Me, Myself and Somaye #6: Hidden Meanings

mmsbannerMe, Myself and Somaye chronicles the experiences of an international student coming directly from Iran, who had never been to another country, started college a few years later than average, and was raised in a culture diametrically opposed to most of the trends and behaviours practiced in the Netherlands and at University College Utrecht. Funky banner inspiration courtesy of De La Soul.

by Somaye Dehban (’07)

–          I fuck around with you, Somaye!
–          Excuse me?!
–          Yeah! I fuck around with you!

It takes years and years to be able to claim that you understand a culture, and it takes exposure, usage and practice to be able to understand different meanings associated with different linguistic phrases. When you are new and clueless, you would take any phrase literally, like that recently arrived, non-American teacher in America that looked up when her student said: “What’s up?!”

The Shakespeare project was one of the first things that made me feel that I was in a college like the ones I saw in the movies: a great theatre project, great performances, and a great production. It felt absolutely professional and ‘real’; this was the Shakespeare project 2005 and just a few weeks after I had arrived at UCU. After that performance, there were other theater performances from 100 to 300 level “performing arts” classes. I went to all of them. It was not just for the sake of good performances, but also as a reassurance that I was indeed studying at the sort of college I had always dreamed of.

Since I decided to not only be an observant of the UCU community, but also an active participant, joining the Shakespeare project was a natural next step, as I was already working at the bar and was part of a few committees, and I now needed something more, something more challenging. So when I was in my last year at UC I took the chance, took on the challenge, and joined the team. And it was not just a play, it was a Shakespeare play; it was the ultimate language challenge for me.

I signed up and went to the first meeting. There were a few people there that I knew, but many others that I didn’t. Though this was not unusual anymore, I was sure that after two sessions I would know everyone by their first name and know what year they were in. The beginning went very smooth and was joyful: we were reading the play and discussing the meaning of the text together. Richard – the British performing arts teacher – accompanied us and I felt that I was getting somewhere with both English and Shakespeare. After a few sessions the director also joined the team and we started actually practicing the play, cutting down the text and creating scenes.

Everything seemed to be going fine until one morning, in the middle of a conversation with the director, he said: “I fuck around with you, Somaye!” I was not sure if I heard him correctly, so I said: “Excuse me?!” and he repeated it louder, looking at others: “Yeah! I fuck around with you.” And he laughed. And so did the others. The session went on, but the whole time I was trying to figure out what he meant.

If someone would say this to me now, after 8 years of regularly being exposed to English language, I would laugh about it – depending on who the person is, of course. But back then I had no understanding of the phrase, save for the literal one. I was a married woman, coming from a family where swearing was forbidden, let alone using the f-word. And now, a man, a stranger, says that he fucks around with me. It just didn’t make any sense to my limited understanding of this ‘other’ culture. I felt that I had cheated on my partner just by allowing another man to use that phrase about me. And I really didn’t understand why he said it. This was the beginning of feeling alienated from the team, as they could understand something that I was incapable of, and it had nothing to do with the rich language of Shakespeare, but rather the urban usage of English that I still have difficulties grasping the hidden meaning of.