Change Yourself…Change The World.

Inappropriate Things I’ve Said: Paraguayan Faux Pas
May 21, 2013, 5:04 pm
Filed under: Paraguay

Welcome to this week’s Blog Theme, “Things That Have Horribly Gone Wrong.” This week I’ll be featuring the best stories from my Peace Corps services- cultural faux pas and ridiculous situations that I’ve stumbled into as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Some are gut-wrenchingly embarrassing, some pitiful, and even some downright sad– but you can be guaranteed that they are all hilarious.

Before we continue, I should probably state that this post is not safe for work. Don’t be reading this and giggling uproariously at my mishaps while your boss passes by. This is also not entirely appropriate for children, unless you’re keen on them learning some choice Guaraní swear words.

I figured what would be better to ring in this week by sharing a few small stories of completely inappropriate things that I’ve said during my service. These were all unintentional (thanks Guaraní, you bitch of a language), and are probably about one millionth of a fraction of  culturally inappropriate things I’ve said without realizing it.  Thankfully, Paraguayans have a wild sense of humor, so these have turned into stories I am repeatedly asked to share at parties.


During training, we had 4 hours of language learning every morning, 6 days a week. It was short of torture, especially since I was placed in the most advanced class. Initially I patted myself on the back about this accomplishment, but then realized that I was learning a brand new language, Guaraní, IN Spanish- a language that, at the time, I had a mediocre grasp at. Jaha Recesope (Time for Recess) quickly became my favorite phrase.

Anyway, within the first week of intensive Guaraní, I learned the word ‘tembi’u,’ which means food. I decided to try this out on my Paraguayan homestay family, and surprise them over dinner with my impressive use of Guaraní. Instead, what came out was a word that was so, SO not food.
What I meant to say: This food is delicious. (Qué rico este tembi’u).
What I actually said: This small penis is delicious. (Qué rico este tembo’i).

As you can see, the difference between ‘food’ and ‘small penis’ in Guaraní is literally two short syllables: i’u and o’i. My homestay family just about died of laughter. Dirty, dirty Guaraní!

Che ro’u

Another classic Guaraní mistake I made with my homestay family during training was about six weeks later, when I had started to get a much better grasp of the language, and could start forming small sentences! I was so proud of myself. I was all like, look at how awesome I am! I’m going to show off. And it is literally always when I think that thought, that I end up saying something horribly wrong.

Winter in Paraguay can be frigid- even though the lowest it can get is in the 40’s, Paraguayan houses have no insulation or indoor heat- so you are just cold, all of the time. One evening, as I was wearing my usual three layers of clothing and waiting for some hot water to heat up to drink maté (which is the best beverage to keep you warm), my homestay sister asked me ‘Nde ro’y?‘ (Are you cold?)

Now, the sound ‘y’ in Guaraní is extremely hard to master for Americans. It’s a crazy nasaly, high-pitched noise that sounds like… well, there’s just no comparison. Think of how we say “Ooooooooo” in English, and then raise that about 12 octaves.
So I hadn’t mastered the ‘y’ sound yet (and 2 years later, still haven’t fully).
What I meant to say: Yes, I’m cold (Che ro’y).
What I actually said: I want sex (Che ro’u).

Only in Guaraní can the difference between ‘y’ and ‘u’ mean sex.


Flash forward six months later, I was on my way back from my first trip to the United States, where I had spent a glorious and much-needed Christmas with family. I had eaten all kinds of delicious food, seen tons of friends, and spoken dizzying amounts of English for two weeks. Spanish totally slipped out of my mind, and receded into a fuzzy memory.
On my trip back, I brought a suitcase full of canned goods (most of it was Indian food), many that were gifts from family members to last me for a few wonderful months. As I was getting my bags from the baggage claim at the Asunción Airport, I loaded them onto an X-ray machine. I had been the last one off the plane, and there was only me and three male Paraguayan officials checking my bags.

As my bag full of canned goods passed through the X-ray machine, one of the men asked me “What’s inside of this bag?”
Through my then-hazy Spanish, I struggled to remember what ‘preservatives’ meant. I decided to fall back on the usual ‘I’ll just put an ‘o’ on the end of this English word and it will be Spanish.’
What I meant to say: My bag is full of canned goods.
What I actually said: My bag is full of condoms.

I still didn’t realize my mistake, even after all three of the men burst out laughing, and one winked at me, telling me to save one for him.

“…And You Can Use This When You’re Caliente”

For Christmas, I bought my neighbor and ‘Paraguayan mother’ Mari oven mitts from the United States. Mari is the ultimate Paraguayan ‘Ama de la Casa’ (Stay-At-Home Mother), and is an awesome cook. It’s just about as good as her boasting skills, which she projects far and wide to all of Caazapá about the best Sopa Paraguaya in the city. So, naturally I thought that these oven mitts would be the best gift ever for those times she needed to take Sopa out of the oven, thereby establishing myself as the best hija in town.

We opened her gift around her entire family, and they oohed and aahed over the beautifully stitched oven mitts. I decided to explain to her how to use them.
What I meant to say: You can use these to protect your hands.
What I actually said: You can use these when you’re horny.

I went from being the best hija to the town pimp. My neighbors still call me out on this.

So there you have it: some of my most unintentionally inappropriate things I’ve said in Paraguay. While all hilarious, at the time they were all at least a little embarrassing. But, sometimes embarrassment surpasses language. Like the time I was teaching my first class at an Adult Teacher’s Institute. And someone loudly stood up and pointed out to me that my fly was down. And I wasn’t wearing any underwear.

There’s nothing you can do in these situations except laugh. At least publicly, and then cry later.

Hope you enjoyed some of my most offensive slip-ups in the ‘Guay! Tune in tomorrow for another post.

7 Comments so far
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Laughed out loud (at home!). Thanks. A great submission for the next Kuat!

Comment by Emily

Glad you enjoyed!

Comment by brittanygoesglobal

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hey brit! its the Kato! im at camp missing you and can’t wait to see you soon!!!

Comment by kato potato

Hi kato!! Can’t wait to see you so soon! Love you!

Comment by brittanygoesglobal

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