On this Wisdom Wednesday, I am thinking about how: the languages of our world are so very confused!
My husband got to know a man from India when he was in college. In the course of doing some physical task together (*1), my husband accidentally stepped on his friend's foot. Apparently, in some parts of India, it is taboo to have one's foot stepped on. The Indian went through a ritual right away to counteract the evil power of what had just happened. My kind-hearted husband was mortified--he was only trying to help! To spare him more pain, I'm not going to ask him to refresh my memory as to the particulars, and I've said what I need to say about this already, anyway. (*2)
In Western culture, there are some behaviors that are considered slightly naughty in some contexts and others that are considered egregious breaches of decency in almost any context. Think about what some people do when they see the chubby cheeks of a baby or a young child: they pinch! And it's cute! But what if one pinched the cheek of an adult he'd just met? Inappropriate! And what if one pinched the butt-cheek of someone he'd just met? Way inappropriate! Think about what happens if such a "goosing" is suggested off-camera, however. The movie may still be able to hang on to a "G" rating. Not so, if a breast is touched, even if the act is only suggested off-camera. PG-13 at least, I'd reckon.
Friends of ours moved to a place that is sending a lot of immigrants back our way. They left their daughter, for a few hours, in the care of a woman whom they had come to trust. It came to light that this babysitter had pinched the girl in a "chubby place." There was a maelstrom of anger and hurt feelings, the outrage one feels when an innocent child is violated, and the helpless feeling of an innocent accused. Fortunately, there was someone nearby who could explain. In that culture, a quick pinch to the "chubby place" of a young girl is considered to be as innocent as a pinch on a baby's chubby face is in Western culture. In both cases, the pinch is considered an affectionate, harmless act, far removed from any sort of sexual connotation.
When she was confronted with the "chubby-place-pinching," the babysitter's mortification was great! Far worse than telling a joke that falls flat is an an act of affection interpreted as menacing! It must have been even harder for her than it was my husband when he saw the reaction of the Indian on whose foot he accidentally trampled. Neither that babysitter nor my husband meant any harm.
After discussions, there was no more pinching and a very conscious effort to avoid foot-trampling. And people remained friends.
1. It may have been moving furniture.
2. Or maybe not. Would you at this point have decided to have nothing more to do with
Indians? Or would you make the effort to find out more about their
culture?You might learn about some silly superstitions, and you might gain wisdom you
never had before or a different and helpful
perspective on what you yourself believed. And both of you might come to the
conclusion that the other one was bonkers, but a friend worth understanding and keeping, just the same.