A English phrase you often hear in Thailand to describe two things that are similar is “same-same.” The two items don’t have to be identical; they just have to share a common trait. For example, an shirt sized XXL and a shirt sized XL can be “same-same,” because they are both shirts. A biscuit and a bagel can be “same-same,” because they are both breads. How loose the connection is usually depends on how much a vendor wants to sell something to you.
“Same-same” is my problem in learning the Thai language. The vowels are often “same-same” compared to English vowels, but they make different sounds. “E” sounds like “a;” “i” sounds like “e;” “u” sounds like “oo.” And entire words are like that, too. “Song” means “two;” “ha” means “five;” “sip” means “ten.” I’ve found that this is one of the biggest challenges to learning a new language, because our brains are familiar with the old meaning of the symbols we know and are reluctant to accept that those symbols could have more than one meaning.
It gets even more difficult when two people think they are talking about the same thing, because they are using familiar words, when in reality, they are talking about very different things. When we hear words we are familiar with, we tend to let down our guard. We assume that the word has the same meaning we are used to, and we don’t clarify.
This happens all the time in communication.
Your boss says she wants something ASAP (As Soon As Possible), and you assume that means when it’s possible for you to get to it. However, what she really meant was that she wanted you to make it your top priority.
Someone gives you directions that include “turn at the Jet gas station,” and you go to the one that you know rather than the one further down the road that he had been refering to.
You tell someone that you are angry about a situation at work. To you that means “mildly irritated,” but her understanding of the word is much stronger, so she worries that your about to quit.
A co-worker says that he will put together a project plan for something you are working on, but it turns out he was only thinking of a bulleted task list. Same-same…but different.
We get in trouble when we start assuming that we know what the other person is talking about, when we don’t ask questions to clarify, when we take short-cuts. I was talking with a man who works with New Tribes Mission the other day. He related a tragic example of a time when a missionary from another ministry went into a tribe and encouraged them for weeks to worship the “Son of God.” Unfortunately, what the missionary didn’t realize is that “son of God” meant the devil in these peoples’ language.
I once had a waittress in Nigeria engage in a conversation with me about Jesus. Afterward, I was so impressed with her Bible knowledge. She had been able to move quickly and accurately from one memorized scripture to the next and offered to bring me some books to help with my studies.
But when I met her the next day to collect the books, I realized that we weren’t talking about the same “Jesus.” Hers was the “Jesus” of the Jehovah’s Witness faith – not God, but just God’s first creation. I was surprised and disappointed, and it made me wonder how many other “Christians” I’ve met who talk about “Jesus” but believe Him to be someone other than who He really is.
Sometimes “same-same” is very different. Keep asking questions.