In mediation, it is essential that parties are on the same page and that there is no confusion about the import of each communication as also of the intent behind making it.

Today’s Bombay Times supplement of the Times of India mentions that Akshay Kumar (a national star in India), spoke in the Tamil language at the launch of 2.0, a Bollywood movie co-starring Rajinikanth, (another national star in India, whose mother-tongue is Tamil). Akshay Kumar mentioned that he had practised for over 10 days, to get it right – and he did!

However, not always can one carry off the delicate task of speaking in another person’s mother-tongue which is foreign to oneself. And should things go awry, the results can range from souring of relations, to leading to a hilarious situation. Here is one rumoured incidence that caused an uncomfortable moment.

A foreign dignitary, for whom English was a foreign language, was to call on the US President Barack Obama. With that in mind, he took some training in conversational English. He was explained then the likely flow of the conversation and was instructed thus:

– When you shake hands with the President, please ask: ‘How are you?’

– He would say: ‘I am fine. How are you?’

– At this point, you should reply: ‘Me too!

However, when this foreign dignitary finally met the US President and shook hands, he ended up asking: “Who are you?”

Though a bit taken aback, the US President infused some humour in his response, to say: “I am Michelle’s husband!”

To this, the visiting dignitary replied: “Me too!”

Moral: Tread carefully when attempting the unfamiliar.