Cultural Misunderstandings


Of course you will find differences in countries other than your own but I find many of mine are due to not understanding what is being said. For instance, my French teacher said the word, “Achat” which means to buy. I only heard the word “Chat” which means cat. She and I had puzzled expressions on our faces for a while until I finally realized what she was actually saying. She kept wondering why I was looking at her cat.


Our little neighbor boy, Yannis, was here for a couple of hours the other day while his mother expecting her second child-a little girl-went to the doctor. Yannis is a cheerful little guy and chatters on and on in French and I usually understand what he is talking about. I won’t let Maurice leave me alone with him though. The one time Maurice went outside for something Yannis said something that sounded like “le pain gris”. He wanted bread? Gris, which is the word for gray, puzzled me. Was it some type of pastry? So I showed him some bread we had to see if he wanted any but he shook his head and repeated, “Non, le pain gris”. I told him I didn’t understand. He repeated, this time with emphasis, “Le Pain GRIS“. Finally Maurice came in. Yannis wanted his gray rabbit, “Lapin Gris”. It all sounded the same to me.
On our hike the other day with three French women, I was asked how I met Maurice. I told them I met him on a blind date. This got an immediate reaction of interest. I often get this even from Americans with exclamations of, “Really?” and questions wanting to know how it all came about. I was a little puzzled by the reactions and questions of the French women. They said things about being in a dark room and having to find your date by feel and how that all happened. I thought they were just kidding around but the next day my teacher told me that the word “blind” had totally thrown them all off. They thought Maurice and I met in a dark place and literally couldn’t see each other-those crazy American customs. Isn’t that funny? I laughed about it for a long time and still do.
I still haven’t figured out which cheek to offer when doing the double French cheek kiss exchange, by the way. I asked Maurice and he, being a male, didn’t really know. I will ask my French teacher the next chance I get.

18 thoughts to “Cultural Misunderstandings”

  1. I think the kiss thing must be left and then right? I ALWAYS start out by doing it wrong. Anyway, for a left-handed dyslexic mirror-mind [as a kid I wrote right to left and backwards which is readable in the mirror], what can you expect. Big headache, and I mean literally.

    Boy, do I know those stories of the wrong phrase at the wrong time. We were having a room renovated in Spain a few years back.

    The workmen showed up to remove the wall, beginning with the bedroom closet. I said matter of factly: “Quitamos la ropa?” Meaning, I thought, shall we take the clothes out of the closet? Meanwhile, I was actually suggesting we’d all get undressed. Oh dear.

  2. That’s funny!

    Coming from an Asian family, I do wonder, what if the guy has an oily face and a girl goes up to him?

  3. I really did laugh out loud reading about your blind date.
    The water coming out of the lips….yeah, thats kind of strange.

  4. Yes, yes please get the answer for me before I head that way in October. I never know how the kissing thing works and one could end up with facial injuries if doing it wrong!

    The blind date story is funny – but even if you and Maurice had met in a dark room I’m certain you would have still been drawn to one another! Perfect moments in time just seem to happen don’t they?

  5. I feel your pain. This stuff happens to me all the time. Plus there’s all the back-tracking I have to do just to catch up when I’m with a bunch of French people. I’ll eavesdrop on a conversation Georges is having with his teenagers or friends, and later he’ll say, “Did you understand much of that?” and I’ll say, “Well, 10 minutes ago I heard the word for ‘catastrophe’ but after that it was a blur”.

  6. Haha, love the idea of the literal blind date!

    I can well understand how you got achat and chat confused and the grey rabbit too! It really does sound similar…

  7. I just caught up on your recent posts and enjoyed them! I like the way you tell a story….I would have died along the road up the mountain in that hike!

    Misunderstandings can be very funny, once those involved figure out what’s going on! I’d be interested in which cheek to offer for the double kiss too….I wonder if it applies in the US. Of course, we only do a one-cheek kiss here, but I always seem to offer the wrong one and that results in an awkward little dance.

  8. How funny! I had the same conversation with adorable little Yannis about his special friend “le lapin gris.” (which I also thought was “grey bread”) What a cutie he is. I’m happy to hear that he will have a little sister. Please give my congrats to Corrine and Stephanne.

  9. Too funny, Linda!
    I have to agree on the misunderstandings. JUST when you think you’re getting the hang of the language…somebody “pronouces” it different from what you’re used to hearing.

  10. i always start with my right cheek and that seems to work 90% of the time but i just asked the boy and he tends to start with the left cheek. i say start moving in one direction and usually the other person will pick up on it or visa versa.
    i miss hugs.

  11. Ooof, I could never ever EVER speak French. When I try, I am reprimanded and humiliated so I just gave up. Why is that. We are so easy going when people slaughter our language. We just smile but still understand. It truly pissed me off while I was over there and really really tried! Lighten up people! (Oh and by the way, I like both achat and chat!!) xo

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