You Look Smart : A complement Interpreted as Insult
This is me and my son after church and WE LOOK SMART right? In Rwanda I would say a big yes, I am in my new white shirt and nice white spotted red tie. My handsome son has a new hair cut and he is in his brand new shirt. For someone from the US ( may be my friend Luke whom I have worked with for more than three years and knows me well) would definitely say no. We do not look smart.
What is happening here? One English word interpreted differently. Two different cultures uses one word to mean two different things. In Rwanda if someone says you look smart they mean you dressed up ( They like your clothing ) which in American English this could mean you do not look intelligent.
I Like your Shirt: You can Have It
In multiple occasions I have witnessed English speaking people telling Rwandans they like their clothing and generous Rwandans genuinely respond " Ooh you can have it, I have another one." They do it because they think you want it. For some Rwandans when you say you like something they have, it is translated you want it so they will give it to you. This causes embarrassment on both sides, the person who wanted to give a compliment feels guilty after knowing what it actually means and the other person who offered their clothing instead of accepting the complement does not escape that embarrassment.
Take home: Speaking one language does not break culture barriers.