"What an Adventure!" and Other Euphemisms

Happy Bangladeshi guy


When we first announced that we would be serving our first Foreign Service tour in Saudi Arabia, people would invariably respond, “What an adventure!” That, of course was a euphemism for “Wow, that’s really going to suck!” Most people don’t want to tell you that the next couple of years life are going to be crappy; they want to spare your feelings. And bless their hearts for that.

I do the same. Just before we last left the States, I met a couple that was bound for Abuja, Nigeria. Abuja had also been on our bid list, so Joey and I had researched it extensively. And you know I responded, “Wow, what an adventure, huh?”

That “huh?” was strategic. Unless you’re talking to someone who has Asperger’s, a “huh?” turns the conversation back over to the other person so that you have time to gather some positive thoughts that will temporarily allay their misgivings about their bad luck.

Euphemisms are important social tools. We hear them all the time, although I find that they differ somewhat by region and culture.

Old City, Jeddah
For example, when we moved from Utah to Virginia, every time I went out in public with my four children, complete strangers would say (with this exact phrasing!): “You have your hands full, don’t you?” And that of course meant, “You have reproduced more times than our society deems is normal. It’s only fair that you’re being publicly humiliated and/or exasperated by your children right now.”

But I knew they meant well, of course, because they tagged that “don’t you?” to the end of their question so that I would nod and we’d both feel solidarity in our mutual agreement. Then I’d at least have that cheery feeling of camaraderie to get me through the next few minutes of hell with my kids. . . . And that’s thoughtful in it’s own way, you know?

In all honesty, I’m not offended by any of these euphemisms. Yes, they’re easily deconstructed in an “I’m Eeyore the Postmodernist” kind of way, but they reveal a good heart.

Eeyore was not a healthy donkey although he was surrounded with wonderful friends (one of whom showed commendable resilience despite being named “Pooh”). It’s much better—and much healthier for everyone—to laugh than to take offense. One of the really wonderful things about human existence is that we get to choose our responses to life, wherever it happens to take us.