Awkward Moments in Cross-Cultural Communication

At lunch today, I realized that the maid who works in my host family’s house does not speak French. This is somewhat embarrassing, given that I’ve been living here for a week.

We had been getting along just fine with gestures and avoided eye contact. It turns out “no, that doesn’t go there,” and “I find it funny that you cannot ever light the stove,” are messages that can be conveyed totally without words. I had assumed that the rest of the time she was just busy or shy.

But no, it turns out that she has avoided talking to me because we do not share a mutually intelligible language. Whoops.

The things that do or don’t come to light during your time in another person’s house really are very strange. For example, I did not know where the trash was in the house for the first week that I lived here. I made do by storing things in my room and throwing them away at school.

For the record, I was not the only student to do this.

I also learned two days ago that the girl who I have been referring to as my host sister is actually a host friend-of-the-family who lives with my parents while she goes to school. This solved several lingering questions that I had about why she spends much of the week away and how two parents as old as my host parents could have a biological daughter who is my age. But, since “are those people really related to you?” is both rude and difficult to ask with my grasp of French, it took someone spelling it out for me for me to have that fact confirmed.

I look forward to finding out what other rudimentary facts about my existence here will come to light in the next few weeks. My next big goal is to find out the laundry schedule—while I’m here, I’m dreaming the big dreams.

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