One of the disagreements my husband, Mark, and I have is that I do not use the word NO the same way he does.
I use it as it is used in France—NON, meaning: oh really, let’s talk about that; you’re going to have to convince me; I don’t agree but I’m willing to find out why you’re saying that.
Mark understands no to mean, no you are wrong. He can say, “It looks like it’s going to rain,” and I will immediately respond, “No.” However, usually that’s as far as I get because he instantly reacts to what he perceives as my negativity. What I am actually thinking is: oh, I didn’t know that, or, maybe not, you know they aren’t always right, we might be lucky and it won’t rain.
The problem isn’t the language. We are dealing with a cultural difference.
Meaning depends on the context, intonation, and gesture. When the French want to say, “No I don’t agree; you are wrong,” the word non is often repeated more than once, non, non; or they say non and shake their heads to emphasize the meaning.
So to bridge the cultural divide it is important to know the cultural norms—in my case, that French people love a good discussion; in fact, we prefer a full-fledged debate and non usually starts that. Often we even take an opposing point of view to keep the debate going!
If you were in France and happened to overhear a group of French people in conversation, you’d hear the word non a lot. Especially at the start of a sentence. It means “Wait a minute, let’s talk about this.” (Just so you know, this is written into every French person’s DNA.)
“French people love to debate, and sometimes it looks scary; friends turn on each other, they loudly disagree, insults are thrown… But it’s all in good fun, actually. Debate is just a part of the French way of life.”1
In short, in France if you are told non, it doesn’t mean you don’t know what you are talking about or that you are wrong. On the contrary, it means you do and it’s going to be fun to discuss this with you.
I’m not certain that Mark is convinced yet that I’m not saying No, you’re wrong and that what I’m actually saying is Yes, let’s talk about that. And I can see why he is confused.
What about you?
Do you have trouble communicating because of cultural differences?
Let us know, I’d love to hear.
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