The Barbarians

There is etiquette and the rules. There is also non-verbal communication, the cues that are below conscious interpretation most of the time. If you find yourself studying someone’s posture, expression, hand motions for meaning, for clues about the meaning behind their words, you are looking for the non-verbal communication. For many people, reading these cues is automatic and happens unaware. This happened to you when you realized that your cousin wished you would leave though she invited you to stay for dinner. This happened to you when you said no to a second cup of tea when your hostess offered one, though you didn’t realize that she was actually out of milk. As we have met more and more people here, I’ve been more and more conscious of my illiteracy. I wander around this country unable to read many of the signs and advertisements. Some of them are in English, but many are in the language of the state. Similarly, I have been more conscious of my non-verbal illiteracy. I am not sure of my reading of people’s cues, the things they say without saying them, the delicate and important business of being honest while protecting their images of themselves as good hosts and nice people. I have had so many things pushed on me with great force: food, drinks, chairs, extra servings. And I’m not fluent enough to know when I please the host by acquiescing and when I displease them. Even more difficult, when I persist in declining the offers (too full for more, tired of sitting, etc), am I making things difficult or easy? I worry about putting people out. When I’m offered chai and I say yes, someone has to go make it. It’s not the fastest process on earth, either… Imagine a woman in a[…]

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