Comment: Foot in mouth syndrome




I was on holiday in France some years back and, if I’m honest, my French isn’t up to much. I can just about cope with a “bonjour” and a “merci” when the situation demands. And I have been known to order a café au lait when I’ve been feeling supremely confident (and in desperate need of caffeine), but anything else I leave to my wife, who is far more capable in the language department.

However, on this particular day, I’d taken it upon myself to pop, alone and unaided, to the shop for some lunchtime essentials. It would be fine, I told myself, I’d have no problem locating ham, bread and butter. What could go wrong?

Just as I thought, I discovered my prospective purchases with ease and, having slipped them into my basket and feeling perhaps just a little giddy with my success, I decided the time was right to venture a question to the lady behind the till.

I cleared my throat in readiness. I gave her a warm and relaxed smile and asked, in English with my best French accent, “Do you have pâté?”

“Pâté?” came the quizzical reply.

“Oui, pâté,” I reiterated, impressing myself with an actual full sentence in the lingo. Perhaps there was nothing to this foreign language lark after all.

“The party is at six,” came the confident but confusing response.

I blinked. My warm and relaxed smile froze, ever so slightly. “No,” I corrected, “Not party – pâté.”

“Oui, the party is at six.”

Puzzled by this misunderstanding, I turned to the trusty translator on my phone and dutifully typed in the word ‘pâté’, wondering if in fact it wasn’t a French word after all. The shop assistant waited patiently until I could show her the word.

“Ah!” she said, smiling. “Pâté! Non, we do not have.”

I was left mystified. My mouth probably hung a tiny bit open. I literally had no clue as to how my pronunciation had differed from hers. But clearly it had, somehow.

However, what I’ve realised is that, when it comes to effective communication, it’s not just getting the accent right that matters.

We’ve just had Sunday lunch, and I shove what’s left of the washing up in the sink and announce that I’m leaving it to soak (a classic manoeuvre that nearly always results in my entering the kitchen at a later point only to discover my wife finished the job and put everything away). What I should have said was: “I think these dishes need a soak. What else needs doing before we sit down?”

Or yesterday, perhaps instead of my saying, “I’ll leave you to unpack the shopping, you know I’ll only put it in the wrong place” (note the emphasis on her having unreasonable and impossibly high expectations), I should have tried, “I’m rubbish at knowing where to put everything, tell me where it goes and I’ll do it.”

What we say and the way that we say it matters. A lot. As men, we often struggle to communicate what we actually mean and sometimes we just use that as an excuse to not even try.

We can be so good at making resolutions to join the gym, climb a mountain, or learn to use a power tool. Why not instead concentrate on getting our words out straight so that we use them to encourage, empower, and put a smile on the faces of those we love?

It’s got to be easier than asking for pâté.

Main Photo Credit: Tomas Jasovsky via Unsplash

Steve Legg

Steve is a British speaker, author and founder of The Breakout Trust, a Christian mission organisation based in Littlehampton on the south coast of England. Since 1988 he has travelled the length and breadth of the UK and 30 countries overseas, covering a staggering 1.5 million miles on the road, using a crazy mix of comedy, trickery and mystery to communicate the Christian message to young and old. He has performed at top venues globally including NIA Birmingham, Wembley Arena and London’s Royal Albert Hall. Radio and TV appearances are in the hundreds. His passion is creative communication of the Christian faith through performances, books, DVD’s and other resources. The author of 17 books, these days when he’s not on the road, much of his time is spent on the groundbreaking men’s Christian lifestyle magazine, Sorted.

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