Before our son was born, my husband and I asked to have a hospital tour. They told us to be on the second floor of the hospital at 10 AM. When we arrived I told the nurse we were there for the tour, whereupon she had me sit and wait for few minutes. When she came back, this is what happened. (A friendly reminder—we are in Senegal and this all takes place speaking Wolof.) 

Nurse: “Follow me.”

She takes the two of us into the delivery room. There is a huge metal bed on one end, a sink, and that is all. It is no birthing suite, but at least it is clean.

Nurse: “Take your pants off.”

Me: “Oh, I am just here for the tour.” 

Nurse: “The tour?”

Me: “Yes, the tour.” 

Nurse: “Take your pants off.” 

Me: “I am just here to see the hospital, you know, the rooms and stuff. I am not in labor. There is no pain. The baby is not coming now.” 

Nurse: “We’ll see. Take your pants off.”

This is where I give my husband a look saying why-doesn’t-she-understand-what-I’m-saying-is-labor-and-tour-the-same-word-do-I-take-my-pants-off? I look back at the nurse, who raises her eyebrows and nods—and I drop my pants. So there we are, three of us standing just inside the doorway of the delivery room, with the door open, and one of us is naked from the waist down. 

Nurse: “Get on the table.”

I open my mouth to protest, but she gives me the look I now know so well; the look I give my kids when I have told them to pick up their toys and they try to start negotiating. I get on the table and the nurse leaves the room, leaving the door open. People walk by and look in, not the least bit surprised to see a half-naked white woman sitting on the delivery table. At least my belly is so big it offers me some modesty. 

My husband: “Maybe I should take my pants off, too.” 

Me: “I am pretty sure that is what got us into this mix-up in the first place!”

We wait about five minutes, speculating what in the world is going to happen next. Then in walks a different lady, who we soon discover is the head midwife. 

Midwife: “What are you doing?” 

Me: “I am here for the tour.” 

Midwife: “Why are your pants off?” 

Me: “That other lady told me to take them off.” 

Midwife: “Huh.”

We just stare at each other blankly for a few seconds. 

Midwife: “She doesn’t know what she is doing. When you put your pants back on we can take the tour.”

The midwife stands in the open doorway staring at me. I just sit there, waiting for something. I am waiting for some redemption from this embarrassing situation that was NOT, for once, my fault—and I am waiting for her to close the door. Finally, the midwife gives me the raised eyebrows, and I realize I am not going to get either the redemption or the privacy. I lumber off the table, walk across the room, and put my pants on.

The next time I go to the hospital, I am not going to ask for the tour—and I am really going to try to keep my pants on.

© 2013 Thrive.

Questions to Consider:   What moments in your language/cultural learning have brought you laughter?  Have you been able to turn moments of tears over language/cultural learning into moments of laughter?  If so, how?