I've been in Romania for a little over two years now, and while my Romanian is passable, it's by no means excellent. I make a lot of mistakes. Like when intending to say summer (vara), I once mashed up winter (iarna) and vara and said Varna. Which is a city in Poland. I can understand how that might be confusing to my listener. I had a really funny situation the other day when a Romanian taught me an expression that I thought was "forma fara fund"- 'form without essence.' The idea of the expression is having an external appearance of something but no substance to back it up. For instance, when people want to SEEM like they have a lot of money, so they have really fancy clothing and a nice car, but they're actually super poor. And I thought it made sense as 'forma fara fund', because even though I knew 'fund' means 'butt,' I thought maybe it also could metaphorically mean base or foundation or something along the lines of the expression. Oh but no. It just means butt. The actual expression is 'forma fara fond.' Oh the blessed difference between fund and fond. 'Butt' vs. 'essence.' Yep, 'fond' definitely is what I want. Thankfully I shared my new "learning" with my roommate before anyone else, so I was less embarrassed than I potentially could have been.
Then one night at dinner another American and two Romanians somehow this idea about a "one vowel difference" came up. And the American said, "Yeah, it's like placinta and placenta. They sound so much the same to me, but they're SO NOT." Placinta means pie, and placenta means placenta. And see, it's actually more than one vowel difference, because both of the A's in 'placinta' have the little smiley face over them and are thereby pronounced differently than a regular smiley-face-free 'A'. But even though I KNOW there is a difference, it's still hard for me to HEAR the difference, much less SAY the difference. So while Placinta and Placenta sound VERY different to Romanians because there are THREE vowels of difference, they kind of sound the same to an American. But that is indeed a tragic mistake to make.
And so while I tend to brush it off as "not a big deal" when I make these mistakes, thinking "Oh obvi this is totally an honest mistake," when Romanians do the same thing, I'm all, "Ohhhh come on now, those are TOTALLY different words." Of course.
The other day a friend was talking about the second-hand stores in Iasi and how they were once all shut down because everything was like rugs. And I could not for the life of me figure out what she meant. I asked her to explain what she meant, and she said, "You know, they were all thin and kind of old..." Oh- RAGS!! Yes, yes indeed.
And recently another friend confused seminar and seminary. Just one small letter can make a world of difference. I've come to appreciate the difference a vowel makes and try to be less judgey in my heart of hearts when others make "silly" mistakes in English, considering how often I do it in Romanian. Oh the joys of living in an international community!