The perils of mispronunication

dictionary pisit heng unsplash

This week I learned that the words for ‘late’ and ‘sodomy’ in Bahasa are practically indistinguishable to the non-native speaker.  So, it’s a good idea for all foreigners to be extremely punctual, thus  avoiding the danger of accidentally confessing to a crime and ending up with a twenty-year prison sentence.

And then I had an alarming conversation with a waiter this weekend, when I was trying to pay for the meal I’d just eaten.

I tried to remember the name of the Indonesian dish I’d ordered, and decided that it was called Penet.

‘Penis?’ asked the waiter.

‘No!’ I said, fairy confident that penis had not been one of the options on the menu.  ‘Penet, defininitely penet.’

‘OK.  Penis.  I go check.’  And he promptly disappeared.

I decided it would be far easier to go to the till and pay directly, where the very helpful cashier told me that the dish was actually called Penyet … not too far from my attempt at pronunciation, I felt.

Having paid, I was just about to leave, when the original waiter came rushing out of the kitchen calling ‘Madam, Madam – penis!’ and holding a bowl up in front of him with both hands, as though it contained some sort of sacrificial offering.

Oh no, I thought, surely this isn’t a freshly severed phallus, foraged from one of the kitchen staff?

He stopped in front of me and held out the bowl reverentially.  I looked down apprehensively … and have never been so relieved to see a bowl of peanuts in my life.