USA: Lost in Translation… or rather mispronunciation

Have you ever spoken to a South African?

Or perhaps someone from a different country and the way they pronounce the words is slightly different to the way you do?

It can lead to some interesting misunderstandings…

Disclaimer: Unfortunately some of the “misunderstandings” are not totally PG.

The Pot Plant – USA

pot plant

A couple of years ago I wanted to buy a pot plant as a gift for someone. A simple thing, a plant, not too hard to go to the store that sells plants and get right?

Well… I walked into Kmart (its the closest to me ok) and did a quick scout in their gardening department. I didn’t see any pot plants so went up to the kind lady to ask if they had any in stock.  This is how the conversation went…

Me:  “Hi m’am, do you have any pot plants? I’m wanting to get one for a friend and I don’t see any”

Kmart lady: “Um… a pot plant?”

Me: “Yes m’am a pot plant”

At this point she is looking at me like I had lost my mind and I’m wondering what on earth I said because all I want and need is a pot plant.

Kmart lady: “M’am I think you are in the wrong store for those, Florida prevents us selling those kinds of plants”

Me: “You have to be kidding!!! What the heck, a pot plant is illegal in Florida??? What do people do? They have to buy them separately and pot them themselves???”

Kmart lady: “M’am it’s probably best we talk quieter”

I finally have the lightbulb moment and responded while laughing hysterically “Ahhh nooooooo no no not pot plant but a plant planted in a pot

Now she’s laughing hysterically and to this day she still asks me if I ever managed to find a pot plant

Pawn shops – USA

pawn shop

Now this is a fun one. Any guesses?  After just arriving in Florida I noticed that there were so many Pawn shops around and told my people hey lets stop by a pawn shop and see whats selling.

There was deadly silence in the car.

So so quiet a pin could’ve dropped and it would’ve sounded like a volcano errupting.

I’m like what? Seriously whats wrong with a pawn shop? They sell used goods right?

I pronounce pawn as porn.

To this day I still can’t pronounce it the American way so if you ever hang out with me and want to go to a pawn store just please bear this in mind… I’m not talking porn.

I also try avoid going to any kind of pawn stores with children in tow… it just doesn’t end well.

Fanny pack

Fanny pack

Straight up just no.  Every single time I hear these words I want to roll around laughing hysterically in wonder.  Listen.  In South Africa a Fanny is another name for female parts.  We do not call these bags by that name. No no. No.

Can you hand me the rubber?

rubber aka eraser

Innocent enough question if you speak British english.  I had the unfortunate instance of asking a kid to hand me a rubber while doing volunteer hours at a school.

I couldn’t understand what was so so hysterically funny to the point that they almost fell off their little chairs! I mean seriously all I was asking for was a rubber!

My response was you know rubber, eraser, the thing you use to remove pencil from paper.  What on earth is so funny!

A rubber in the USA means a condom.

I’m just grabbing a trolly

You’re grabbing a what??? A trolly, you know the thing you use around the store to put the things you want to buy in.

Oh I thought you wanted to catch a trolly somewhere.  You know you’re really confusing when you talk english.

Yeah I know.

Hump Day

The first time I heard this was in a local pharmacy none other than Walgreens.  I was pleasantly paying for my pack of Chips Ahoy cookies when the lady at the register wished me a happy Hump Day.

I stood there for quite a moment looking dumbfounded.  She then looked a bit confused at my slowly rising color.

Hump Day? I asked wondering if people in the States actually wish each other a day of the naughty business and if it should only be happening on Wednesdays…

She said yeah Happy Hump Day, you know middle of the week and Friday’s a comin’

Finally I got it. Slightly red faced I started laughing and politely said thank you and left as fast as I could.


One day I was out shopping with a friend when she asked me whether I liked a shag?

Um sorry what???

Innocent enough question for American’s while walking around a home goods store but for someone from nether lands, such as myself, I looked up and wondered who she was talking about.

I then clicked after she repeatedly pointed at the fluffy rug on the shelf that in fact they call rugs “shags” here in the states.  How they got that name I do not want to know.

Needless to say she went home with the shag she wanted…


I had the unfortunately instance of discussing dummies and babies with a mother.  How we got on that topic I still don’t know but I digress.

She looked at me as if I had either insulted her child or was outright mean suggesting a “dummy” for her baby who just wanted to eat its toes.

I found myself quickly resorting to good ol’ sign language showing her that I was putting something in my mouth and sucking on it while cooing like a baby.  I kid you not I did it.  Her face wasn’t happy and I don’t like confrontation at all.

See I really wasn’t calling her child dumb nor offering a dumb person either.  She calmed down while laughing away at my strange and rather comic sign language to say “Oh you mean a pacifier!!!”

So much more…

There are so many more instances where my English has been lost in translation and times when I have really not understood what an American is saying.  These though are the ones that still have me giggling from time to time.

Have you ever had one of these instances when you are grossly misunderstood or totally misunderstood what someone else was trying to say?

Go on, spill the beans, I need to feel less alone in the “lost in translation” minefield!

Please note:

If you don’t know already we South African’s joke around quite a bit especially about our culture and our country.  For us it’s almost a national sport… How could it not be when we have signs like the one above?

As always and in all my writing I mean no offense to anyone, any culture or any country.

11 thoughts on “USA: Lost in Translation… or rather mispronunciation

    1. Haha yup this hump day business normally finds me walking away from the person who said it just to laugh hysterically without offending them! Thanks for reading 🙂

  1. God, this post made me laugh so hard. I spit my coffee at my computer screen. Pot Plants? lol you are too much. Love reading your adventures.

    1. Haha I wish I could say I made it up but sadly these are all actual moments i have lived through… some repeatedly! Glad you enjoyed 😁 I’ll mail you wipes lol

  2. These expat files are always a good read! I grew up in Malaysia (British colony) so I had the same, um, translation issues. Learned not to ask for a rubber pretty quickly! 😉

    Also, lift vs. elevator, boot vs. trunk. And did you guys call Band-Aids plasters? We did, and the first time I said it to Justin he thought I was crazy!

    1. Yeah the whole rubber thing I learnt real quick though I still catch myself! Don’t start me on cubby holes, boots or plasters! That’s a whole post all together lol

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