13 Words That Will Embarrass You Abroad

False Friend

English is a beautiful language that borrows a lot of words from other languages. But every once in awhile there are just weird, random coincidences. Sometimes an English word sounds like one in another language, but the two have nothing to do with each other. Often, they don’t even have the same origin. These kinds of words are called false friends.

Like the other kind of false friend, these words can embarrass you or get you into trouble (depending on who’s around). We’ve collected just a few here. Beware of false friends on your next Instagram-worthy vacation.


Swedish: kissa

Translation: to pee

The Swedish word for kiss is kyss, which makes trying to say “I want to give you a kiss” or “I need a kiss” extra precarious.

What if you actually do need to kissa? Rather than saying “I need to pee,” you could always ask for the restroom (toalett).


Dutch: lul

Translation: penis

Does the sound of the rain help lull you to sleep? Have you finally reached a lull in your hectic week? You might want to avoid mentioning those things in the Netherlands. Or do mention them, depending who you’re talking to?

If you aren’t talking about phalluses, the Dutch word for lull (as in “lull to sleep”) is wiegen. You can also use pauze, which means pause or break.


German: gift

Translation: poison

You might get some funny looks if you tell your German-speaking friends you’re giving them a gift. Alternately, you should probably beware if you’re handed something labeled gift in Germany. Don’t let that turn you off of gift baskets, though.

As far as actual presents go, the German word is geschenk. If you do want to send someone a gift basket, the word is geschenkkorb. Korb is the word for basket. You can say giftkorb, but that’s a poison basket. You probably don’t want to give one of those.


Portuguese: peidei

Translation: “I farted.”

Excited about payday? Most people would be. In Portuguese-speaking areas, though, you might want to avoid shouting it from the rooftops.

The Portuguese phrase for payday is dia do pagamento, which literally means “day of payment.”


French: fesse

Translation: buttock

Telling someone they have a pretty face might get a tiny bit awkward.

The French word for face is visage. Conveniently, English also uses this word to mean “the face, usually with reference to shape, features, expression, etc.” The only difference is that we pronounce it viz-ij, while the French word is more like vi-sahj.


Russian: prezervativ (презерватив)

Also French: préservatif

Translation: condom

Having your food be free of preservatives means something totally different in English-speaking places than it does in Russian or French-speaking communities. You’d better hope there aren’t any préservatifs in your fruit.

Let’s say you actually do want to talk about preservatives. The French word is conservateur, and the Russian is konservant (консервант). You can think of preservatives as conserving your food (rather than preserving), and it can help you remember. #mnemonics


French: bite

Translation: penis

Beet salad might not sound so appetizing right now. The I in the French bite does make the ee sound, but we know it looks just like the English bite. That can be confusing.

The French word for beet is betterave, which probably tastes better on a salad. Beat is battre (for hitting something like a drum) or rhythme (in music). So now you know how to talk about a song with a cool beat, right?


French: cul

Translation: ass/butt

So what was that we were saying about cool music, again? To be fair, some other languages (including French) do use cool to mean the same thing as in English. It’s just good to know that you should be careful with this word in Francophone areas.

To avoid confusion, maybe use the French word excellent. If you’re talking about a cool temperature, you can say frais or froid.


French/Catalan: pet

Translation: fart

Some potentially confusing sentences for you to consider: Do you have pets? How many pets do you have? Do you like pets? I love my pets.

To talk about your adorable animals at home, you might want to use the Catalan animal domèstic or the French animal de compagnie. Think domestic animal or companion animal if that helps you remember.


Korean: seolsa (설사)

Translation: diarrhea

It’s a universally acknowledged truth that when people travel, they tend to crave foods from back home. But if you find yourself craving some delicious Mexican food while vacationing in South Korea, be careful. You might get some looks if people overhear you waxing poetic about how much you love eating chips and salsa.

If you do go hunting the Korean grocery stores for a spicy Latin American sauce (or if you decide to go out salsa dancing), the word you’re looking for is actually salsa (살사). The pronunciation is very similar, but seolsa sounds a bit more like the English soul or sole. The A sound in salsa is more like ah. Be careful with your pronunciation, and you’ll be fine.


Turkish: piç

Translation: bastard

If you go to Turkey and ask for peach tea, you might get some funny looks. You’ll probably find even more confusion if you go into a market and ask where to find the peaches.

If you’re looking for actual peaches, the word is şeftali. As for that peach tea craving, you might have better luck asking for şeftali çayı.


Polish: dupa

Translation: butt

Super means the same thing in both Polish and English. It’s duper that’ll trip you up. You can say something sounds “super,” and people will understand you, but “super-duper” just sounds too much like “super butt.” Some people might take offense.


Spanish: embarazada

Translation: pregnant

Maybe you used the wrong word by accident. Maybe you’re trying to apologize for a minor cultural faux pas. These things happen. But if there were ever an example of a false friend, it’s embarazada.

For the record, the Spanish word for embarrassed is avergonzado. If you’re talking to someone who knows the English word embarrassed, they’ll probably understand. If they’re nice, they’ll probably try not to embarrass you further. Plus, they’ll most likely appreciate that you’re trying to speak a language that’s not your own, even when you make an honest mistake.