cross-cultural marriage: misunderstandings

One common thing in cross-cultural marriages is that you don't always understand what your spouse is saying. Sometimes you understand the words, but they don't make sense to you. Sometimes you don't understand the words, though they are in your language. And sometimes, your spouse is speaking to you in a language you don't know.

This may be more of a personal characteristic than first-language-not-English, but it definitely comes into play in me not understanding what Rodgers is saying. He starts talking before he knows what he's saying. A couple of times a week, he will say a word that may start or end with the same syllable as what he wants to say, but is, in fact, a different word. It would be something like saying "exterminate" instead of "extrapolate," but I don't think that's one that's actually happened. These instances always end up with both of us in fits of laughter. Scary thing is, I usually know which word he's trying to say.

Rodgers' language is one of those in which each vowel only makes one sound. A (as in father), E (as in hey), I (as in ski), O (as in rode), U (as in dude). He has particular trouble with the short vowel sounds of a and u in English. He considers staff and stuff to be homophones, same for us and ass. Not only does he pronounce them the same way, he hears them the same way, too. A typical exchange in our house:

me: I'm talking about us.
him: Whose ass?

him: All the st(a/u)ff was there.
me: All the stuff or all the staff?
him: Those are both the same thing.
me: No, listen: stuuuuuuff, staaaaaaff.
him: ???

When he's spoken to me in Gyriama, he's usually either just woken up or he's talking in his sleep. I first noticed this tendency while we were still dating.

I had driven down to Brenham to visit him for the weekend. By the time I arrived it was after 9. I was tired from driving, he was just tired. We should have gone straight to bed, but we wanted to spend some time together first. (Since we slept in separate rooms, bedtime would not be time together.) About all we had the brain power for was watching TV. We found a movie on, and Rodgers fell asleep. At 11, his watch beeped, waking him up. He opened his eyes and asked me a question about what was going on in the movie. I sat for a minute, replaying the question in my mind over and over. For the life of me, I couldn't make any sense of it. So I asked him the obvious, "Was that English?" It wasn't.

More recently, just last week or so, I woke up in the middle of the night hearing Rodgers' voice. I looked over at him, and he was still sleeping. I didn't understand anything he was saying, so I'm guessing he was speaking Gyriama again. The only English word he said was, "Whatever."

What's the moral of these stories? I don't know. Maybe it's that misunderstandings can be frustrating, or they can amusing. They are what you make of them. Or maybe it's that you should ask for clarification if you don't understand what someone's saying. I mean, maybe you just weren't listening well, but it could be that they were speaking another language.


  1. this is hilarious!! Thanks for sharing.

    p.s. We're a Texan family as well.


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