I spent my junior year of college living with a host family in Paris, and Madame and I didn’t always understand each other.
Our frequent bouts of mutual confusion were based less in language—my French was reasonably solid when I arrived—than in cultural differences. She couldn’t fathom why I liked Seinfeld; she’d watched a couple of episodes, and the jokes made no sense. (In fairness, providing French subtitles for a show that made up words on a regular basis had to have been a thankless task.) And she didn’t know what the big deal was about American pizza; that place down the street was awful! (I had to explain to her that I had never set foot in a Domino’s on either side of the Atlantic but was quite certain it wasn’t what I, a New Yorker, would call pizza.)
But my favorite of our misunderstandings had to do with a request on my grocery list: decaffeinated tea. Our conversation went something like this:
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