What do you get when you put a wide-eyed clean-cut guy in a suit, give him a few weeks of intensive language training, and then drop him off in a foreign country to find people willing to listen to him preach about Jesus? Well, yes, an award-winning Broadway Musical, but besides that? Ample fodder for language mistakes, that’s what.
Here are five real-life Mormon missionary French errors, in no particular order:
- Joseph Smith threw up in the woods. (Joseph a rendu dans les bois.) Part of the story of the origins of Mormonism involves a young farm boy, Joseph Smith, in search of which church to join. Confused, he goes into the woods to pray. Since past reflexive verbs are difficult for a beginning French speaker, “Joseph s’est rendu [went to] dans les bois” sometimes becomes “Joseph a rendu [threw up] dans les bois.” Wow, thinks the person listening to his message, that’s pretty confused.
- Wound this family with death in their home. (Blessez cette famille avec la mort dans leur foyer.) Imagine how disturbing it must be to invite a couple of missionaries into your home, accept their offer to leave you with a prayer, and then hear them utter the words “Wound this family with death in their home.” Yikes! This mistake comes from two common types of error: a false cognate and mispronunciation. The correct sentence was meant to be “Bénissez cette famille avec l’amour dans leur foyer” (Bless this family with love in their home), but the missionary assumes that “blesser” must be “bless” and pronounces “l’amour” (love) like “la mort” (death).
- Wound the Germans! (Blesser les Allemands.) Another “blesser” + mispronunciation error, this one appears in praying to bless the food before a meal. The sentence is meant to be “Bénissez les aliments.” (Bless the food.)
- We’re here to give you a massage. (Nous sommes venus pour vous donner une massage.) One tiny mistake, and “message” becomes “massage.” The only thing more awkward than the person who responds, “No, I’m not into that kind of thing” is the one who invites the missionaries in and then starts to disrobe.
- Do you have a bra? (Est-ce que vous avez un soutien-gorge?) This is more of a hazing joke than something that happens naturally. The story goes like this: a missionary who has already spent a good amount of time in France tells a brand new missionary to go get some throat lozenges for him from a local pharmacy. With a limited vocabulary, the new missionary thinks gorge=throat and soutien=support. OK. “throat support”—sounds plausible enough.