There is a word in my mother tongue from a dialect of the mid-west region that closely resembles in phonetics a short phrase in English “I can’t” (it sounds the closest with a British accent). It is also somewhat similar in meaning – it is used most often when things are not going too well, in disbelief or denial and with much sorrow and big sighs.
When my family first moved to a Western society many many years ago, one of my father’s compatriot colleagues was from this region and he used to say this word a lot… perhaps too much that, one day when he said it, a Caucasian colleague quickly said back to him “sure you can!” Befell a moment of silence, followed by a revelation: one man’s cry of discouragement was interpreted by another as sign of diminished self-esteem!
I must have heard this little story of misunderstanding at least a hundred times by now, but I still get a good laugh when my father tells it. I find it twice as funny, because I can understand both sides’ points of view – to the compatriot colleague the word he was uttering was a very natural and appropriate choice, so there is no reason for it to raise caution in others, but to the Caucasian colleague it had to be alarming that the person he worked with seemingly lacked severely one of the things he as a member of the Western society valued the most.
Maybe there was apprehension on both sides, not knowing what to expect from those whom they have never encountered before.
Maybe there was avoidance of each other, not really trying to find out about one another because no one thought they could and thus, felt the need to.
Maybe there was alienation all around, never sure of how far they can or should go to reach mutual and equal understanding.
But when the misunderstanding was finally cleared, my father felt the atmosphere of the office improve drastically.
Maybe there now was acceptance on both sides, knowing how to prepare when encountering those whom they never have before.
Maybe there now was appreciation for each other, finding out thoughts that did not exist until they came in contact and accrediting them for bringing in new values.
Maybe there now was attachment all around, always confident of how far they are willing to go to reconcile discrepancies in understanding.
It is never easy getting over the fear of the unknown. But sometimes, all it takes is an accidental unveiling of a funny little misunderstanding. Then, only sky is the limit to how much fun can be had with the unknown.
My father and all his colleagues, compatriot and Caucasian, remain in contact to this date, reminiscing over the fun (amongst much trials and tribulations) they had working together. I really admire how sky is the limit to their story of friendship, or as they put it in the language of the first Western society my family and I lived in, amitié.
The sky I saw today. Funny how looking up to this got me to scribble this post, isn’t it? Just goes to show sky’s the limit to my train of thoughts… I N-E-V-E-R know where I end up!