Peter Grant has a great post up today about the hilarity than can result when you assume that British English and American English are interchangeable. Read the comments, too!
About 90% of the disagreements that Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I have are based on misunderstandings because of language. You might think it's like 'Three's Company' style hilarity, and sometimes it is, but man, it can cause trouble.
Sometimes, however, it can be damn funny however.
My wife and I speak a form of pidgen at home- When I speak, I tend to use nouns in portuguese, because it's easy to learn the names of things, and the rest in english. My wife tends to do the same in Portuguese. Her english is fine, but when speaking rapidly, she hates to hunt down the name in her mind for places and things, which interrupts the flow of conversation. Anyhow, it works for us. Except when other people hear it. Even worse, my wife learned English with a Boston accent, poor girl, so spelling out words doesn't work. If you know me in meatspace, I have a WICKED STRONG Boston accent.
So as far as my wife knows, Car is spelled C, A, H.
The word 'fork' is really hard for my wife to pronounce correctly. It sounds like 'fohk.' My fault, I think. I say it like 'fohahk.' At the Top of the Hub,one of Boston's most expensive restaurant, on our second anniversary, we met some very nice people at the next table because of this. Due to a snafu, her place was improperly set up with utensils. To their credit, the people at the next table only stared for a few seconds when my wife announced that she needed a big fohk before she could eat her salad. When I heard a little giggle, I couldn't help but laugh at it too.
But that's nothing compared to what happened at my brother-in-law's house.
In portuguese, 'pintar' is paint. 'Pinto' is a juvenile chicken. Pinto is also vulgar slang for penis, turns out, like 'cock' here in the US.
... I did not know these things.
My brother-in-law is a very handy guy, a monoglot with almost no English. My sister-in-law speaks very good english, but doesn't get much opportunity to practice. They're very nice people. Super religious evangelicals, but my brother-in-law retained an earthy sense of humor. My sister-in-law, too, I'm told, but she'd never exercise it in front of a man who wasn't her husband, so I haven't seen it.
One day we went over there for dinner, and I was impressed at the hanging bracket my brother-in-law made to set his giant TV up on in the corner of the room. He said it was almost done, but needed paint, and he was waiting to see if his wife wanted it in white or black.
So, after dinner, at some point, in an effort to contribute to the all-portuguese conversation at the table, I turn to my very sweet but shy and religious sister-in-law and say " O Karina, voce prefeiro um pinto preto, or pinto branco?" 'So, Karina, do you prefer a black paint, or a white one?"
... only I didn't say paint. I said the other thing, turns out.
Silence. Then LOTS of laughter, thank God. To maximize his enjoyment, my brother in law made his wife explain the error in my word choice. You'd never think that brown people can blush, but I assure you they can. Luckily my sister in law also thought it was hilarious, but didn't want to embarass me, as at the time they had no idea just how lowbrow my sense of humor can be.