Communication Conundrum

I never thought something as simple as the word “please” could spark an entire 5 minutes of confused conversation. Allow me to explain…

A few weeks ago when I was in Germany visiting my fiancé, we shared a few minutes of confusion all because of the word “please” (bitte in German). On a gorgeous day, we set out for a 3 1/2 hour hike through the woods behind his house. Halfway in, we stopped for a break and a little snack when we found an old, dirty table tucked away under the trees. Mr. I-couldn’t-possibly-sit-on-a-single-fleck-of-dirt-even-though-all-my-clothes-will-have-to-be-washed-after-this-ridiculously-long-trek-through-the-forest took his precious time dusting off the concrete bench until it was sufficiently clean enough for his precious tushy. I, on the other hand, being from Arkansas where we all walk around barefoot and pregnant, and not being afraid of a little bird dooky, plopped down on the place closest to my tired body without any regard to what I might have just subjected the seat of my jeans to, and said, “Honey, will you hand me my water?”

When he did, he smiled at me and said, “Please.” I wrinkled my brow and embarrassedly muttered, “Um, sorry, dad.” “What???” he asked. I said, “You corrected me like a father would correct his child.” I could see the question mark above his head as he once again asked, “WHAT?” I said, “Ok, ok, honey… I asked for my water, but I didn’t say ‘please.’ In America, this is considered a little bit rude. If a child asks for something and doesn’t say ‘please’ their parent will usually say it for them as a reminder that they forgot the most important part of their request. When you handed me my water and said ‘please’ I assumed you were politely reminding me that I should have been a little more polite when I asked for it.”

He laughed and said, “Oh, honey… no no. In German we say ‘bitte’ for ‘please’ AND ‘with pleasure.’ You can say, ‘Wasser, bitte’ (water, please), and when I hand it to you, I can say, ‘bitte.’ I guess I should have said, ‘with pleasure’ instead of ‘please.’ Ohhhh… I really hope I don’t go to America and say that to people. They would think I am so rude!”

These are the things my future husband and I have to look forward to. Hopefully I can learn German fairly quickly, and as he learns more English we can meet in the middle. But that’s not really fair to him. He’s already so good in English it’d be more like him giving 85% and me giving 15%. It’s a good thing we both have a good sense of humor.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. adamf2011 says:

    Sometimes mistakes in the other language are due to assumptions from one’s own language &/or culture — often they’re assumptions that you don’t consciously think about (’cause it’s so obvious that that’s the way things really are) until you realize, in the new language/culture, that they’re causing some kind of problem.

    It’s kind of like getting lost a lot….

    1. Totally agree! I thought he was trying to correct me for being impolite and he was only making an English mistake based on his knowledge of German. The great thing is that he’s very easy-going. He never gets his feelings hurt when I correct him and is always very appreciative for the help. It makes it much easier for us to deal with misunderstandings that often arise as a result of our language barrier.

  2. adamf2011 says:

    Sounds like a good attitude to have when learning a language — getting along in another culture — being in a relationship.

    Anyway, good luck with the big move!

  3. Mrs. Isinvar says:

    Randomly stumbled across your blog and found this entry and I just had to comment.

    My husband and I have had this exact same conversation, only he speaks Dutch. The Dutch equivalent to “Bitte’ is “Alstublieft” and for the longest time I had no idea why every time he handed me something he’d tell me “Alstublieft.”

    On the other hand, I have a Spanish friend who got so used to saying “Alstublieft” every time she handed something to someone that when she went back to Spain she started saying “Por Favor” anytime she handed something to someone. Her mother was so confused, but it made a funny story.

    1. Ha! I love it! 🙂 Sometimes when it’s been a long day and we’re both very tired, our communication barrier can be frustrating, but most of the time, it’s a fun way to learn about each other’s culture and language.

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