Recently I asked an acquaintance about the meaning of the word inscribed on her license plate. Mary explained that “Watutu” was not Swahili, as I had guessed, but what her young son had said when he was trying to learn how to say, “I love you.” Then she mentioned an uncomfortable encounter she once had regarding her personalized license plate. One day someone she didn’t know accosted her in a parking lot and began reaming her out, taking the word Watutu for a slur. Mary was taken off guard by the woman’s anger, since the word had no other meaning than what her son had accorded it. Perhaps that angry woman had just been itching for a fight.
Shortly after our conversation I was standing in the customer service line at the local grocery store. In front of me was an elderly woman carrying a package of Van de Kamp’s frozen fish. When she got to the counter, she pulled out the receipt for her groceries and pointed to the letters “vdk.” “I want to return this because it has vodka in it,” she informed the clerk. The startled clerk looked at the receipt and then pointed out that “vdk” did not stand for vodka but rather for the brand. After the woman left, I couldn’t help speculating. She must have been horrified to think that the store had been hawking vodka-injected fish. Or worse yet, perhaps she’d been buying Van de Kamp’s fish for many years, unknowingly imbibing the whole time.
The two incidents reminded me that in our world misunderstandings abound. Sometimes they spice things up by adding a little hilarity, as in the case of the frozen fish, but at other times they subtract from the peace, as in the case of the license plate. Perhaps we would all experience more peace if we were to make a habit of giving others the benefit of the doubt, remembering that Watutu simply means, “I love you.” More