When I first started learning Greek, many years ago, I made all kinds of mistakes. Dumb mistakes. Not-so-dumb mistakes. Many mistakes that are now super obvious in retrospect.
When you start learning Greek, some language blunders will be easily recognized, others are very personal!
After some years in Greece, I thought to had mastered the Greek language. As with any other language, you learn Greek by trial and error, but my Greek has a lot of “error”, so I sometimes have to pull myself together and make some corrections…
Making funny language blunders, however, makes learning a language more fun! Also, from making mistakes, you learn, and you usually never make that mistake again.
Some examples or incidents are described below. They show once more that misunderstandings in the Greek language happen quite easily because the difference in the words is often very small, while the difference in meaning can be very big. Other errors can be embarrassing or creative!
But, don’t worry. They happen to the best of us.
It was my mother’s birthday and I wanted to surprise her with a nice scented shower gel of Greek make. They are very popular and the new “shower gel with blackberry scent” seemed to be an original present. The shop assistant, a nice young man, came to help me. While asking him which scents are available, my Greek went terribly wrong…
To understand the hilarity of the incident, I have to explain two Greek words:
“vatomouro – βατόμουρο” means “blackberry”
and “moutro – μούτρο” is slang for “face”….
You can probably imagine what happened next? I wanted to ask him “ echete vatomouro” ( do you have blackberry?) but instead, I said: “ echete vatomoutro?” ( have you got a blackberry face?)
Whilst I immediately realized my mistake, the serious-looking sales assistant just stood there staring at me… Now, fortunately, I have the advantage, being 1.80m tall and having a non-Greek appearance, of immediately being classified as “ North-European” In this category, blunders, even blatant ones, are forgiven… every Greek realizes that their language is not the easiest one. Moreover, he didn’t have either a blackberry scented shower gel or a face like a blackberry.
Words that are very alike!
The difference between “stoma – στόμα” (mouth) and “stroma – στρώμα” ( mattress). You want to say: “ I put a clean sheet on my matress” but , with just that one letter difference, you say: “ I put a clean sheet in my mouth”… the rest of the sentence is exactly the same.
Or you want to call your child affectionately: “ psyche mou – ψυχή μου” ( my soul) but instead you say: “psychio mou – ψυγείο μου” ( my refrigerator)…
And how about “ profora – προφορά” (accent) and “ prosfora – προσφορά” (offer). The intention is to say: I have an English accent, but what you really say is: I have an English offer.
At the dry cleaners you can ask if they can clean your “chali- χαλί” (carpet), but with one letter difference you could well have asked them if they can clean your “choli – χολή” ( your bile/gall).
So, be careful.
A person told me once that she was in the hospital in Heraklion after a car crash and she was not allowed to eat something. In the meantime, when the nurse passed by, she always asked for a ‘paximadi’ …
After a few times asking they got a bit angry with her… and then she eventually found out that she actually wanted a ‘maxilari’ (pillow), and not a “paximadi” (bread dusk)
And somebody from France once said to me “είχαμε “παγόνια” στον κήπο…” We had peacocks in the garden… Since the conversation was actually about the weather, I then realized she meant
“Παγωνιά” (frost- freezing cold). It is actually only a difference in “accent”, but those are mistakes often made.
The Greeks call these blunders “ Margaritaria” (pearls). The fact that they have a word for it must mean that the Greeks themselves sometimes struggle with these subtle differences.
It is these pearls that make the Greek language even more interesting and, at the same time, an ideal stimulus to memorize difficult words.
When having visitors from abroad, not knowing more than 10 words in Greek, they tend to think there must be more words in Greek, similar to other European languages.
So when we take our visitors to a tavern, it often happens that they would like some extra napkins (Greek food is delicious but can be a bit messy and oily). So, they try their best speaking Greek, and kindly ask the waiter: “servietta parakalo”, thinking they have said: “A serviette (napkin) please!”
“Serviette” is indeed a word used in many languages, but in Greek, the word “serviette” (σερβιέτα) has a different meaning! It does not mean a napkin you use at the table, but rather what women need every month (a sanitary napkin)!
For your info, what you do need in a tavern, is a χαρτοπετσέτα – chartopetseta – (napkin, literally a “paper towel”).
So do not be afraid of making mistakes, everybody does!
Want to read more about funny language mistakes?
When a Dutch friend, crazy about Greek music, once visited me in Greece, she heard me talking to a tavern owner, using the word “απόψε” – apopse . This word means “tonight” in Greek.
To my surprise, after hearing me saying “apopse”, she smiled at me and asked, “aha, what is happening here?” I could not understand her funny expression on her face but thought she was simply curious about what we were talking about. After I translated my conversation with the tavern owner, she looked at me suspiciously and said: “So tell me Maya, do you call everybody “apopse” in Greece?
We had a short exchange of clarifying Greek words, and then I realized how she ended up in this “misunderstanding”; my friend loves Greek music and listens every evening to Greek songs. Although she does not understand 95% of the Greek lyrics, she did hear many times the word “apopse”, in rather romantic/erotic songs. Click here to listen to one example of a song, out of the many.
So she memorized that word and was convinced it meant “my love, my darling”!
After I explained to her the real meaning of the word, she was not very happy…..because for already five years she called her husband “apopse”! 😊
What about you? Did you make any funny mistake when speaking Greek? I would love to hear about it. Write it down in the comments, or if too embarrassing, you can also write an email to [email protected] 🙂