I lived in the UK for a number of years and, like many, assumed that because we spoke a common language that misunderstandings would be non-existent. How wrong I was.
Making the shop attendant blush while trying on a new suit when I asked how the pants look (pants to the Brits are underwear, not trousers) was one early faux pas.
But my biggest gripe was constantly being asked, “Are you alright?”. I took offence, thinking I was called out for a bad hair day or a sudden onset illness I didn’t know had befallen me.
Truth be told, the Brits use that expression as a common greeting, in the same way us Aussies say “how are you?” or “how ya going?”.
According to global language learning app Babbel, many foreigners visiting Australian shores are similarly bemused or taken aback by common Australian expressions, such as “getting all your ducks in a row”, “it’s on my radar”, “touching base” and “going forward”.
In reverse, though, Babbel has pointed out some of the fairly common sayings Aussies should be aware of when travelling or doing business in some other countries:
Phrase: “Asal bapak senang”, translating to “keeping father happy”.
Meaning: In reality, Babbel said the expression has nothing to do with dear dad, but rather can be interpreted as being a “yes-man” or concealing harsh truths from the boss.
Phrase: “Jam karet”, translating to “rubber time” or “rubber hours”.
Meaning: The expression draws some parallel to the English expression of rubbery figures, but applied to time, and can be indicative of flexible timing or expected tardiness.
Phrase: “Die Milchmädchenrechnung”, translating to “milkmaid calculation”.
Meaning: This expression may be something of a put-down, and roughly means miscalculation or a naïve justification.
Phrase: “Jetzt’s geht’s um die Wurst!”, translating to “now it is all about the sausage!”.
Meaning: Trust the inventors of bratwurst to bring sausage into a common expression. According to Babbel, it typically is used to refer to the final stages of a project or a penultimate moment.
Phrase: “Vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre”, translating to “to want the butter and the butter’s money”.
Meaning: You will probably catch the meaning by substituting butter for cake: it is essentially equivalent to the English expression “to have your cake and eat it too”.
Phrase: “Avoir du pain sur la planchet”, translating to “to have bread on the cutting board”.
Meaning: Again, as with many common expressions, this actually has nothing to do with bread, but rather means “we’ve got work to do”.
Phrase: “Brilho no olho”, translating to “gleam in the eye”.
Meaning: According to Babbel, this can be a high compliment, as it refers to having great dedication or passion for what you are doing.
Phrase: “Glida in på en räkmacka”, translating to “sliding in on/slipping into a shrimp sandwich”.
Meaning: To have things easy; to succeed without having to work hard.
Phrase: “Peka med hela handen”, translating to “pointing with the whole hand”.
Meaning: If someone, particularly your boss or client, is “pointing with their whole hand”, you’d best act straight away — the expression means to issue a firm or even forceful instruction.
Phrase: “Του έψησε το ψάρι στα χείλη”, translating to “he cooked the fish on his lips”.
Meaning: The expression apparently refers to making life difficult for yourself, according to Babbel.
Phrase: “πού πας ξυπόλητος στα αγκάθια”, for which the literal translation is “where are you going, barefoot on thorns?”.
Meaning: This expression may be less of an obscurity than some others: it questions why are you taking on such a difficult or painful task.
Phrase: “De kogel is door de kerk”, literally translating to “the bullet is through the church”.
Meaning: Thankfully, this expression, too, has nothing to do with the literal meaning. It actual means that a decision has already been made.
Have you come across any other obscure, amusing or downright confusing expressions while on your travels or doing business abroad? Share them below!