They say that when you move to the other side of the world you have to learn a new language to be able to make sense out of the world around you and to be able to communicate with those around you. I agree. But there’s more than that. There’s a huge monster called “culture” and there’s also the meaning behind the words of the new language that you need to understand. Otherwise life just doesn’t make sense, even if you have each word correctly translated into the new language. Sometimes what you hear is the exact opposite of what they said, and sometimes what you think is the exact opposite of what they think. Let me give you two examples that have been on my brain lately:
1. “Rain, rain, go away, come again another day.” We all know that kids’ song, right? But here, we’d sing it the exact opposite: “Rain, rain, come today, and come again another day.” Here, rain is something that is looked forward to with joy, and a rainy day is a happy one. Rain means less heat, growing fields, and rest. This can cause problems for someone like me who has to jump back and forth between cultures, though. For example, the other day I got an e-mail from someone in the US who said that it had rained all night and was still raining that morning when they got up. Since I read it while I was in a Burkinabe mindset, I almost responded back, saying, “Wow, what good news! Did it cool it off nicely? I wish it would have rained all night here, too.” But then I remembered that in the US, a sunny day is what you hope for, and rain all night and into the morning isn’t a good thing. I’m glad I remembered before I sent my response!
2. “Did you pass your test?” In the US, if there is a test coming up, it is said that everyone “takes” the test and only those that do well “pass” it, right? But here it’s exactly the opposite. Everyone “passes” the test, and only those who do well are said to have “had” the test. It made it quite confusing at first, since I was excited when I heard that so many people passed their test. Oops! That means that they sat down and filled out the papers. It’s only when I was told that they “had” the test that I was able to rejoice with them. Crazy!