Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Euphemism Generator

Not surprisingly in a German class full of foreigners, there are sometimes awkward interactions. And it's also not much of a surprise that this usually stems from not understanding the words the other person is saying, or not finding the words you need to explain yourself. But more interesting is when the misunderstanding comes from cultural differences and not because you lack the vocabulary. My interaction yesterday went like this:
S: I have a question.
Kell: Okay.
S: Sometimes when I read a sentence, I understand the literal meaning of every word, but I don't understand the whole sentence.
K: Okay.
S: Why?
K: Do you have an example?
S: No. I only want to know why I don't understand.
K (feeling slightly confused at this point): Well German is a foreign language that you're learning and sometimes the German mentality doesn't translate great. (This seemed to satisfy her to a greater extent than I expected...I thought I was being slightly funny).
S: Naturally it's another language, but if I understand every single word, why don't I understand the whole sentence.
K: I'm not sure I can help you without an example.

S became very frustrated with me. She simply wanted me to tell her why she couldn't understand. To her, a specific example was beside the point--this was all very clear and it struck me as very strange that another person wanted me to tell them what they were thinking. S is a Muslim from Turkey and it's the second course I've had with her and we're partners in 90% of our exercises. I don't like to readily label differences as something being cultural (because the more I get to know many of the people from various nations, the more I realize most of the world is frighteningly the same as far as personality types go), but the past six months have definitely manifested that a strange control has been exerted over this girl--sometimes elementary confusion over an aspect of sex that might come up, but a seemingly full understanding of the complicated relationship of a concubine, for example.

With much resistance she brought an example to me five minutes later. Turns out the sentences that were confusing her contained German euphemisms.

On that note, have a look at the Euphemism Generator. I don't know that it's "endless amusement" as they claim, but it might get a heh out of you.

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