As you can imagine, living in a multicultural household where several languages are spoken there are a lot of opportunities for misunderstandings to occur over the silliest of things. This gets even more complicated when one party — me — is slower at languages. I try to think in Portuguese as this — I am told — is the easiest way to learn the language. I find myself saying “obrigada” which is thank you when I visit England and France — it always takes me a couple of days to adjust — normally a couple of hours before the return trip home!

Then there is right word wrong meaning syndrome. There is no better example of this than the Christmas Cake Incident.

Last Christmas, I was delighted to source all the ingredients to make my grandmother’s traditional Christmas cake. The previous Christmas I had failed miserably to do so and had greatly missed one of my favourite Christmas treats.

One vintage mixer, a few swear words and six hours later — Hey Presto — we had a Christmas cake!  I duly lined my cake tin with tin foil placed the cake upside down in it and applied the allotted measure of brandy to soak/drown it in the weeks coming up to Christmas.

It travelled well — and Mr P’s mum was delighted to have “Proper English Cake” to serve for tea on Christmas Day.

Christmas morning comes and we go to the bakery to get our croissants and pain au chocolat and Bûche de Noël — that’s a fancy name for a French Chocolate Log/Cake served as pudding at Christmas Lunch instead of a English Christmas Pudding/Plum Pudding.

Mr P and I had already shared the following language lesson.

“Pudding” in English is a sweet or dessert that follows the main course — can be tart, fruit, milk, rice, plum pudding, suet pudding. It can also be cake or Gateaux.

“Pudding” in Portugal = Milk, rice or egg pudding — No cakes.

“Pudding” in France = Plum pudding or suet puddings. Fruit is fruit, Bûche de Noël is a cake eaten for dessert/pudding. They also have Gateaux.

We enjoyed our Bûche de Noël at lunchtime and tucked into Christmas cake with a cup of tea late afternoon.

Now comes the problem — I am asked if one of the families can take the remains of “the pudding” home with them. I think yes they can take the Bûche de Noël and say it is fine with me.

Before we go to bed, I fancy another piece of Christmas cake with a cup of tea; go to the kitchen and start looking for my cake and cannot find it. Nowhere to be found! After ransacking the cupboards I give up and return to Mr P and ask him where he has hidden my Christmas cake.

“You said I could give it to the others” was the reply — I say “NO” — I said they could have the pudding cake — the Bûche de Noël — ie the cake we had for pudding at lunchtime which is what you asked if they could have. “OOPS,” replies an increasingly alarmed Mr P as he see my demeanour change for the worse.

Hell hath no fury like an English Woman abroad without her Christmas cake — fortunately my fury is limited to relentless teasing when I get the chance including one of my most liked and commented on Facebook statuses logged within five minutes — which said “It appears that my Christmas cake is now halfway to Toulouse.”


  1. I want to laugh at how funny and warm this story is in its weaving, Nicola, but I can’t help but feel your heartbreak and disappointment of looking for your cake and finding out you unwittingly gave it away! Ouch! SMILE!

    This reminds me of regionalism in American Sign Language. In some areas of the country, the sign for “pizza” and “lesbian” are a matter of mere inches in hand position. Context counts!

      1. Students seem to love learning the pizza/lesbian differential — and we love teaching it because precision is everything. One of the teaching staff members is Gay, and she overheard our discussion of the topic and ran over and wanted to learn the sign for “lesbian” and we showed her, and warned her about “pizza,” and for the rest of the night she practiced the difference between the two!

        The other “close confusion” students seem to go wild over is the ASL difference between “coffee” and “making out.” The difference between the signs is a subtle twisting of the wrists verses “grinding” the coffee grounds. As we demonstrate the difference, we remind them context is important because you never want to order a cup of “making out” to go!

  2. I can laugh now – but I was incredibly frustrated to say the least at the time. Poor Mr P winces every time he hears the words Christmas cake.

    Now I am laughing at the possibility of getting those signs out of context !!!

  3. I can do …………….. I never have though – it is very tied to the holiday for me.

    Love the realization of the issues between pizza and lesbian …………….. SMILES

  4. What a wacky way for your cake to go! I hope you have better luck with Christmas cake next year.

  5. It is “Silly” enough to warrant one of the old style musical songs – “A pudding is only a pudding in ……….” etc etc etc

  6. This is so incredibly heartwarming and I enjoyed it very much. I know what it is like to go to the kitchen to get a favorite snack or dessert and it is no longer there. Such sadness.

  7. it was almost a backflash to student days and someone had taken your milk or your cereal ……………….

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