Sorry! Coughing leads to translating confusions

medicineWhen I was just getting to know my future husband, something he did always puzzled me. Occasionally I’d have a cold or a tickle in my throat and cough, and he would always say, “Sorry.”

When this first happened, I responded with, “Oh no, you’re fine!” since this is usually a typical response whenever someone tells me, “Sorry.”

It happened again, shortly therafter, and I looked at him strangely.

“Why do you keep saying sorry every time I cough?”

“Because I’m sorry for you. Not sorry as in apologizing, but sorry as in sympathy.”

This led to a fascinating conversation where I learned that in his native language, there is a word – pele – which people say every time someone coughs or sneezes. It’s meant to express sympathy and support.

The closest English translation for it, though, is “sorry.” I started teasing him every time he said sorry: “Do you mean sympathy sorry or sorry sorry?”

Then we got married (a lot later!) and went to his home country shortly after our honeymoon. I unfortunately developed a cold there, and a cough accompanied it.

One day I started coughing, and my husband’s sister (sitting next to me) said, “Sorry!”

“Oh no, you’re fine!” I responded automatically. Then I reconsidered. “Uh … I mean, thanks.”

She went off into a peal of laughter. “I don’t mean sorry sorry! I mean I’m sorry that you’re coughing! Pele!”

This took some getting used to, and I started coughing delicately just to test people’s reactions. “Sorry!” they said immediately, but they didn’t even bother looking up. It was just like a “Bless you!” after someone sneezes.

Once I got into a coughing spasm when the whole family was gathered in the living room.

“Sorry! Sorry! Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!” everyone chirped in a chorus of sympathy. I started laughing, but nobody knew why. 😉

Now that I incidentally have a cold this week, I kind of miss the “Sorry!” that used to accompany every time I coughed. It made me feel … well, important. And listened to.

And I have to stop myself from saying, “Sorry!” every time I hear a cough. Otherwise people will start looking at me strangely.

About multiculturalmarriage

I'm glad to be part of a multicultural marriage! I grew up in the U.S. but am married to an African husband. This makes life challenging, creative and cool - all at the same time!
This entry was posted in Communicating/Relating techniques, Family matters, Ways of life and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sorry! Coughing leads to translating confusions

  1. I am in my home saying “sorry” to you right now 😀 Hope you are feeling better! Loved this post!

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