"“But, behavior in the human being is sometimes a defense, a way of concealing motives and thoughts, as language can be a way of hiding your thoughts and preventing communication.”"
I recently swapped my desk in busy London for a slightly more inspiring setting in beautiful Greece. As with Dutch, Greek is a language that lies entirely outside of my linguistic capabilities, despite having a Grandmother who is impressively fluent. This can become a problem, given that the Greeks love to chat. Only possessing a handful of phrases in my vocabulary, such as “I would like an ice cream/lemonade/beer, please”, “I’m hungry”, and “Good morning/evening/night”, I was forced to find other ways of communicating, for fear of appearing rude or un-appreciative of their generosity and kindness.
This got me thinking about communication and how much we need to rely on language itself.
Eleni Beach, Skiathos
One incidence in particular really lead me to utilize all my communication skills aside from verbal ones, and left me marveling at how able we are as human beings to communicate with one another, regardless of linguistic, cultural or geographical borders. Lying on the beach one day, an elderly Greek man who was living next door to me came over to chat. We had already formed a rough friendship the day he brought me figs and we exchanged names and where we were from exactly etc., which was just about manageable with my extremely basic level of Greek. However, on this particular day, the man wanted to engage in a deeper conversation. Pulling together all my French/Spanish/Italian/Latin together with his, and a wealth of hand gestures, noises and facial expressions, we were able have a relatively comprehensive discussion about the weather, when and where he likes to go swimming and why, and our common interest in classical music.
A major part of my elderly Greek friend’s way of communicating with me rested on physical aspects. Every so often he would place his hand on my arm or shoulder, which not only reinforced his passion and excitement for what he was talking about, but also was a way of letting me know that he wanted to be talking to me and made the communication between us more open and natural in general.
There is obviously a whole lot more that could be said here on a sociolinguistic level, which would be interesting for an entirely separate discussion another time, however the main point I wanted to make was that without speaking a word or uttering a sound, the Greek man and I were able to share a moment of understanding.
Perhaps if other more closed, reserved cultures were to adopt this same approach to communication, there would be far fewer misunderstandings, across all social situations. I know that I am definitely prone to avoiding eye contact from time to time so as to not be forced into a stilted conversation I cannot be bothered to have, and smiling anxiously as a response to someone’s question I have said ‘pardon’ to for the third permissible time. Perhaps if we engaged more with the other tools of communication made available to us, we would not find ourselves in these awkward situations.
Have a great week everyone and please do let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Monday 28 September 2015