Today I encountered a post by Moti Karmona about how Israelis and Americans perceive things differently, or rather how Israelis misinterpret American euphemisms to have a literal meaning. Funny and very true. It reminded me of a misinterpretation story from a long while ago, one of my most embarrassing moments.
I’ve already mentioned that in 1994 I participated in a high-school student-exchange program in the US, an experience which had a deep effect on me, and this story is yet another snippet of that experience.
About a month before the trip, my family received the name and number of the family that would host me in Phoenix, AZ. Being 14 and towards my first transatlantic trip, my parents and I were naturally anxious to know who are those people that would host me. So we called that international number. The phone rang a couple of time and then-
Here I need to break and give a bit of background. You all know those machines that capture the call in case there’s no answer, play a message and record the response (from the days before Comverse brought us voice-mail). They are called Answering Machines. Well, not in Israel. For some peculiar reason, the name chosen for these machines in Hebrew is (translated to) “Electronic Secretary”. This does make some sense, especially taking into account that these machines actually replaced secretaries in some businesses. Since “Electronic Secretary” is long to pronounce even in Hebrew, it has a shortened phrase: “The Secretary”. Just like in English one may say “I’ll let the Machine pick the call”, in Hebrew one may say “I’ll let the Secretary pick the call”. As you can imagine this may create ambiguity in case there’s an actual human secretary involved, but somehow we Israelis figure it out quite well.
-back to the story. So there was no answer, and we left a message on the answering machine (or “The Secretary”). On the next day we tried again, my mother and I, on speaker phone. And there was an answer this time. After the “Hello” from the other side, my mother said “Hi, I’m the mother of the Israeli boy you’re going to host soon. I called yesterday but The Secretary answered”. My mother speaks very good English, but as non-native speakers we constantly translate Hebrew terms in our minds to English. There was a moment of silence, and then the voice on the other side said, very very slowly, “I see. Well now that I answered, we can talk”, as if she was speaking to an infant. I figured out the mistake but there wasn’t much I could do. I could only imagine what was going on in her mind, thinking she’ll get a visit from the equivalent of hillbillies, only worse, even worse than those from Deliverance. I was so ashamed.
When I finally arrived in the US, one of the first things I was shown was the glorious Answering Machine, that “your mother thought was a real person, haha!”.
I was so mad with them. Peeing in their ice machine helped relieve the anger.
PS thanks Gal Green for sharing the Karmona post in the first place…