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Thursday, February 07, 2008

I used to be smart once upon a time.

I had to give a Power-Point presentation the other day in front of a fairly large group of people.  Usually this is no problem as I give presentations all the time... in English, that is.  Most of my presenting is to foreigners, so I really haven't had much practice with professional Hebrew beyond the informal, conversational level.

Unfortunately, this presentation had to be given in Hebrew.

In principle the language thing shouldn't have been a problem since I knew my material cold and had the advantage of a fairly receptive audience.  But still, the prospect of forgetting how to conjugate a crucial word mid-sentence or getting most of the way through a complex thought only to realize that I didn't know the right word/phrase to land it, made my palms sweat just a little as I contemplated the looming lecture.

In the end I felt like things went pretty well.   Not a slam-dunk, mind you... but I got the information across without making a complete idiot out of myself.

I opened with a successful (albeit slightly racy) joke that got lots of laughs... even from a couple of religious members of the audience.  I went through my slides without having to do too much reading over my shoulder... and I even managed to ad-lib some transitional material that occurred to me on the fly.    Sure, there were one or two points during the presentation that I noticed a couple of people whispering to one another, but judging by the appreciative applause at the end it seemed to have gone swimmingly.

After I'd fielded a few follow-up questions I sat down and settled in to decompress while the next speaker pulled up his first slide.  As the next presenter began to hit his stride a colleague came up behind me, bent over my shoulder and whispered a compliment in my ear.  He assured me that the joke had been perfect (I guess he was right since several subsequent speakers made reference to it in their own presentations), and that I needn't have worried about the whole Hebrew thing.

That was nice of him.  He didn't have to do that, but I guess he knew I'd been nervous so he wanted to reassure me.  Really nice.  Now I was starting to really enjoy that nice post-presentation euphoria.

My colleague had already straightened up and seemed ready to slip back to his seat when I sensed him pause behind me... and then he was once again next to my ear.

"Oh yeah, one more thing..."  He began.  "At one point in your talk I think you wanted to say התלבטתי ['heetlabatati' def: I had my doubts]".

My heart sank.  "Oh no... that's not what I said?"

I could actually hear him grinning as he leaned in again and whispered, "You were really close... you said התאבדתי ['heetabadeti' def: I committed suicide]".

I slumped down in my seat and looked around the crowded room while frantically playing the tape back in my mind.  Nobody seemed to be pointing in my direction and laughing... but yeah, I guess that's what I'd said.


I used to be smart once upon a time.

Posted by David Bogner on February 7, 2008 | Permalink


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Any chance of sharing the joke? We could always use a good laugh!

With respect to the wrong word -- at least you didn't accidentally say something not appropriate for polite company!

Posted by: Almost Jerusalem | Feb 7, 2008 12:21:49 PM

Almost Jerusalem... It probably won't sound so funny out of context, but I was basically getting ready to speak about the importance of customer service in getting repeat business... specifically how sales and customer service, if done correctly, should be a closed loop that feed one another. But to define the place where the loop meets I used an example:

A handsome young man wants 'go out' with a pretty young woman. So he talks her up... compliments her... subtly reminds her of what a catch he is... visits her... flirts with her... and finally asks her out. I explained that once he successfully (and here I used a euphemism) 'closes the deal', everything that happened up to that point is sales. Everything he did from that point on, whether calling the next day to say hi... sending flowers... etc., that might potentially lead to 'closing the deal' again, is customer service. My point was that a person can be the best salesman in the world, but if they don't send flowers, or at least call the next day... there ain't gonna be no second chance.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Feb 7, 2008 1:12:48 PM

Ha! Thanks for a chuckle of the morning. :) Don't worry... it happens to everyone. A couple months ago I was trying to explain (in French) to a few non-Jewish people why I couldn't eat their pea soup because it had pork in it... and I wanted to convey the feeling of being grossed out by what was in the soup. "Si quelqu'un ETERNUE dans la soupe" (if someone sneezes in the soup), would you eat it? But I didn't pronounce the 'r' in 'eternue' so I ended up saying "si quelqu'un ETAIT NU dans la soupe" (if someone was naked in the soup) ...

So no, I guess they wouldn't eat it either way....

