Water Closets, Schweppes Toilet Water, God Has a Plan For My Life and Other Communication Blunders

I once heard a story about the Wheaton College Women’s Chorale and a little wardrobe snafu.  It is a yearly ritual for groups at Wheaton to design t-shirts to mark their belonging to that group.  One particular year the ladies of the Women’s Chorale designed their shirts as a play on their common initials with the college, WC.  They designed the shirt with a large WC and a reference to Wheaton College and the Women’s Chorale in smaller letters, and this design just happened to be used the year they were scheduled to tour Europe.

At a couple stops on the tour they decided to wear their shirts, emblazoned with a large WC, instead of their normal fineries, and the ladies of the Wheaton College Women’s Chorale quickly discovered that their European audiences didn’t think the design was all that clever.  You see, in Europe a restroom is often called a water closet, and signs marking their locations often abbreviate that with a large “WC.” There’s nothing like singing the Hallelujah Chorus while wearing a shirt that says “bathroom.”

The ladies of the Wheaton Women’s Chorale are not the only ones who have made cross-cultural communication blunders.  Poor translation once led Schweppes Tonic Water to promote “Schweppes Toilet Water” in Italy. Sales of the Chevy Nova suffered in South America until GM realized that Nova in Spanish means, “It won’t go,” and the “Got Milk?” campaign asked an unintended and rather personal question in Mexico, “Are you lactating?”

We have similar communication issues in the church.  We toss around words and phrases that I’m not sure if we fully understand.  We say things like, “Turn it over to God.”  “I know God has a plan for my life.”  “Jesus is always with me.”  Each of these phrases communicates a truth, but do we really know and believe what we are saying?  Do we really believe that Jesus is always with us?  What does it mean to turn something over to God?  What would it look like for us to actually live as if God has a plan for our lives?

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