Beauty and the Beans

A tale of my not-so-flawless Yoruba language skills.

My cleaner and I have never been the best communicators with eachother. She told me her name once, but I have no idea how to pronounce it or spell it, so i’ll refrain from trying on this platform. She comes into my room to clean nearly every day, and the days when I’m in my room we manage to greet eachother quickly, as we’ve learned that neither of us can understand eachother when we attempt to go into a more complex sentence such as “how was your day?”.

Nonetheless, she’s always so surprised and enthralled when I greet her with a Yoruba greeting, and I’m pleasantly surprised when I hear her say something in American vernacular such as “what’s up?”.

One day, I walked passed the cleaner when I was walking to work. She looked absolutely stunning in a traditional dress.

Okay, so this is a photo I found of a model on google. But I swear that my cleaner resembled her that day. I smiled at her and told her that she looked beautiful.

“Heh?”she responded, not understanding what I meant.

“YOU LOOK BEAUTIFUL!” I shouted in the classic ignorant American manner to become louder when people can’t understand our English.

“HEH?!”

“Ewa!” I finally said, translating to “beautiful” in Yoruba.

My cleaner shrugged, pointed to the cafeteria, and went about her day

For those that don’t know, Yoruba is a tonal language, with many words having the exact same spelling but with different meanings, depending on how you pronounce the word.

Not too long after, I verified with my friend what I thought happened that morning. I asked her what she thought I meant when I say “ewa”.

“Beans?”

I couldn’t stop laughing, and my friend couldn’t stop either once I caught her up on the story.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had communication issues with Nigerians here, and until I finally get myself to tutoring at the Yoruba language center, it won’t be my last.

My cleaner dyed her hair blue shortly after that incident. Instead of complimenting her on her bold and pretty choice, I simply waved and smiled at her, and kept walking.

One day, I’m hoping I’ll be able to call her style choices something other than beans.

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What’s a communication error you made while abroad?

7 thoughts on “Beauty and the Beans

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  1. This is awesome! I had a similar experience in a Central American country where I finally had an opportunity to use all of this great Spanish I learned. The problem is that I had so many brain farts that much of my sentences were laced with “como se dice” to ask “how do you say” haha

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  2. Getting lost in translation is such a real thing. When i’m traveling abroad though I always try to make an effort to speak in the native language.

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  3. I love this! Something so simple especially just by the way its pronounced can make for an awkward situation, lol. I had a communication error through text with one of my Hispanic decent friends. We both laughed and I was like well I tried dangit! lol. But I’m continuously learning and thats what counts.

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  4. I loved this!! I was lost with the title I had no idea where you were going with it. It must be so hard living somewhere and not being able to understand what everyone around you is saying! Here’s to you learning how to tell her she’s beautiful instead of beans!

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  5. Lol I love this! It was definitely a good laugh! That is great that you are taking the initiative to learn more yoruba. I went to Dominican Republic this past summer and it taught me that I know more Spanish than I thought but there were still a few times they chuckled and looked at me funny, I probably said beans to a few people myself Lolol

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