One thing I definitely had no concept of before living here, was the incredible efficacy and intricacy of non-verbal language. Now, I love a chat. But when that ability to freely converse in a comfortable, familiar language is gone… What do you do?
Largely, I have found, the answer is expressions, looking ridiculous, occasional frantic pointing and mumbled “mmmmm!”s of approval/agreement/discontent. What I hadn’t realised is that even these non-words are cultural!
For example – “mmhmm” is yes, and “nuh-uh”(or similar-this is hard to write down) is no. Right? WRONG. This is a Euro-USA thing. Here it’s the same sound, but means the opposite! This has, as you can imagine, resulted in much confusion at work. Add in to the mix the fact that in many non-western cultures it’s extremely rude to say a direct no or disagree directly, and you’ve got a myriad of ways to be accidentally insensitive!
Thankfully, people are generally very forgiving of these crazy foreigners who constantly say no by accident. Smiling apologetically is also very effective, and is usually reciprocated. There’s nothing like a friendly face when all language skills evade you!