Parlez-Vous Girl?

By Heather

Though I am far from multi-lingual (I once knew some French and can shop in Mandarin, Spanish & Hebrew), I have realized that within one’s native tongue there are a myriad of dialects. For example, a few years ago my friend Anne & I helped a woman I’ll call Laura get some mental health treatment after she had a psychotic break.  I am no stranger to nuttiness so I thought I would be prepared to handle things. But I quickly learned that while I spoke Dysfunctional like a native, I couldn’t communicate with Laura. In fact, the more I tried to calm her, the more things escalated. Enter Anne. Within two minutes she had soothed Laura and coaxed her into cooperating with the psychiatrist. I was in awe that Anne was not only functional in Crazy, she was fluent.

Recently the dialect that has been giving me linguistic fits is Girl. It’s a pidgin mash up of Passive-Aggressive, Politeness, Indirection and outright Lies. When someone asks me if I can take their kids for the day, if I say yes I mean yes. And if I can’t, I may feel bad about it and apologize, but I will say no. And I foolishly assume that this holds true for others. But if you speak Girl, and someone asks if you can take their kids, then you should say yes, but say it with a hint of hesitation, and maybe mention a PTA lunch you are hosting that day all the while reassuring the asker that it would be your PLEASURE to have their kids.  As nuts as it seems, I’ve learned that over enthusiasm can be a sure sign that whatever is being said, it’s meaning is the OPPOSITE. (Yet so not sarcasm…)

Still, I like to think that I’m fairly intuitive and can read between the lines in most conversations. But just like I could never keep straight the whole masculine and feminine thing in French, I can’t ever be sure I’ve deduced the right message in Girl.  For instance once I was even yelled at in Girl and didn’t realize it until a day later.  I wish someone would publish an Idiots Guide to Girl and offer me concrete advice, such as a friend must refuse repayment four times for milk they bought you at Costco before you can let it go.  Or if you have a conflict between attending your friend’s birthday dinner and your kid’s kindergarten graduation, if your friend grasps your hand while she says it’s okay then you can skip her dinner without retribution, but if she only touches your arm, bail on your kid.

All of this gets extra tricky when put in a Church context where some women feel they cannot say no to service/callings/anything and are desperately coding their speech with “I really can’t take on one more project” flags. I have taken to making things very explicit when I ask women to do something. I’ve found that phrases like, “Please feel free to say no,” “Are you sure this is something you can take on?” and “Nobody will be mad if you can’t” go a long way in helping chronic pleasers find an out they can live with.  And I try to be polite but honest about my capacity to take on tasks.

How do you navigate Girl? And any advice for a non-native spreaker like myself?

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12 Responses

  1. jks says:

    I’m not sure I speak Girl well. I don’t seem to run into too many problems though. Perhaps I compensate by 1) Avoid asking people to do things and 2) Not have so many friends, or at least, only have friends who understand me well enough to know that I can’t skip a kid’s graduation and also that they should say what they mean.
    I am interested to hear other comments.

  2. This has been my number one frustration lately. I just want to yell to the entire world, “COMMUNICATE, PEOPLE!”

    I don’t speak Girl either. And probably because of that, I’m always the last one to know that someone is mad at me for something I did or said two months ago. Why don’t they come talk to me? I actually have good intentions and would really like to clear things up if you’ll just talk to me. So start acting like adults, people.

    Oh, great. I probably just offended some people. Sorry about that–email me.

  3. Angie says:

    This post is awesome.

    I am not an intuitive person. If you don’t say it straight out, then I can’t guess what you’re thinking. And I really hate that itchy, sinking feeling that I get when I’m pretty sure that what you’re saying does not match what you’re thinking. So, my approach to speaking Girl is that I don’t even try!

  4. Janna says:

    To cut through the confusion that is Girl, I often say, “What I hear you saying is [insert thing she doesn’t want to do or thing she does want to do – in both cases, she feels guilty about it] Is that correct?” Sometimes it helps when you say the “unpleasant” thing, and she has to nod in agreement. 🙂

    Another option is to respond as if she said something direct. For example, if she answers to a request, “Well, I have x, y, and z…so, I guess I could….” You respond with, “No problem. I’ll get someone else.”

  5. z says:

    I just want to point out I’ve noticed plenty of men doing this too, so I’ll push back against the gender-essentializing of this particular behavior. Some people just aren’t that comfortable saying no, and maybe it tends to be more common among women, but is it really necessary to tie the word “girl” to this?

  6. Sterling Fluharty says:

    Linguists study some of these characteristics of speech. Here is some relevant information:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociolinguistics#Differences_according_to_gender

    I think many of us fall within a range of gendered dichotomies when it comes to how we talk with others.

  7. Bones says:

    I’m hopeless at speaking girl, but I’ve gained a load of insight from a book I’m currently reading: The Curse of the Good Girl, by Rachel Simmons.

  8. Linda says:

    Great post, Heather.

    So, since we believe in the total immersion thing, how’s this?

    Now, would you be a dear and take the cub scouts to the zoo for me tomorrow? Take all your kids along, too! That’ll solve any babysitting problems you might have. Love ya! Oh, and my cell doesn’t work in my undisclosed location so, um, I’ll just assume that’s a yes. Think of the blessings you’ll have showered on your head!…which reminds me, we have thunderstorms predicted for tomorrow so… take umbrellas!

  9. Janna says:

    Would you be a dear! I love it.

  10. Two of Three says:

    When I turned 40, I decided that I am too old for this kind of silliness. I say what I mean and expect others to as well. I am respectful but direct.

    This has gotten me a “special” lady to visit teach who is basically making bad choices with her life. The bishop and relief society president want me to “tell her like it is”.

    I do not speak “girl” nor will I invest in the dictionary!

  11. PB says:

    My secret to speaking “girl” – always admire her shoes first. When she compliments your outfit, say oh, well I got it on a great sale. Honesty can only go up from there.

  12. kmillecam says:

    This kind of thing drives me bonkers. I get really confused when people don’t say what they mean and mean what they say. I also find it difficult to put up with unless I really focus on the other person’s humanity to remind myself that they just haven’t found their authentic voice yet. I probably do this because I make it a priority to be honest, even if I am uncomfortable. So expect the same thing from others. But I try to be charitable whenever possible 🙂

    I love this post, I think it’s a great way to put it!

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