Miscommunication can happen in a variety of contexts. Since I moved outside my native California, cross-cultural miscommunication has occurred on a pretty regular basis. For example, one of my Aussie friends was terribly amused when I asked what football team I should “root” for (“root” means “have sex with” in Aussie slang). But even within the same culture and language, miscommunication regularly happens in relationships.
When my husband and I moved in together, we, like many newly-cohabitating couples, had a fair bit of conflict about household chores. I’d be annoyed that he wasn’t “cleaning” enough, and he’d be totally confused since I was the one not “cleaning” enough. This went on for months until one of us said, “Wait. What do you mean by â€˜cleaning?’” It turned out that we were talking about separate things. I was irritated that he didn’t wipe the counter after doing dishes, and he was irked that I left my books all over the living room. I’ve often thought, in my nerdier moments, how many relationship problems would be solved with a Vulcan mind-meld.
But back to Earth cultures. The French have two common words for “to clean”: “nettoyer” and “ranger.” “Ranger” refers to the my-husband-type of clean â€“ tidying or de-cluttering. “Nettoyer” is my type of clean â€“ sanitizing kitchen surfaces or getting mold off the shower. It’s fascinating to me how the same word can have two different meanings to two people from similar backgrounds, and I think about how much more harmonious we would have been if we had this epiphany sooner. Perhaps French really is the language of love. Or Vulcan. Whatever.