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Intercultural Misunderstandings in the Dog World

ellen   Welcome today's Guest Poster: Ellen Hawley. A former New Yorker, now living in the land of Cornwall. That's in the U.K. in case your geography is super bad. Her blog can be found at  Notes from the U.K. , which talks about such New York to England differences. She is the author of two novels,Open Line and Trip Sheets and her third novel, The Divorce Diet (Kensington), will be published on December 30, 2014. Her favorite sport is hide n' seek.  

  When you’re an American living abroad, a lot of the things you thought were normal turn out to be nothing like normal. Let’s say you move to a village in Britain. It’s beautiful. It’s romantic. And you fit in as neatly as a bathtub in a tree.

Throw your assumptions out the window.

Let’s say you’re walking your dog, a lovely cluster of fluff and enthusiasm. A man with another dog stops 20 feet away and asks, “Is that a dog?”

Just to Confirm: This Is Almost Surely a Dog

Just to Confirm: This Is Almost Surely a Dog

You look down, because if he’s questioning it, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to check. Yes, she’s still a dog. A small one, but she was small when you started the walk and it didn’t make her less of a dog.

You look back up.

“Um, yes,” you say.

The man reels in his own dog, explaining that he—the dog, not the man—is snappish with other males, although he’d be fine if your dog had been a bitch.

By this point in the conversation you understand what he’s saying—bitch, female; dog, male—but even so your mind is practically spitting. Excuse me, it says, you can’t call my dog a bitch. And you can’t tell me my dog’s not a dog. I mean look at her, she’s down there wagging her tail. My cats don’t do that.

You want bitch, buddy, talk to me.

But you don’t say it. Because when you live in a village you don’t run around starting wars on a whim. Or, yeah, some people do, but their wars enter the gossip chain and circulate forever. The village keyboard has no Delete button. And whoever you just started a war with? You’ll run into them for the rest of your life. And you’re a bathtub in a tree, so you’re always thinking about cultural differences and how likely you are to find sensitivities where you don’t expect them.

If you were still living in an American city, you wouldn’t have said what you’re thinking either. You’re not completely crazy. But living in this British village colors the way you don’t say it. So you keep the vague smile that landed on your face when the man first asked if your dog was a dog and you say, “Oh. That. Female. She’s female.”

At which point, the man lets his dog approach and they gave each other a good sniff. And his dog, the one who would have been fine if your dog had been a bitch, turns bitchy himself and snaps at her. Which goes to show you something, although it’s not clear what.

The United States has its share of dog breeders, and for all you know they talk about dogs and bitches, but no one in the States ever asked if your dog was a dog, did they? Not once.




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About Ellen Hawley (1 Article)
Fiction writer and blogger, living in Cornwall.

10 Comments on Intercultural Misunderstandings in the Dog World

  1. I only question if a dog is a dog if it’s a Chihuahua… because…Chihuahua.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That little dog of fluff! She’s adorable. I wish my cat would go for a walk. Never would I question whether that’s a dog.Never!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t go into this, but sometimes one of our cats does walk with us and it’s a pain in the neck. On his own, he’s clever about traffic, but with us he takes to standing in the middle of the road, playing chicken with the cars. We try to sneak away without him. I had to cut short a conversation with the neighbors once, saying, “Gotta run. I’m trying to sneak away without the cat.”

      I’m not sure what they thought, and I probably don’t want to know.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh my… I’m still laughing! I am a non-English living England and I could see the scene happen in front of my eyes… brilliant!
    Anyway, your fluffy little thing is clearly a bitch – and quite a lovely one – I don’t know what that man was thinking. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ll tell my dog you said she’s lovely. She’s generally the first to agree.


  5. Your adorable girl does have a look on her face like she’s not sure she liked the tone of that conversation. In fact, she looks downright offended.


  6. Okay, that does it: I’m going out looking for that guy to give him a serious telling off. He can’t upset my dog and get away with it.


  7. Really funny! Being Afrikaans this is the weirdest thing ever! We literally just call them girls and boys! :):):):):)

    Liked by 1 person

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