Like a Fish in Water – Excerpt from Chapter 9

The following is an exclusive excerpt from the new book, Like a Fish in Water: How to Grow Abroad When You Go Abroad by Rich Kurtzman.

From Chapter 9: Speaking is not necessarily communicating

True or False: if you can speak another language, you can communicate well in that language?

If you are reading this book, you can understand English. Now, let’s see if you can understand the next paragraph (and try reading it in an English woman’s accent so you can sound like my wife, Kerry).

Kerry: Rich, stop faffing, get the nappy for Emma, and make sure Jack has clean pants. After I take the rubbish out, I’m going to make eggy bread for breakfast, so can you grab the Ketchup and salt? Remember, you are in charge of tea today and I’ve bought courgette and aubergine. We promised the kids a special pudding—maybe candy floss or jelly? Me: Say what?

In case you didn’t get some of that, let me translate from English to… English—or, better said: from British English to American English:

Kerry: Rich, stop (messing around), get the (diaper) for Emma, and make sure Jack has clean (underwear). After I take the (garbage) out, I’m going to make (French toast) for breakfast, so can you grab the Ketchup and salt? Remember you are in charge of (dinner) today and I’ve bought (zucchini) and (eggplant). We promised the kids a special (dessert)— maybe (cotton candy) or (Jell-O)?

Very important cultural note here—the British put Ketchup and salt on their French toast!! If there is one thing that I find hardest about crossing cultures, it’s that French toast, universally, should NOT be eaten with Ketchup and salt; it must be maple syrup. I’m joking. Sort of.

Although my British wife and I are a small sample size, the constant misunderstandings between us (demonstrated above) indicate that the answer to that true-or-false question is a big fat “not necessarily.”

There is much more to communication than understanding the words. So, even if you have already learned the language of the country you are going to (last chapter), or you already speak the language (this chapter) and you learn the nonverbal communication (next chapter), there is still room for miscommunication. Intercultural communication is so important that I’m dedicating three full chapters to it.



Take three minutes to brainstorm a list of all of the everyday sayings or phrases used in English that include baseball lingo. For example, if I say, “Step up to the plate,” I mean you need to be prepared; this is your time to make it happen. Ready? Go.

If you grew up in the U.S., where baseball is America’s pastime and a huge part of American culture, you will have been able to come up with many phrases. If you grew up in a country that doesn’t play baseball, you probably spent those last three minutes with a blank page in front of you.

Do you understand this paragraph?

Jessica, today, I need you to really step up to the plate. Go out there and hit us a grand slam! Right off the bat, they are gonna throw you some curveballs that come out of left field, but if you just give them a ballpark figure, it should be a home run. Let’s touch base when you are done because I have another idea to run past you. “Hey, Jim, you’re on deck!”

If baseball is a part of your heritage and culture, you would have gotten it all. On the other hand, when I show this to a group of students from all over the world, they look at me with blank stares, because they didn’t get even 10 percent of it!

You can purchase your copy of Like a Fish in Water: How to Grow Abroad When You Go Abroad here and find out more at 

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