Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lost in translation

Yesterday, on our way back to Kaabong, we stopped in at a restaurant to have tea. We sat down at a table and waited for the waitress. After she came and greeted us, we put in our order:


“Two milk teas, and one black tea,” I said.


She replied, “One milk tea and two black teas?”


“No,” I said, “One black tea and two milk teas.”


Ten minutes later she returned with what? One milk tea and two black teas. After straightening out that misunderstanding, we got on to drinking our tea. That’s when my sister Laura and I noticed that our milk tea didn’t look very brown (from tea). In fact it looked quite white, like milk. We tasted it and confirmed that there was no tea in our so-called milk tea. It was actually hot milk. Not bad in and of itself, but we didn’t want hot milk. We wanted milk tea.


“Can you bring us some tea bags?”, I asked the waitress.


Five minutes later she returned with cocoa powder and instant coffee. She informed us that they didn’t have any tea bags. So I asked her how they made the milk tea without tea bags, and she said ‘yes’. In the meantime, my sister Laura had informed her that we had an extra cup that we didn’t need, implying she could take it away. Instead, a couple minutes later she came back with another extra cup. Fortunately, those extra cups came in handy and we mixed up an assortment of hot chocolate, mocha, and other partly ‘tead’ hot beverages.


Although we got a chuckle out of this, the joke’s really on us. As guests in the waitress’s town, the capital of the Acholi-speaking people, at a local restaurant, the best thing would have been for us to stumble through ordering in Acholi (though we don’t know any), putting us in the uncomfortable position of having to operate in a language we are unfamiliar with.


An interesting cultural difference shows up through this episode. Notice how the waitress tried several strategies to avoid having to give us milk tea (since she knew they didn’t have any tea; the black tea was made with some kind of flavored tea, which is also unusual). Finally, when there was no way around giving us milk tea, she went ahead and just gave us hot milk instead of telling us there was no tea. Relationships are more important than a strict attention to facts, details, and whether one is drinking milk tea or ‘milk tea’. I think we can all learn something from that.


Anna said...

this was a pretty funny interaction you had there! fascinating about the cultural difference in customer service

velma said...

muy interestante. nilicheka :-) danka

velma said...

that's cool about the honey-link. make sure you all eat LOTS of honey while there. you should be glowing with health:-)