Language Barriers as Marriage Savers
January 12, 2021
When Domi and I were first together, Domi’s English was not what it is now and my German was, well, non-existent. One day shortly after we moved-in together, about three months into our relationship, we were grocery shopping. Innocent enough, right? Well, sometimes even when you speak the same language, communicating can be hard—now add the pressure of just having moved in together and speaking two different native languages. We just wanted to buy some food for dinner. We may have also been a bit hungry, and neither one of us is good at operating with low blood sugar. Okay . . . so we were both hangry!
“The rotisserie chicken looks good and we don’t have to do much work,” I said.
“Okay and let’s get some feta, tomato, and onions to bake it with,” Domi said.
“Why would you bake it if the chicken is already cooked?”
“No, you bake the feta and tomatoes and onions.”
“I understand that,” I responded, “but why would you put the chicken back in the oven if it’s already baked?”
To which he replied, “No, we’re going to make it with the feta.”
Having now heard a similar phrase several times, I started to get a little annoyed.
“Why the hell would you bake the feta and the onions and tomatoes with the already baked chicken?”
What I wasn’t understanding was that Domi was saying we would bake the feta, tomatoes, and onions separately, as a side dish. (At that point I had never heard of baking feta, so you can understand my confusion.) Domi got so frustrated trying to explain what he meant that he started screaming in gibberish, like a child having a tantrum, and sat down on the floor of the Vons. I was so embarrassed that I took one look at him behaving like a child and ran away to hide in another aisle. When I realized how ridiculous we must have looked to our fellow shoppers, I started cracking up and walked back to where I had left Domi on the floor of the produce section. He was laughing, too.
I said, “Just buy what you want, we’ll figure it out at home.”
For a while, most times Domi felt he had upset me, he would try to pull the language barrier card, claiming he didn’t “understand what he was saying.” I let him get away with this excuse for a while because, let’s face it, communicating in a second language twenty-four hours a day is exhausting. However, when he started university in LA to finish his bachelor’s degree and was getting straight A’s, I decided enough is enough. There is no such thing as a language barrier between us anymore.
What I have come to realize is that two people from the same country also suffer from this “language barrier” syndrome because we all communicate differently. Sometimes it is valid to use the language as a reason, even when you’re speaking the same language, for why the other person seems to be making no sense at all.
I have come a long way in my German skills as well. Three and a half years after we started dating, at our wedding in Germany, I stood up in front of all of our family and friends and said my vows and gave a toast to my new family in German. I was very proud. I had worked so hard, and I was so nervous, but out of necessity I finally overcame my fear of speaking another language and, more importantly, my fear of sounding stupid, and now we’ve started speaking only German at home in order to increase my chances of becoming fluent. Communication is so vital to human existence. What I have consistently found is that when the need arises for people to communicate with each other, even if they do not speak the same language, they will find a way. However, there is an insane gratification that comes with learning a new language if you’re willing to put in the time and energy. Whole words that do not exist in English exist in German. It’s like a new world opens up when you have the capability to express yourself in not just one language, but two. More importantly, learning a second language taught me that I will forever be a student, and I will never be perfect. And that is perfectly alright with me.
Learning languages has been one way that I have worked to expand my world view and also learn how to keep trying even when things seem incomprehensible. Do you have something similar you’ve been working on or thinking about working on? I want to hear all about it. Happy day, I love you, XOXOX, CAMDW