It was George Bernard Shaw who said that England and America were two countries divided by a common language. Nowadays, one does not need different accents and usages in order to create confusion. Even in the same country, in the same language, with an homogenous group of people, the possibilities of miscommunication and confusion are endless.
The problem is mainly that no-one reads anymore. Facts are only as durable as the last communication. Life has become so fast that we scan things superficially and have the memory retention of a goldfish. Our attention span is confined to 140 characters and anything longer than a paragraph is skimmed and discarded.
Idle comments (as long as they are short) then become gospel, and travel with cyberspeed. As the old saying goes, a lie can travel around the world while the truth is still getting its boots on.
This was brought home to me a while ago when an innocent request became a modern-day saga, with the requisite confusion and miscommunication, and a relatively unexpected outcome.
It all began when I put a mundane request on an e-mail community group that I belong to, asking if anyone knew of a practical and cost-effective way of transporting a large parcel – around the size of a trunk – from Durban to Bloemfontein.
Instead of practical advice, I received a casual query as to the nature of the goods in the trunk. Responding in kind, I made the joke that a trunk was a good way to smuggle a body, amongst other contraband.
A lively discussion ensued. The debate spun out of control as the various contributors speculated about the nature of the contents of the trunk and my motives for getting said contents from one city to another…. each suggestion becoming more outrageous and in some cases hilariously libellous.
After a while I got a bit alarmed. Knowing the nature of social media, and how several crooks have been nabbed due to irresponsible musings online, I posted a response that the trunk would contain nothing more sinister than fabric… I had recently replaced all the curtains in my house and wanted to send the old curtains to my sister – a keen seamstress – for repurposing.
But it was not to be. The group had got the bit between their collective teeth, and were determined to follow this train of contraband wrong-doing to its logical, criminal, conclusion. My responses were confined to rather weak ‘Ha ha ha’s.’
Eventually, in the nature of these things, the conversation died down. I was still no wiser about how I was going to get my old curtains to my sister in Bloemfontein, but at least I was no longer the butt of the discussion. Or so I thought.
It was around a week later that I received a polite mail from someone I did not know. They told me that they had heard that I wished to transport a trunk from Durban to Bloemfontein. They had a cousin who made the trip quite often, and would be willing, either as a favour or after a small contribution to costs, to do the delivery for me.
But – and here’s the kicker – the cousin was a law-abiding person, and would not be comfortable being an unwitting part of a criminal enterprise (the official term is ‘patsy’). Therefore, before they agreed to do me this favour, they really needed to reassure themselves that the contents of the trunk were completely innocent. While they would never dream of snooping, would it be OK if they inspected the merchandise first?
I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Someone, somewhere, thinks that I am a security risk and was dabbling with the exciting prospect of walking on the wild side.
I thanked them for their time, assured them the cargo was blameless, but told them that I had already made an alternative arrangement.
In the event, I just kept the curtains at home. They make lovely bedspreads.
This article was dedicated to Denise Mhlanga 🙂