Cultural Cues (The Art of Hinting)

In light of recent events, I’ve been struck by our need to step into other people’s shoes and see life from their perspective. We need to come together and understand each other, and by understanding, to move toward love and respect and unity. This post is merely meant to bring a smile to heavy hearts.


I’ve lived in the South almost seven years now, hoping that some of their inherent niceness and charm will rub off on me. It hasn’t. And I’m beginning to think it never will.

When I moved to Eastern Europe, I knew to seek out a cultural guide to help me understand the customs and values and general way of living in my new home. I’m sure I made lots of blunders, but it turned out I had just as much to learn about the Southern culture–fellow Americans!–on my team. One of my Southern friends took me aside once, appalled at the obvious cues I’d missed from the other Southerners on our team. Before you judge me too harshly, remember, our telephones rarely functioned at that time (so we had to physically drop by each other’s flats) and we were a close-knit team who genuinely loved each other.

Scenario #1:

I stop by their place. They invite me to stay for lunch. I stay. The afternoon passes. They invite me for dinner. I stay again. Sometimes even, they invite me to spend the night (like Christmas Eve), and I do. They never have to twist my arm. If I can and I want to, I say yes.

Scenario #2:

They drop by my place, I ask them in, they say they can’t, I don’t press it, and they leave.

My Cultural Guide told me that it’s all about giving hints. If I truly want them to stay, I need to insist. That clues them in that I’m serious. And conversely, when I visit them, I need to refuse and only give in if they persist in asking. That’s their hint to me that they mean it.

“Why can’t you just say what you mean?” I ask.

Silence. Puzzled expression.

“How do you ever know what someone really wants?” I ask.

“Bless your heart.” She looks stricken. “You never say what you really want.”

That’s why my friend was shocked when she heard that I’d moved to the South, afraid she hadn’t adequately prepared me.


Some recent conversations prove her point. I’ve changed the names to protect the innocent.

Conversation #1:

Me               How’s your family? (I have learned a few things.)

Debbie         Good. My daughter’s been hackin’.

Me               Oh my! How long’s this been going on?

Debbie         All her laugh.

Me               It hurts when she laughs?

Debbie         Silence. Puzzled expression.

Conversation #2:

Me               What’s new?

Barbie         I’ve been Massage and Kill.

Me               What’s that? (Thinking it must be a new yoga move or a deep-tissue massage.)

Barbie        I have a video. Wanna see?

(We watch a cooking video with a woman kneading a bunch of kale.)Yvx30

Me               So how’re you doing other than the kale thing?

Barbie         Laugh is so hard right now.

Me               Have you talked to Debbie? Her daughter has a really bad cough and it hurts her to laugh, too.

Barbie        Silence. Puzzled expression. I just saw her daughter. She looked fine.

Me               Wow. She got over that quick.

Barbie          Yeah, and she’s going hiking today.

And again:

It’s not just the South. It’s me. I also struggled when I moved to New England.

Me               What’s the weather like?

Jane            It’s cold and roar.

Me               Cold and what?

Jane            Roar.

Much later, someone said they sore me drawering. Then I got it.


Last one:

Yesterday, I overheard a lengthy phone conversation at work. It sounded like pleasant chit-chat. When the call ended, my co-worker came in to vent.

Kelly            Can you believe that? She wouldn’t stop. She kept talking and kept talking. I’m all covered up and she’s still talking.

Me               Who was it?

Kelly            One of those survey calls.

Me               It sounded like it was a friend.

Kelly            No! I’d never be friends with someone who can’t take a hint.

Me               What was the hint?

Kelly            What?

Me               You’ve got to help me out. What was the hint? I think I miss most of the hints that come my way. I need to know what they are.

Kelly            Silence. Puzzled expression.

My phone rings. I pick up the phone. It’s a survey request.

Me               Sorry, but I’m not interested. Good-bye!

(Hang up.)

The person on the other end got my hint.

I guess they didn’t hire me for my charm. Although I did say, “Sorry.”

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