I moved to Singapore 9 years ago and like any new expat I was looking to make friends with similar interests and values. I was invited round for tea and scones at an absolutely amazing "new" friends' place. She was so warm, easy to connect with and could make anyone feel comfortable in her presence. I was really looking forward to getting to know her better.
She was a perfect hostess and the scones were to die for. She had two beautiful toddlers who were happily playing in the background as we chatted nonstop. She then excused herself and went up to her children and asked them to sit at the table and drink their "susu"!!! What?? I could not believe what I had just heard. I was completely taken aback. Now, my fellow Indians would probably know that "susu" in Hindi is pee/ urine. Yes, that's right. My lovely new friend had just asked her kids to drink their pee!!!
The kids obediently and excitedly sat down to drink their "susu" as I looked on in horror. Now I really, really, liked my "new" friend... So the voice in my head said, was making her kids drink their pee-pee really a deal breaker. I mean she wasn't really asking me to drink mine!!! I started to feel really uncomfortable with the situation.... My thoughts were starting to get the better of me... I wondered what she had put in the scones, that I had happily and greedily scoffed down. Oh it was not such a big deal...I had heard of people who drank their "susu" for health benefits, so maybe that's what she was doing. That wasn't too bad, was it??? But I just could not turn off the voices in my head.
She walked over to me with a big smile and carried on with our previous conversation. She probably saw my distracted expression and asked if everything was ok. With a fake smile and straight face, I asked what the kids were having. She looked at me curiously and replied, "oh! they are having a snack with some".... drumroll....I'm wondering how she is going to say it to me... "milk" she completed...."what, MILK!!!" I shrieked. She looked at me quizzically. I had turned red in the face. In a shrill high-pitched voice I carried on, "why are you calling it susu?". At that point, I think, she thought I had gone mad. "because that's what we call it in Malay" she said nonchalantly.
I burst into peals of laughter. She watched me with a funny expression on her face... I thought she was going to ask me to leave her home... Thinking I had gone completely cuckoo. I stopped laughing and explained to her that "susu" in Indian meant pee and I had spent the last few (which felt like forever) minutes thinking she was making her children drink theirs. It was her turn to laugh hysterically. Yes her "susu" was different from my "susu". Thank God I didn't run out of the door and asked because today she is my best friend.
As they say in NLP, The Map is not the territory. What this really means is, that our perception of reality is not reality itself but our version of it, or our “map”. In my case we got our wires mixed because of race and countries we grew up in. But how often we get the wrong end of the stick even when we are culturally the same. We assume we know what’s going on in someone’s head because we know them or misinterpret their words based on our map of the world, our past experiences.
Recently, I asked my website designer to update something for me on my website. She wrote back saying she could not at that moment as she was on holiday and didn’t have her laptop. Now I thought I knew her pretty well, and in my mind she would never travel without her laptop. So, I decided she did not want to do my work any more and was too nice to tell me. I felt bad as I really liked her and her work. I spent the next couple of hours feeling sorry for myself. Later that evening I got a whatsapp message from her saying, “look what I’ve been up to”. And what followed was a picture of an angelic baby girl. Duh!!! I forgot she had gone to see her sister who had just delivered a baby. As someone rightly said, assumption is the mother of all f&%* ups and you only make an ASS of U and ME!!!