Posted by: chantyshira | Feb 7, 2008 5:07:04 PM

Aaaahhhh...one of my fears of making aliyah. When I give presentations I usually know my stuff cold, but doing it in a different language? Eeek!

Posted by: SaraK | Feb 7, 2008 6:29:40 PM

For years I avoided telling people (say, when I was late for some event) "I got lost" because the only way I could think how to say it was "hitabaditi" (I committed suicide)..it seemed like the proper conjugation..I would have to say all sorts of circular things like "I did not know the address" or "I did not find the way".

I finally asked and found out it is "halachti leibud"...which is interesting that there isn't one proper conjugation of "to get lost" to express it.

Posted by: Naomi | Feb 7, 2008 6:52:06 PM

A friend of mine, a nurse, went for an interview in a Jerusalem hospital. They offered her a job on the spot but she had another interview somewhere else the next day. So she said "yesh li herayon machar" (I have a pregnancy tomorrow) - instead of "raayon" (interview). Amazingly she still got the job :-)

Posted by: annie | Feb 7, 2008 7:01:51 PM

Ah, this reminds me of a few stories....

When a friend of mine was in yeshiva, she told me of an acquaintance of hers from the US who, when she boarded a bus, used mishnaic Hebrew to ask how much the fare was: "Kama mammon zeh?"

Without missing a beat, the driver answered, "Tre zuzim." (The zuz was a monetary unit during that same historical time, and "tre zuzim" -- two zuzim -- is the price of the famous baby goat that we sing about every Passover in "Had Gadya." The actual price at the time was two shekels.)

Then there was the friend who, fresh off the plane, went to a kosher butcher and asked for "basar lavan." No, she didn't want pork. She wanted white-meat chicken ("hazeh ohf," if anyone needs to know).

Posted by: Rahel | Feb 7, 2008 8:51:12 PM

Actually, from what I can see, the meaning of hitabed as "commit suicide" is fairly recent. However, the earliest mention of that form of the verb that I could find is in Midrash Shmot Rabba 6: http://www.daat.co.il/daat/tanach/raba2/6.htm

וכי תעלה על דעתך שהיה משה מתאבד?

The word here means - according to Even Shoshan - to be confused, and it's talking about how Moshe got confused in his speech when he was pressured by Datan and Aviram. So it looks like you're in good company...

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Feb 7, 2008 9:42:41 PM

a wonderful story.
(and I liked your opening story)

Posted by: weese | Feb 7, 2008 10:57:42 PM

once i wanted to explain that i had no choice, but ended up saying that i had no swimming pool.

Posted by: lynne | Feb 7, 2008 11:42:18 PM

At least you didn't ask for a khatikh (a stud; a hottie--male) when you went to the pizza shop (as opposed to a khatikhah (a piece or a slice).

Posted by: Baila | Feb 7, 2008 11:44:46 PM

... or you did not ask for a "chazia" (bras) instead of "chaze" (chicken breast) at the meat counter ...
... or you did not tell the post office clerk you had to send this "chavita" (omelet) right in your hands instead of "chavila" (parcel) ...
... or you did not write "HaSochnut HaHodit" when writing to a Chaver Knesset instead of "HaSochnut HaYehudit" when working at the Jewish Agency and sendind this formal letter ...
... or you did not make a spelling mistake by ordering cows (parot) instead of fruits (perot) (but the mistake is the "t" - taf/tet - which can be written in 2 different ways as we know ...) ...
... neither did you ask for drugs instead of perfumes (forgetting the "beit" in the beginning ...) ...


Posted by: Karen | Feb 8, 2008 7:08:04 AM

Karen - sorry, but there's no taf/tet difference between cows and fruit, rather one is written with a Yod (fruit) after the peh, and one is not. Just to complicate it, fruit are masculine (peyrot muvharim).
If it's a tet, then you're asking for a peyrut, in other words an itemisation.

Naomi - I use hitbarbarti one of those delightful "a-b-a-b" 4-letter roots.

Posted by: asher | Feb 8, 2008 8:57:25 AM

forgot to ask - can any of you givers point me to an alternative to Babelfish (for Spanish (Chilean Spanish no less) into English)????

