Different Frames

At the cafe this morning, two men sat down and began ordering breakfast for themselves and their absent companion, who they knew was on his way. The waiter, only seeing to of them, kept trying to squeeze what they were asking for into an order for two, and was getting confused because he couldn't make it fit. Finally, one of the men said, "There are three of us." Immediately, the confusion cleared.

I think many misunderstandings are like that -- we hear each other's words fine, but we are using two different frameworks for understanding what is being said.


  1. This becomes obvious when you are bilingual. If you are expecting one language and you hear another, sometimes it registers as babble even if it is your mother tongue. Once you brain clicks into that language, it becomes understandable again.

  2. I was once in Switzerland and sat next to a family on a train. The two boys (about 8 or 9) began to have a row about something. The elder brother was using fluent slightly upper class English. The young brother was using fluent Swiss-german. It was obvious they understood each other perfectly and in fact I don't think either of them was even aware of which language the other was using.

    It was a most odd experience for a monoglot like me!

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