Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cultural exchange

"My English is not so good," he says.
"No, it's fine!" I say.
"No. It is not good. I do not know the right words. And people do not understand my accent."
"Your accent is great. I can totally understand you!" We've been having this debate for the last five minutes, and it is totally my fault.

After my date with the guy who would become Can't-Be-Bothered-To-Send-Me-E-mail Guy, I told the matchmaker that I was really interested in other languages and cultures. She matched me with the Guy sitting across the table who is sulking into his coffee.

I thought that asking him about the different languages he speaks would be a good topic of conversation. I speak a few languages, and it's endlessly fascinating to me how languages vary. I'd started the date by asking him about his language's writing system because it has a different alphabet than English, and that turned into a discussion of comparative grammar, which I found particularly interesting. (Yes, I'm a geek. So sue me.) But then I asked about his experience learning English, his third language, and I had unwittingly stepped on a conversational landmine.

It turns out that he doesn't feel very confident about how he speaks in English, so what I thought was an interesting academic discussion was to him a trip into a vortex of self-loathing.

A tip for the gentlemen out there: self-loathing is actually not as attractive a characteristic in a date as you might think.

Regardless, I'm the one who got us into this mess, and I will get us out.

"I think you speak very well, and I like your accent. Let's talk about something else, though. What are some of your hobbies?"
"Hiking in the mountains," he says, staring at his coffee.
"I love hiking!" I say, which is not strictly true, because it depends on the trail, but let's not quibble.
"Absolutely! Have you hiked the Carbon River Trail? I really like that one."
"Yes, I have. That is very nice in the late spring. It has that...what do you call it?"
"Suspension bridge!"

Thank goodness: he's no longer upset. And we actually have quite a few hobbies in common, which we discuss at length. The conversation is normal, and animated, and free of vortexes of despair. Then he brings up something that we know for sure that we have in common: the matchmaker that we use.

"Do you like the matchmaker?" he asks.
"Yes, I do. I've met a lot of interesting people."
"How long have you belong?"
"Three months. You?"
"One week," he says. It's pretty common that someone new to the service asks about what I think of the service.
"How many dates have you been on?"
"Ten? Twelve? Twelve, I guess." This is also a common question. They want to know whether they are going to get their money's worth.
"And how many of those men did you give your contact information to?" he asks.
"Six or seven," I say. Also a common question: he wants to know what percentage were decent matches.
"And how many did you sleep with?"
"Sleep with. Have sex with?"
"I am sorry. I must not be clear. Of those twelve men, how many did you have sex with?"
"NONE!" I am so offended that I can't even manage to tell him that it is none of his business.
"I do not understand. The American women, they sleep with their dates, yes?"

Eww. Eww. Ewwwwww.

Don't say another word, All-Americans-Are-Sluts Guy. I understand you completely. And now we have another thing in common:

We both loathe you.

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