Communication Gaffes: French kissing in the USA - part of the Defining Moves Trailing Spouse relocation series

Communication Gaffes: French Kissing in the USA

Communication Gaffes: French kissing in the USA - part of the Defining Moves Trailing Spouse relocation seriesI have a confession. When I previously wrote about my expat communication mishaps, it was just bait to hook the big fish. The French Kissing story.

In my world, I’m usually the master (mistress?) of the intercultural miscommunication, but someone somewhere has seen fit to bless me with the most wondrous of gifts. Someone who is just as impressively misguided as I, and who is not only willing to laugh (and be laughed at) about it, but also generous enough to let me share some of the more hilarious moments.

The potential for a kindred spirit became clear when, early on in our budding friendship, Daisy* substituted the Other Half’s phone number for mine. While I was sitting alone wondering just how I had offended her enough to not to return any of my messages, the Other Half was having senior management meetings routinely interrupted with offers of manicures, pedicures, coffee and even introductions to other women by a seemingly desperate female he had never heard of..

Fast forward 18 months and an endless stream of hilarious attempts to bridge the transatlantic language gap later, and it’s clear that the problem is far from solved. In a curious reflection of US history, it seems to be the presence of the British that causes consternation.

It took a single well meaning comment from Emily* (another British expat trailing spouse) to start the downhill slide to chaos. Predictably, it was at that most damning of public forums, where every comment is carefully monitored and revisited for hidden clues into the parenting psyche; the PTA committee meeting.

Emily: “Your sons have excellent social skills.”

Daisy: “Do you think so? I’m working on them. I’m teaching them to kiss the French way.”

At this point, Emily’s’s face went a deathly white, and a funny buzzing noise started in her ears. She is known for her forthright honesty, and was struggling valiantly with the urge to blurt out “FRENCH KISSING??? WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU THINKING???” at the top of her lungs. Only the strength of her friendship with Daisy and the presence of two steely faced PTA committee members limited her response to a choked:

“Really? Don’t you think that’s something they should learn for themselves?”

The purple tinge that had spread as far as Emily’s ears should have given Daisy a clue that something was amiss, but she was blissfully oblivious, and proceeded to stumble further into the minefield.

“No, I think it’s important that they learn to do it properly. Their Dad is hopeless at it, so I can’t leave it to him. Actually, I think you should give him some lessons.”


“Yes – you’d be great at it, and he’d listen to you”

Emily has been attending cardio boot camp classes recently, so her blood pressure is in pretty good shape. It’s didn’t stop her eyes bulging ominously as she stared at Daisy in disbelief.

Thankfully, the quiet voice of a forgotten PTA member spoke up from the depths of the couch.

“I don’t think she means “French kissing”, I think she means European kissing –  on the cheeks..”

I will leave it to your imagination to picture Daisy’s face as she mentally revisited the conversation and it’s previously unseen connotations, but should you need help, Googling the word ‘horrific’ will pretty much take care of it.

You’ve got to hand it to her; when she does it, she does it in style. And publicly. With minutes.

*Names have been changed to protect the inept innocent.

So, now that we’ve got the ball rolling, let’s hear yours!

I’m off to the Familes in Global Transition conference on March 29th, so I would love some giggles to take my mind off my stage fright.. There’s a Harriet Stanes print for the best one received by the end of March, and you are allowed to change any and all names!

 Photo courtesy of the US National Archives



10 thoughts on “Communication Gaffes: French Kissing in the USA”

  1. Here goes my offering…Harriet is always worth bidding for!!
    As a young graduate working as an Assistante d’Anglais, I was (for some reason) discussing how best to make jam. They were clearly hopeless, so I swapped seamlessly into French to help them out…”You put “preservatifs” in so it lasts.” My class of hormonal teens collapsed in a single heap at the thought of condoms in your jam!!! (ah…not so bilingual as I pretended then…)
    Good luck at the conference. Suz x

  2. I was returning a call from a woman named Candy. She was from an Asian country by the sound of her phone message. I got an answer on the other line from and american sounding gentleman, I paused (thinking maybe wrong #), but then went ahead and said, “I’m looking for Candy?.” As it was coming out of my mouth my mind was saying, “nooooooo”….there was another pause on the other line…then he questioningly said, “well this is Jim…” to which I said, “there is no Candy there, I mean I well have the wrong number…”why did I continue to talk?? I then abrubtly said I had the wrong # and hung up…thank God he was a gentleman!

    1. And why is it that those are always the times that you just know your number is brightly displayed on their caller ID panel??

  3. My 12 year-old son was going to be playing in his first jazz concert in the US. I could not control the giggles when he came home and told me all the boys had to wear black suspenders for the concert! Images of the Jazz Messengers in full Rocky Horror gear flashed across my mind. His music teacher had a pretty good laugh too, when I explained that I’d prefer to see all the boys wearing braces.

  4. Such fun to try to recount them all but one of my faves is the VP from North Carolina sharing with his British constituents in detail about his hobby involving special shoes and trading partners: shagging, a form of dancing unique to the Carolina’s. I still have to stiffle giggles when I think of that one, can you imagine!

    1. I desperately wish I had been there! If it’s any consolation to him, I once merrily informed my colleagues at a high end interior design store that the manager had nipped out for a quick fag. Apparently, cigarettes are not known by that particular sobriquet in San Francisco.. Yet another reason that I don’t hold public office.
      Next question – did he offer to demonstrate?

  5. I once asked the shop assistant of Mothercare (a baby/children store in the UK) where I could find suspenders for my 4 years old daughters (she was on the petite size and her pants (trousers!!) kept on falling so I thought they would help). From the look on her face I knew something was wrong. So I demonstrated was I meant and she seemed relieved. She pointed me to the aisles where “braces” could be found.

  6. On a similar theme to Trixie’s…
    I am constantly having issues in Australia with “route” – Australians use the US pronunciation if they’re finding their way from A to B (rowt?) but the UK pronunciation (root) for something far more intimate i.e. “Is X a good “root”?” says one twenty-something to another.
    Not long after arriving in Sydney I set up an Australian Business Number and the paperwork was delayed getting to me so I called to chase it up, but I couldn’t locate the reference number I wrote down when submitting the application. Trying to sound my most professional and business-like I announced that I’d been “routing (pronounced “rooting”) around for ages but could find what I was looking for…” Needless to say there was a big pause from the male operator and I couldn’t get off the phone quickly enough…I still blush thinking about it! Hope the conference is going well!

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