It’s probably no surprise to anyone who knows me that I get embarrassed quite easily. Often times, this makes traveling difficult. To be a traveler, you can’t be afraid to make a fool out of yourself because it’s inevitable. If you’re an anxious, easily embarrassed person (like I am), it might even hold you back from traveling, and seeing new places.
I’m not afraid of going to new places, per se. I’m afraid of making a fool out of myself when I don’t know the how to’s of a new place: how to order from a Korean restaurant, how to fill up a tank of gas in New Zealand, and how to pronounce an unfamiliar word. Although an eloquent writer, I’m pretty horrible at speaking.
When I arrived in New Zealand, it started with the feijoa. We went to a popular pizza chain here (Hell, if you’re really interested in the name of the place). Thirsty, I eyed the fridge full of different sodas and beers. One soda popped out to me in particular: Pear and Feijoa.
I don’t know why it popped out to me. Maybe it was the English (because it had been so long since I’d seen English anywhere). Maybe it was the bright green labeling. (The graphic designer definitely chose a pleasing font.) Or maybe it was that funny looking word that intrigued me.
I asked Daniel if he knew what a fay-joe-ah, fee-ju-ah, fa-yo-ha (maybe it’s Spanish) was and if so, how the hell do you pronounce it? He told me he didn’t know. Hmph.
As we placed our pizza order, Daniel asked if I wanted anything to drink. I looked at the fridge, pretending I hadn’t already studied it for five minutes. My eyes kept going back to that green label pear drink.
Can I have a ginger beer, please?
I found myself not being able to order the drink because I had no idea how to pronounce the word. I was afraid I’d embarrass myself in front of the man. Pft! What a silly American girl! She can’t even pronounce feijoa correctly. So I settled for the ginger beer.
Daniel later asked if I didn’t order the pear and feijoa drink because I couldn’t pronounce it. NO! I exclaimed, revealing just how much he was right.
By the way, a feijoa is sometimes known as a pineapple guava (why couldn’t they just call it that?). It’s a little green fruit the size of an egg that tastes like a flower (to me anyway). As for how it’s pronounced, I read online that the kiwis pronounce it: fee-jo-a. But then I went to dictionary.com: fey-yoh-ah. Hmph.
The New Zealand Mispronunciation Adventures didn’t stop there.
We were in Rotorua deciding where to go for breakfast. We settled on a quaint restaurant decorated in a funky 70s theme. I was reviewing the chalkboard menu when I saw something that caught my eye: an omelette. Not just any old omelette either. It had tomatoes, cheese, spinach, and chorizo.
As a reader I’ve always had this problem where I have seen a particular word hundreds of times, but have absolutely no idea how to pronounce it. That’s how I am with chorizo. But I really wanted this omelette, and I was going to get it.
Hiya, whatdya like? the girl with the pink hair asked.
Hi, can I please have the tomato and spinach omelette?
Did you see what I did there? I figured doing it this way I could still have my omelette without appearing ignorant when it came to different types of sausage. She pauses for a minute. She looks up to the board.
Uh, oh. Was she confused to what I said? Is it the American accent she is taken back by?
Oh, right. That one with the chore-izo innit. You know, I have no idea how you say that!
Relieved. Ha! Me neither, I said.
Since the Maori were the first to settle in New Zealand, they have named a lot of the places throughout the country. Many of them are difficult to pronounce. For instance, there is the place Whakatane, which I kept calling “whack-a-tain.” But it’s actually pronounced “fa-ka-tah-nee.” [Note: We’ve realized the best place to learn how to pronounce the places is by watching the weather channel.]
Hi, could you reserve us a cabin at the WANG-ah-newy Holiday Park?
I realized just how nasally my American accent enunciated that WANG in Whanganui. The man behind the counter said, “It’s actually WAHN-gah-newy.” (Wahn rhyming with dawn.) Oh, god. What an idiot I am! My fear had just come true. “But don’t worry, even my brother pronounces it “WANG-ah-nui,” he said, trying to soften the blow.
It has been nearly two months since being back in an English-speaking country. Looking back on those incidents now seem so petty, yet at the time were so horrifying. It’s important to know that making a fool out of ourselves is just another part of traveling. After all, the worst that could (and did) happen was my face turned a bright shade of red. I wasn’t ridiculed for my mispronunciation.
In fact, I survived and lived to tell the tale.
Have you had any embarrassing moments when traveling? What happened?
Photos by , , , and . All published under a license.