Posted by: asher | Feb 8, 2008 8:59:13 AM

or going to the shoe store and cavalierly asking for a pair of "me-fagrim" shall we say- "dev. disabled people" rather than asking for a pair of "Me-Gafrim"- otherwise known to you and your as naalei commando....

Posted by: shabtai | Feb 8, 2008 3:32:26 PM

oooo I was just going to note that if it is with a tet it is peyrut and was so incredibly excited that I knew this (given that peyrut is one of my "words of the week" that I'm trying to shove into my pea brain and obviously have been temporarily successful with this one :)

My most embarrassing mistake thus far was on arriving late to a meeting I sincerely apologized for being so "late" (meuhcheret) --only I said mechoeret "I'm sorry I'm so ugly!"

Wow Trep, kol ha'kavod for giving a full talk in hebrew. I don't know if I'll ever be brave enough to try that!

Posted by: Yaeli | Feb 8, 2008 4:16:18 PM

Reminds me of the one thing I remember from my Regents Hebrew class. An old joke - a new oleh bought a grocery store right before Pesach. He immediately bought a large consignment of milk from a local charlatan. He was assured that the milk came from cows who had eaten nothing but matzah, so their milk was uniquely kosher for Passover. He put up a sign advertising the new product, only to see his customers stop coming to the store altogether. Reason: The sign was meant to say "Chalav Kasher L'Pesach" ("Milk: Kosher for Passover"). Instead, it said "Kelev Kashar L'Petach" ("There's a dog tied to the doorway").

I know - it's weak, but it's the best I could come up with on short notice.

Posted by: psachya | Feb 8, 2008 5:40:19 PM

Oh, boy... I've got *so* many of these in my collection, although fortunately, very few actually involved me directly:

* my roomate, talking to my Israeli cousins, who said "I wanted to give birth" instead of "I wanted to know" (Leydah/Lada'at)

* The poor bais ya'akov girl who, when a strange bespectacled gentleman started talking to her as if he knew her, suggested that she might recognize him without his glasses... well, that's what she meant to suggest. (mishkefayim/michnesayim)

* My personal favorite: the gentleman on the El Al flight explaining to his Israeli partner how many time zones they crossed over between Israel & America, and not realizing that "zonot" is NOT the word he wanted...

Posted by: efrex | Feb 8, 2008 7:41:29 PM

I want to thank David and everyone who has contributed to this thread for a number of great laughs! :-)

Posted by: Alisha | Feb 8, 2008 11:53:29 PM

Asher, thanks! Yes, it was it, you helped me remember, no fruits indeed:
We wanted to know the "perut hakvutza" (when working with olim groups) and then we asked instead for "parot hakvutza". Even worse, ha?

Posted by: Karen | Feb 9, 2008 1:13:10 AM

ah, a good laugh on a sunday evening....

enjoying your eggs? Cuz' I'm all outta honey up here in the great white north! ;-)

Posted by: nrg | Feb 10, 2008 8:44:51 PM

I think I mentioned these ones before, but

- once at the beach, I asked for some ice w/ my soda, and said shit instead
- One time I meant to say I'm sorry and mixed it up with I'm excellent
- A friend of mine learned a lesson that American slang doesn't automatically translate into hebrew when he approach some co-workers and said in Hebrew - "what's up?" and they all looked up, completely confused.

Posted by: jaime | Feb 15, 2008 12:09:07 AM

I think I mentioned these ones before, but

- once at the beach, I asked for some ice w/ my soda, and said shit instead
- One time I meant to say I'm sorry and mixed it up with I'm excellent
- A friend of mine learned a lesson that American slang doesn't automatically translate into hebrew when he approach some co-workers and said in Hebrew - "what's up?" and they all looked up, completely confused.

Posted by: jaime | Feb 15, 2008 12:09:20 AM

I have a dream of becoming a presenter one day. In other words, giving people advices on their business. For example, in your case, you talked about good customer service brings repeats. So, something of that sort.

Could you please tell me,
How old you are?
What college did you go to?
How did you get this opportunity to do presentation?
how can I be you someday?

Posted by: Dave | May 16, 2010 11:11:17 AM

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