Language lapse

Talking about horrendous mistakes, here’s the worst mistake I’ve made in Italian so far.

A few years ago during winter, I strolled into town to buy some bread on a cold winter’s day. It had been snowing, and a thick, white blanket lay on the roofs and on the side of the road. As I’m from South Africa, snow still fascinates and enchants me, and I can think of nothing better than a snowy winter day.

I chatted to the shop assistant about the weather and the cold, and then added excitedly, “Hai visto le tette bianche?” Have you seen the white roofs? (Or so I thought).

In Italian, everything has a gender and sometimes, changing the ending of the word, and thus the gender, changes the meaning completely. What I had actually said so cheerfully was

“Have you seen the white tits?”

No wonder she looked at me so strangely before bursting into laughter. Fortunately, I caught the mistake as the words left my mouth and was able to laugh too.