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?