Our little family had been turned topsy turvy the past weeks because a little ear was infected. Leanne was prescribed a round of antibiotics but the condition was back a week later. Concerned with the overuse of antibiotics, the doctor and I concurred we would try our luck this time round with ear drops, antibiotical no less, anyway. During the doctor visit, I mentioned that I’ve already been trying to get her off the bottle because I read on various websites that when a child lies down supine to drink, liquid tends to accumulate in the tube within the ears and become susceptible to bacterial growth. She was smiling as I spoke and when I was done, she tried diplomatically to reassure me that we need not change anything.
After having read recently a very interesting article about the impact of language on our decision making though process, it came to my realistion that language has a roll to play in this dialogue about medical information. I repeated myself that almost all of the English websites I’ve read listed the bottle in bed factor as an important cause behind ear infections. Out of a sudden, she lit up, looked at me and said, “We have never heard about that here in Germany. Now I’m really intrigued. I need to read up about it.” I reminded her, “in English.”
This language difference incident brought to mind a similar incident about spinach. Having grown up eating spinach stir frys, I thought I knew this vegetable well. I know what it looks like and how it tastes. What else is there else to have knowledge of? Then, during the very first creamed spinach dinner we had here, the husband asked me casually if I’d already cooked the spinach earlier on and was then reheating it. The question was asked in a manner that indicated that I shouldn’t have done that. The reply came after a very long awkward pause, “erm, yeah…?”
The husband was truly shocked and asked again, “Don’t you know that you are not supposed to reheat spinach? It becomes poisonous!”
My jaw dropped. A mixture of guilt and embarrassment showed on my face. “At least it’s obvious I’m not trying to kill you since I also ate the same dinner?” I tried to distract, eyebrow raised.
In all honesty, I’ve never heard such a horrifying fact about a vegetable I really enjoy. The naive part of me wanted to rationalise that if it’s that harmful, it would never have found its way to the dinner table. Still, I know I had better do my research. A quick google search revealed that the same conversation has happened at other intercultural tables before. Apparently, it’s an urban legend that exists only in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Indonesia. Someone else wrote an amusing entry about his encounter. As it seems, reheating certain foods many times over changes the chemical composition of the compounds and toxins may be released. But the frequency of reheating must be high and yet the level of toxins produced is negligible. In other words, it’s all good. Everything is under control.
Clearly, the language which one uses also has an impact on his knowledge world. Being totally engrossed recently in the whole literature on intercultural communication, in preparation for an upcoming workshop, I’m pleased to have such incidents becoming good anecdotes for explaining Intercultural differences. As I attempt to bring up my intercultural child in Germany whilst reading parenting books in English, we shall see more repeats of such episodes. It’s all so fascinating!