- Katherine Sirvio
What Did You Say?!@*#
One of my favorite pastimes is to hang out and chat about the meanings of words in different cultures. For example, the car hood and trunk in America is a Boot and Bonnet in the UK. My sweater is a jumper, my string bikini underwear called a thong in the US is a pair of flip flops or sandals in Australia. "C'mon Kate, grab your sunnies and thongs and let's go". I wasn't sure who Kate was, (Katherine became Kate immediately) and I didn't know what my undies had to do with scuba, but I was following closely behind anyway. Sometimes, I am a bit of a bumble head and it takes a moment to catch on. But this is what makes it all so funny.
So this brings me to social faux pas # 289, I was traveling for work and meeting up with a diverse group in Sao Paulo Brazil. We were one of the first global teams to really have our act together and we spoke on the phone regularly. We had the 'luxury' of meeting up twice a year and rotating locations so we could each learn about the culture and experience first-hand different foods, etiquette, sight seeing and people - along with our work. Our team was comprised of a leader from England who had lived in Germany for a decade and now in the States, and representation from Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, and the United States. (Korea and India joined us later in our global endeavors). We had a nice big vehicle to seat all of us and a driver who would arrive at the hotel each morning and bring us to the office. Our driver Ori, did not speak English well but was a kind hearted soul who met all of our ideas with a smile. We had Ori take us to the grocery store, not for food during our stay, but to pick out things to bring back to our home countries and see what types of packaging and products lined their shelves. We went to open air markets, craft fairs, art galleries, restaurants, malls and more. If we weren't at work, Ori was taking us somewhere.
Ori our driver, in blue vest
It was at the mall that I had my first laugh. The mall which I have since forgotten the name of was a very fancy one. Each car was screened before entering the gated drive. Part of this was for safety, the usual mirrors that check under the cars, and part of it was to only allow the elite in. I am not sure how we cut it, but we got in. The mall was divided and the first part, what we would call a department store, was segregated by men and women. So we divided and went for a look. In the women's section, the clothing lined the walls with high ceilings and sofas with ottomans were in the center. We noticed a Brazilian woman stripping down to try on clothes. This is very different than in America where each individual has their own fitting room. The designer from Australia said 'if I had known this was going to happen, I would have worn my fancy knickers'. I burst out laughing on two counts: one fancy knickers instead of undies or underwear sounded like someone from the early 20th century and two the thought that she had fancy ones and the ones that she was wearing. In any regards, we had a great time wandering the department store and met up with our male counterparts at the mall.
So as usual, I have gotten off track, back to faux pas #289. We were driving with Ori and everyone was hyped up. I don't recall where we were off to, but the energy was high. People were changing seats in the van and standing up. As easy going as Ori was, you could tell in his face he was getting agitated. I noticed this because I was sitting in the front seat, we were rotating seats with each ride we took. So I turned in my seat to face the back of the vehicle and said to one of the guys that were standing 'sit your fanny down!' Everyone burst out laughing. I had no idea what had just happened. Faces were turning red and laughter continued and I could tell it was at my expense, but still had no idea why. Finally, someone said, 'do you know what that means'? 'Well yes, your fanny is your rear end, butt, behind, derriere, or in one case my friend Orlo's cat' I replied. The roar of laughter that came from that was even greater. 'A cat! your friend named his cat Fanny!?' laughter ensued and now there were tears running down faces in full on giddy. As everyone started to calm down it was explained to me that in what appeared to be every other country in the world, fanny meant vagina. I had told my male colleague to sit his vagina down. But of course. In addition, many people refer to cats as pussy or pussy cat and pussy is another slang term for vagina or being a coward. So then I asked about the 1980's famous 'fanny pack', a pouch to carry your things on your waste instead of a handbag. The laughter rose again to great heights. Ori had no idea what was going on and I have to say by that point, I was really glad his English was not that good.
In the car on one of our many trips
There is never any shortage of conversation on words, names, vocabulary, and pronunciation. 'Herbs - the little plants used to enhance the flavor of your food' I said without the H sound on herb. 'No, you have to pronounce the H' my colleague rebutted. 'With the H, that is a man's name, not the plants' I explained. We all laugh. The funniest part was when this started, the person I was speaking to had no idea what I was talking about without the H. The latest one happened about a year ago but was brought up again just this week. We were designing a new color, brown. A name should be simple enough, right? Of course not. I had suggested the name Root. Seemed good enough, the base of a tree, anchoring its core, strength, and color is brown, it was a good name. Well, maybe not. Apparently in Australia root is slang for doing it, hankey pankey, nookie, hiding the salami, screwing, fornication, copulation, coitus, sexual intercourse. Actually it seems root is a very offensive word used as a replacement for fuck. I couldn't believe it. It sounded so awkward. Do you want to have a root? Root off... Of course I wouldn't say either of those with the alternate word either, but it still seems so clumsy and awkward. But, of course, the conversation goes on, 'what about the clothing brand?' 'what about pigs rooting', laughter just rises. 'What about rooting around to find something you misplaced or rooting for a team to cheer them on?' No, no, no. What about for a color name. Absolutely not! I guess we are using 'chocolate'. LOL
The names of people is another great topic. Slang words are always changing which makes this so fun. When I first met Dick Fancy I almost lost it on the spot. I can't say I am the most mature person and at 22 was definitely not, but I retained my composure and didn't burst out laughing until later in conversation with friends about names. Somehow I could just imagine someone prancing around the bedroom in a high pitched voice saying 'let me introduce myself, I am Dick Fancy'... But these days, anything goes for names. In the past few weeks Reality Winner has taken the spotlight in politics, Picabo Street - a 1998 Olympic Gold Medalist named after the street she was conceived on, Moon Unit Zappa - who knows why she was named that, have all had the spotlight. There will always be a name that is unconventional. But what about historically? My husband had a great uncle named Aino and Wino, and a grandmother named Lempie. I had an uncle Kanut, cousin Gunor and still have an aunt Kabe in my family. Somehow though, the names are not funny unless they have a dual meaning. When slang comes into play, the 8-year-old in me comes out to play.
There have been many words that have brought me to tears in laughter over the years. I am very fortunate to have had such a colorful past with a great group of people from around the world in work and leisure to enjoy them with.
The team in 2005