Have you ever seen that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry, Elaine, Kramer and Kramer’s date are out for dinner and the only one who can actually hear what Kramer’s date is saying is Kramer himself? At one point Kramer leaves to go to the bathroom, leaving Jerry and Elaine alone with Quiet Date. Searching for something to say to Quiet Date, it’s mentioned that Jerry will be on the Tonight Show, or something like that, that week to promote an event that Elaine’s organized (donating clothes for homeless people). Quiet Date mumbles something quietly in response and Jerry and Elaine nod a lot and say a lot of “umms” and “ah-has.” Quiet Date looks happy – like everything is normal – and then Kramer comes back from the bathroom, and the scene ends.
Later on in that show it turns out that in that during that conversation in the restaurant where Jerry didn’t know what Quiet Date was saying, he had agreed to wear a new style of shirt of that Quiet Date has designed – the puffy shirt – on television. It’s like what the pirates used to wear. Needless to say, Jerry does not want to wear ‘the puffy shirt’ on television, especially when he didn’t even know he was promising to do so.
My life is like this right now. I’ve, by no means, agreed to wear a puffy shirt but there have been countless episodes in my life since I moved to Thailand where I have agreed to do something, go somewhere, talk to somebody, without my even realizing it. I blame it on my ability to communicate in whatever language we’re communicating in because the people that I’ve had these incidents with are not mumblers – they speak clearly and at a reasonable level. My problem is that I don’t always understand them or catch important words and yet I nod along and make appropriate listening and agreement noises like “kha” and “ongh.” Often, when I think the conversation is important and I know that the person I’m talking with is telling me to do something or go somewhere, I repeat what I think they said to them, in order to ensure I understood. Unfortunately, I don’t always do this – whether it be for lack of time or tiredness on my part. Plus, people I think get tired of it when I’m forever asking “is this what you just said?” What I find tricky is when I’m absolutely positive that I heard correctly but I think the person actually forgot to tell me some important detail. That happens in English, so why not when communicating between languages?
The result of these tricky situations is that I end up playing the part of the fool. Part of the reason I submit to this part is because I can’t be 100% sure that they didn’t actually tell me and because I live in a culture where it’s a huge deal to lose face. With some people, I’d feel totally fine to tell them straight out that they had neglected to tell me something, or that I had misunderstood or something. But with others… it’s just easier (and it saves face for the other person) when I take the fool’s part.
Which brings me to the latest incident when I had to again play the part of the fool. Basically I had some drunk visitors at my house and this was the second time that they’d come. This time I was home alone so it was horrible. But eventually they left. Apparently my friend T, (not one of those drunk guests) had told me the last time that if they were to ever come visit again and if they were drunk, I was to call her or this other guy, A, and have them speak to them. I missed that part. All of it. So, the next day when I told my friend, T, what had happened, she told me she would beat me! She’s the last person who would do that though so don’t worry – no black eyes or broken legs or anything.
So what’s worse? A puffy shirt or a beating?