Miscommunication and the challenge of speaking English differently

Couple of years ago the man who has since become my husband and I would chat with each other and friends on our daily commute. One day this man I barely knew looked at me and asked: “last chance for the hotel”. That day I learned that most Indians use the word hotel and restaurant alternatively. So he was not making me an indecent proposal but was just inviting me for an innocent dinner.

In the following years we had a couple more of funny misunderstandings based on our country use of the English language, mispronunciation, different cultural concept and more often for me wrong translation from French to English.

I have compiled for you of my favorite intercultural communication challenges / fail:

  • Understanding family relationships

On my first trip to India, I was totally lost in the family tree of my husband. At that time, I did not know that Indians of all age refer to their cousins as their brothers and sisters. Elders are your uncle and auntie even if it is just the neighbor, the mailman or your actual uncle and aunts. The same applies for son, daughter, grand-father or grand-mother. It is not just a translation mistake but an ideal toward which people strive. Every morning since 1963 Indian kids recite a pledge of allegiance that starts with “All Indians are my brothers and sisters.” In the family that also means that the sisters (cousins or just close friends) of your mother in law are also your mother-in-law by extension.

  • Sewing chains on your dress

For the most fashionable western ladies, ordering dresses at an Indian tailor is pretty confusing. A chain in India is basically a zipper… so if the tailor offers to stitch a chain to your dress, they are not referring to anything kinky.

  • Using only at the end of each sentence

Indian like to add the work only liberally to end sentences. “I am here only”. This habit can sound charming but often it is just purely confusing, like saying “I need this only” when you actually need more.

  • Pronunciation challenges

As a native french speaker some English sounds are very difficult to pronounce for me, my worst nightmare is the h sound. H is silent in French and despite 10 years of nearly daily practice I regularly forget about it and people believe that I am angry when I am actually saying hungry.

Intercultural miscommunications are stories we like to laugh about. In daily life I am sometimes frustrated by it but at the end of the day it also makes our life together more interesting. Besides even couples who share the exact same cultural background experience miscommunications.

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