"When did you meet your girlfriend?". My French friend asked my Indian friend.
"I met her an hour back". My Indian friend replied immediately.
If you look at question and the reply, there is nothing wrong in it. But you should have seen the expression on my French friend's face. He was bewildered.
Now, let me take you a step back. A bunch of guys are sitting in a cafe. They are spending the evening together for the first time as part of a male-bonding exercise. The group is culturally and linguistically diverse - French and Indian. Over the drinks, they come to know about my Indian friend's French girlfriend. Everyone is smiling. Then, one person in the group pops this question.
It was not a disaster. I stepped in. (Ain't me the know-it-all expert-in-diversity-sensitive-about-diversity?). I rephrased the question after which the answers followed and everyone was smiling again.
Was the question wrong? Yes, the "when" should have been a "how". But isn't this where context plays a major role?Imagine you are with your friends back in India, chatting up over a few drinks. If you break the same news in this group, the probable question is "how". Nobody wants to know when you met her last! Now, go back to the diverse group. They are all thinking in a one language and talking in another. There are a few words that are altered in translation.
I see this everyday! "I am coming over" becomes "I arrive". Sometimes, a "he" becomes a "she" and vice versa. An inanimate object is referred as "she". But if you look at the context, the message is clear. In case the context is fuzzy or you want to play it safely, follow the basic rule of communication. Tell you didn't understand and request to repeat the question. If that doesn't work, ask to rephrase.