#332 – The Universal Language

After hearing Deputy Mike’s tale today, a few trite sayings came to mind: a picture’s worth a thousand words; love is the universal language; and last, but not least, don’t shoot the messenger! It took the misapplication of each adage, however, to incite the melee erupting in one residential neighborhood this morning.

Mike is a local deputy sheriff I know. I ran into him this afternoon, and he filled me in on his eventful morning. Seems a physical altercation between a Spanish speaking immigrant from Mexico and an English speaking American had erupted at the home rented by the immigrant and his family. Mike, who happens to speak fluent Spanish, was dispatched to the scene in response to an ensuing 911 call.

After separating the combatants, the deputy took statements from each of them, commencing with the eighteen-year-old American. The teen, a Jehovah’s Witness, had visited the abode as part of his evangelical duties. He’d posed a standard question to the nineteen-year-old male answering the door: “Have you found Jesus yet?”

The occupant responded in Spanish, which the American did not understand. Undeterred, the idealistic proselytizer felt certain he could convey with gestures the messages he wouldn’t be able to get across in words, commencing with: “Jesus loves you!” He proceeded, first by pointing a finger toward heaven, second by placing his two hands together in the shape of a heart, and last by forming a U with his thumb and index finger. 

No sooner did the evangelist finish signing his message than the tenant viciously attacked him, seemingly without provocation. The enraged assailant repeatedly struck his victim, bruising and bloodying him, while an accompanying Jehovah’s Witness frantically dialed 911.

After interviewing the participants and witnesses, Deputy Mike went back to the victim for additional background information. The teen revealed that he’d led a sheltered childhood. He’d been home schooled by parents holding ultra-conservative values, and those parents had strictly limited his access to television and the internet. As a result, he’d acquired little knowledge of curse words … and the gestures which often substitute for them.

The budding evangelist consequently hadn’t realized that pointing one’s middle finger skyward might not be universally recognized as a reference to God above. Nor could he know that the much less innocent connotation of the gesture carries a significantly more widespread understanding, even among those who don’t speak a lick of English – like the Mexican tenant, for instance.

Upon concluding his investigation, Deputy Mike privately sympathized with the assailant. As he explained to me: “If a complete stranger knocked on my front door and gave me the finger, I’d probably interpret the rest of the gestures the same way the Mexican kid did, and get just as angry at the insult.”

“Meaning what?” I asked.

“Fuck you, you big-balled, tiny dick’d fucker!”

 
The pamphlet one Jehovah’s Witness never got the chance to deliver this morning.


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