoops!  Apparently there were a lot of takers, and Liz was blushing for a week thinking of herself in the middle of the market yelling, "I don´t have a man!!  All I want is to take pictures!" This lessons serves to not only mind our p´s and q´s, but our a´s and o´s as well.  Do you have a story about trying to communicate when learning a language, but doing so badly or to an unintended but humorous effect?  Write to jenpeck@loogla.com and we´ll publish it. 

Suerte, chicos!


(Whether you ´tiene hambre´ or ´quiere hombre´ will determine which you see in this photo.)