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Netflix and chill

12 July 2022 - Dr Jan Orman

If a good friend suggested to you that, instead of going to the movies together, you just go home to “Netflix and chill” how would you respond?

Obviously you might be disappointed with the proposition if you’d been looking forward to an evening out, but you might also be able to identify it as a major turning point in your relationship.

Unlike me you may already know that “let’s go home and Netflix and chill” is the modern equivalent of “would you like to come up and see my etchings?”.

How did this come up?

I was recently at a graduation ceremony where the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, gave the occasional address. He began his address by acknowledging how hard the graduates had worked to achieve their degrees and saying they probably now deserved to go home and Netflix and chill for a while.

A ripple went through the crowd that I did not understand. Was it because it seemed a little too light-hearted for a serious graduation? Was it because he then proceeded to make some recommendations about what to watch which also seemed inappropriate? No, appears that it was because he was talking to a generation for whom “to Netflix and chill” is a compound verb that means to have sex.

When I say “a generation” don’t get me wrong. This wasn’t just undergraduates he was talking to, there were post grads and doctoral students whispering and murmuring as well.

Why am I talking about this?

The whole thing has been playing on my mind. I’ve been wondering how many of my patients have used this expression and I have missed their meaning entirely. Sometimes it might have been important.

Take, for example, the young woman who tells me her partner never wants to go out, that all he wants to do is Netflix and chill. Suddenly I’ve realised she is not telling me about the way her social life interacts with her relationship, but about issues in her sex life, and I’ve been missing my cue every time.

I’ve been wondering what else I’ve been missing. This lack of understanding on my part could make the difference between effective therapy and a complete waste of time.

Thank goodness for adult children!

I found out about “Netflix and chill” by accident when I heard a group of my son’s thirty-something friends wondering whether the CEO of Netflix actually knew what it meant. Needless to say, they filled me in. That’s what you have kids for isn’t it – to keep you up to date.

When I learnt the truth, I felt a bit like I did the morning after a party when I was told that the guy I’d been talking to the night before about wine connoisseurism being a covert form of alcoholism, has a cellar as big as Imelda Marcos’ shoe cupboard! It’s not a pleasant feeling. And there’s another thought. The language problem goes both ways. Would anyone under 40 understand that reference to Imelda Marcos’ shoe cupboard?

Since my enlightenment I’ve been re-running past conversations with many patients to see if I’m missing something, just because I don’t know the meaning of that one little phrase. I’ve also been wondering what other little phrases there are that I am ignorant about.

We do have a responsibility to fully understand our patients and clients (and our children) but how do we keep up with the twists and turns of the social vernacular?

Here’s the list of strategies I’ve come up with to help solve this particular problem:

  • Listen to your kids and younger relatives and talk to them about your need to know about the language they are using – if you’re lucky enough to have adolescents and young adults around you they can be a great resource.
  • If in doubt, ask your patients/clients what they mean – of course the problem with that is you have to know what you don’t know before you know to ask. Who’d have thought Netflix and chill meant anything other than Netflix and chill!
  • Check out social media channels every now and again – I’m not big fan of social media generally but it’s a great way to get to know what people think and how they express their thoughts. Horrifying sometimes, but also educational.
  • Watch some youth-oriented TV. Let go of the news and serious drama for a while and look at what others are watching. My son (28) suggests Triple J, The Project and a Youtube channel called “trends”
  • Look at youth-oriented websites especially the ones focussed on mental health. Find the transcripts of live chatrooms like those on e-Headspace – it’s a great learning experience.
  • Spend some regular time with the Urban Dictionary, a crowdsourced online dictionary for slang words and phrases. You can even subscribe to get their Urban Word of the Day email! (As I write the word for today is Tikbait which of course refers to the video platform equivalent of clickbait). Be careful though – some of the words and definitions are pretty out there. (ie they are “not conforming to mores, accepted norms or standards”)

Mostly, the people we talk to will modify their language for us, but sometimes the meaning of words and phrases is so obvious to them that it doesn’t occur to them that we might not know what they mean. Sometimes too, they are testing us to see how much we understand. We need to make an effort.

But, whatever we do, if its not our language we shouldn’t try to speak it. That’s a great way to end up looking really stupid.

Resources:

Youtube channel ‘Trends’ - https://www.youtube.com/trends/

eHeadspace website - https://headspace.org.au/search/SearchForm?Search=chat%20transcripts

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Dr Jan Orman
Dr Jan Orman

Jan is Sydney GP, private psychological medicine practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and a GP educator for Black Dog Institute.

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