I was recently part of a conversation where someone was choosing a name for a yet-to-be-born baby. They were sure (without any evidence) that the future baby would be a boy. Certain attributes of the pregnancy were interpreted as clues to the baby’s gender. Apparently some relatives were interpreting the same clues as indicating that the baby would be a girl. I mistakenly thought that the disagreement over the gender of the child (due just as winter imagines itself in 2011) was good natured fun. Gender assignment is apparently serious business for some folks. I should issue a general warning to be careful in all matters concerning the gender of a yet-to-be-born fetus.
I should also state that the statement: “Why don’t you name him Richard because everyone will be calling him Dick” may not be well received.
This sensitive minefield of interpretation lies in the frequently irritating landscape of cultural sensitivity. The misinterpreted borders of this undiscoverable country lie where languages assign different meaning to similar phonemes. In Norway the term “Sakte Fart” refers to slowing down, and has nothing to do with inhaling flatulence.
Names often create the most difficulty. I knew a young lady who spelled her first name “Bich”. She insisted that it be pronounced “Bick”, and we often complied with her wishes. I found a coffee mug imported from China with the slogan “Shut up Bich” printed on it. I think the coffee mug’s slogan was misspellt.
A former acquaintance had a roommate named “Yu Suc” who pronounced his full name as: “You Suck”.
These, of course, are simply disconnects of sound and meaning. These are examples of actual cultural difference. These can easily be humorous should attitude rise to the occasion. The most sensitive areas of culture do not hide behind veils of noise.
Cultures are made of people, and many people will defend their inclination to ignorance with great force.
Near my house is a fast-food restaurant called “Big Rod’s Taco Time”. Here is a snapshot of its street sign:
Once, while driving by this establishment in a vanpool peopled with three Mormon bishops (one former) I asked: "So if you saw a film called 'Big Rod's Taco Time' what do you think it would be rated?"
The question -which I thought was a clever joke- was met with blank stares. Should I try and explain or should I just let it go? Which would be more amusing?
"Do you think such a movie would be shown as a double feature with the lion king?" I asked.
"Sure" one of the bishops replied "Why not?"
This was not getting anywhere "OK if one of the lion king characters were to have the nickname 'Big Rod' would it be the warthog or the meercat?"
"That doesn't make sense" replied the one bishop whose attention I still barely had "None of them were named Rodney, and Rod is a nickname for Rodney"
"Did any of you go to the stake party at the farm?" the last bishop whose attention was now lost to me asked the others "That piglet put down a real steamer. I thought someone was going to step in it. I watched for 15 minutes, and people came close, but nobody stepped in it"
"Yeah, I think I saw that doodie" replied another bishop "It looked like it was a person's"
"My Brittany [which is breed of dog] made a pile out front of the church last week" The former bishop looked up from his iPhone and chimed in "I'm was sure from the smell that someone tracked it in."
They went on till the van-ride was over about poop smells, people stepping in poop, what poop looked like, and more things "poopy" than I was prepared to imagine. I was stunned. Here I had shyly tread out a phallic innuendo joke and found myself drowning in scatology.
The squeals of laughter and wild eyed enjoyment of the bishops made me nervous. I could not keep up with the rapid-fire use of anything but the word s**t to describe poop. I was a pre-teen once so I've got an extensive scatological vocabulary, but I found myself confused in the presence of these practiced masters. When one of them responded to a loving description of a pizza-generated-canine 'number two' only to be asked if they had ever seen a pizza 'number three' I was lost. What is a 'number three' anyway. I was afraid to ask. What if there were fractional equivalents and a scratch-and-sniff training set to tech the intricate spectrum of deification to children? I did not want multimedia poop props pulled out in an enclosed van.
It just goes to show that it is dangerous stepping into the minefield of human communication. You never know what you will step in.