Our mae baan (“housekeeper” in Thai) left us this note the other day:
I’ll have to admit; I was a little put off by it. It seemed to my western mind a little presumptuous for the mae baan to solicit praise. I’m not saying she doesn’t deserve it. She’s wonderful at what she does, and she’s a joy to have in our home. I wouldn’t begrudge her the thanks, but I guess I prefer to come up with the idea myself.
I thought about it, and I thought about it all night long. “What did she do that would warrant a note asking for a thank you?” It could have been cleaning out the trash can. I noticed it was a mess when I took out the trash, and it’s possible we never discussed that as part of her job when we hired her. If not the trash can, then maybe the bathrooms – I’ve got two boys who need bigger targets. If not the bathrooms, then maybe something to do with the dog (she doesn’t like the dog).
I went to bed still a little annoyed and without a satisfactory answer to my question. When I woke up the next morning, I went down to the kitchen and read the note again, this time noticing where it was placed.
It was then that I remembered that English wasn’t my mae baan’s first language. And while she speaks it much better than I speak Thai, she only has a few words in her vocabulary right now. What she meant was, “I want the big size of these trash bags and this cleaner solution. Thank you.”
You know, the times we often get in the biggest trouble while communicating are when we are using the same words and signals but ascribing different meaning to them. Both parties in the communication go off thinking that they know what was communicated, but they actually have two unique interpretations. When they both act on what they think they know, the seeds of conflict are sown.
All the more reason to clarify, clarify, clarify. Assumed meaning is a dangerous thing.