On Scales of Directness
Often here, misunderstandings occur not so much as a result of linguistic fumbling, but because of a certain scale of directness, at the opposing ends of which sit my own heritage and my adopted home. How I react, disagree, say yes, make conversation, how I oil the cogs of social interaction, how I try to translate little phrases from English to German, the ones that mark certain points in a conversation … it all comes from my own socio-cultural norms, ones that tend to sit if not in direct opposition to the German ones, then at least somewhere on the other side of the fence.
I have written before about the directness of Germans and how, for my first year or so of living here, it left me simultaneously red-faced and floundering. It still, if I am day-dreaming or momentarily forget with whom I am conversing, catches me unawares and there have been times I have walked away from a social interlude, resolute in my conviction that person didn’t like me only to have SG say in surprise, ‘they loved you!’
Communication is a treacherous enough river to navigate in your own tongue with your own people. When it’s cross cultural and cross-lingual, all sorts of things happen, namely hilarious/embarrassing exchanges wherein one completely misses the other person on numerous occasions and the conversation gets sucked into the ether to the soundtrack of polite laughter or ‘yeeeaahhhh’ sang out in high pitched tones of uncertainty.
For the most part, I’ve got it figured out. I don’t read into things coming from the mouth of a German, as much as I would things coming from the mouth of an English speaker. I know the majority of the time, what I’m hearing is all there is to hear, no need to forage for sub text. I have stopped reeling (for days) after being on the receiving end of a blunt sentiment, uncushioned, unhedged, by sweet little phrases that make ‘no’ or ‘that’s shit’ a little easier to take. I take interaction with the Germans on the same face value they take interactions with me.
But, that still didn’t stop my delight at discovering @SoVeryBritish and feeling utterly validated by each and every tweet. I’m not even British (ancestors hopping off a boat 250 years ago, notwithstanding) but a lot of their idiosyncrasies are found in the way Australians interact with each other (stereotype of Crocodile Dundee notwithstanding). Sure us Aussies don’t whinge as much as the Poms and we prefer our beer colder and there are many socio-cultural points at which we diverge – but as an indirect person in a land of directness, when we’re looking at a scale of social interaction, for all intents and purposes I am more British than I am German. Hence the delight. Hence the validation. Check it out.