Recently, while on a facetime call with three Algerian students for a cross cultural communications project, the importance of word choice was brought to my mind. During a conversation regarding the traditional sequence of events in an Algerian wedding, the cultural gaps and misunderstandings I was experiencing were made entirely more dramatic though maybe not the BEST choice of words used by both parties involved.
As the Algerian team tentatively broached the topic of virginity in their culture, myself as well as the other two members of the American team, immediately put our guards up. We had expected this clash in cultural ideals and were able to keep a good poker face through most of the conversation. There was one piece of the conversation, however, in which this was particularly difficult. Ssaad, usual ringleader of the group, had the task of explaining the nitty, gritty wedding night details to the group. In trying to explain that the new husband is to leave the wife alone in her room overnight after the marriage is consummated, Ssaad said, “After the blood the man leaves so that the woman can reflect upon her new fate”. This left our team shocked. We had not prepared for the stark, even depressing description of the event and we found ourselves having to recover very quickly.
While I attribute some of our shock at Ssaad’s statement relating to the culture shock, looking back I think a lot of the shock came from Ssaad’s word choice. While he speaks textbook english and is able to hold intelligent conversations in the language, he lacks the environmental lingo that someone growing up in the United States would have. Like we have talked about in class, definitions of words change based on one’s environment, as do modes of speaking. Ssaad’s form of speech, while appropriate for other topics in our environment, was not appropriate for the topic of virginity to us, in our environment.