Everyday misunderstandings

James’s story reminded me of an incident I had about a couple of years ago and how misunderstandings are so easy. A friend from Africa invited me for lunch. Now I have learnt that if you are invited for lunch by someone from Africa, this might mean that someone has taken the trouble to cook all day, grind beans, stew for hours and you are going to get something delicious.  I told my lovely friend that I would be there between 11 and 11.30 and much to my surprise, she was really cross.  I eventually realised that she thought I would arrive at 11.00, scoff (eat) her food and go half an hour later. I would have been really cross myself if anyone had done that to me.  When I realised,  I explained that it meant that that was the time I would arrive and I definitely would stay for lunch and the end of the story was that the lunch was great.

Anyone got any examples like this?

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One thought on “Everyday misunderstandings

  1. There was a time when to me the expression “to lead someone up the garden path” meant precisely that: being taken by someone who had a house with a garden in front of it and had no other way of letting me in except by walking up the path leading to the front door.

    It seemed to me a perfectly normal access to a house following an invitation. It made perfect sense when I first arrived in Britain. Unlike my country of origin, Italy, London had plenty of houses with gardens at the front. While most of these paths looked pretty messy with their assortment of neglected vases and pots and worse still, plastic gnomes, the grander ones even went as far as showing mini imitation of Versailles with arboreal inventions kept in good shape by gardeners.
    Indeed I became one during my first year in London in the late 1960s. I needed pocket money. My first source of employment at the Savoy Hotel training in Hotel Management wasn’t enough to pay for my studies at Walbrook College. So I became a gardener, once a week. The house belonged to a sweet lady full of insight into poetry I called Mrs Swithenbank who shared it, I believe, with the sister of Katharine Whitehorn who was a columnist at The Observer. I was doing my best with gardening and Mrs Swithenbank was immensely patient. There was a perfect example of a path leading up the front door. On encountering the expression “to lead someone up the garden path” I fell for the literal meaning.

    Of course when I understood what the expression really meant I laughed. There is no exact equivalent in Italian. The nearest expression would be “una presa in giro”, meaning “being taken around”. But it’s so vague that cannot be pinned down to any exact location. Being taken up the garden path, on the contrary, is almost scientific in its precision and therefore fully credible. So credible in fact that at first I took it for granted, expecting to walk up a path lined with plants, tortuous maybe, but well kept, leading up to the front door and then welcomed perhaps with a nice cup of tea. Of course the expression means “to mislead”, lead on, or to deceive someone. And it certainly worked on me.
    Alfio Bernabei

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