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The Words We Use

By Melody Heath


            The coffee shop was full of familiar smells and sounds even though it was located in the complex city of Hong KongVirginia.  The rich smell of coffee beans and scones and the ringing of glasses mixed with the chatter of people.  I settled down at one of the remaining computers in between my friend Jake and another customer.  Relieved at finding a computer with a decent internet connection, I immediately logged on unaware that my every word was being studied by the customer on my left.  I’ll refer to her in this essay as Jo. 
Jo was having difficulty writing an email to her boyfriend.  She’s from Venice, Italy originally and her boyfriend is from America, but they both live in Hong Kong now.  Jo explains to me that she sometimes feels like he misinterprets what she is trying to say to him which is understandable since English isn’t her first language.  Bluntly, Jo asks, “How would I say, ‘I love you,’ to him?  And what are some cute names that I could call him?”  Her questions surprised a little bit.  How do we say I love you to our loved ones back in the states?  What nicknames do we give each other?  I could tell she was looking for more of a response than, “I love you actually works really well.”  So I thought about it for a minute and still couldn’t come up with any other phrases that say I love you besides the one.

            Eventually, I told her that she could just say that she misses him because he is out of town.  If you miss some one then by definition, you like or love that person.  Jo explained to me that she doesn’t normally use that phrase because to her it means that you missed some one in passing at a restaurant or in a mall.  This made me laugh and I told Jo it could mean that also, depending on what context you use it in. 

            After an hour of sitting there teaching Jo American slang, it was time for Jake and I to move on to more shopping.  She thanked me over and over again for the time I spent talking to her, but I think I got more out of it than she did.  She made me think about how individual and personal nicknames and phrases of love are exchanged between two people, whether they are spouses or siblings.  We all have our own ways of expressing ourselves that may not be the same or work the same for another couple.   And we say and do these things subconsciously, she simply needs to find what works between her and her boyfriend.   

            In “Participating in the Global,” Alan Smart explains that people in their own towns are still exposed to or influenced by the larger civilization they live in.  This woman that I met has a hard time understanding her boyfriend and vice versa because they grew up on opposite sides of the globe.  Jo’s English was influenced by the fact that it was not her first language.  So who she learned it from and where she learned it would affect how she uses it.   

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