More Than Words can Say
Preamble. One of my friends, who is actually my boss, has a daughter who has recently been accepted into the top high school for English, in Daegu. Gaining entrance was highly competitive and as such local middle schools can nominate only a limited number of applicants, based on their student population. Her school nominated 6 students but she was the only one to pass the entrance procedure. Not only did she have to compete with a large number of students from her school, but then with students from all over Daegu. Nominated students then had to endure a rigorous selection process held over two weekends the first of which included a fifty minute essay and a question paper. The results of the first weekend provided the final batch of applicants who on the following weekend were subject to group debates and an individual interview.
On Wednesday, when the results were released, my boss was hooting with delight and for the remainder of the week the atmosphere in school was hyper. I could probably have canceled my classes and gone home and she wouldn’t have minded. On Friday, I was given a cash bonus and thanked for the extra work I’d volunteered to help her daughter succeed.
Now, this isn’t really the point of this post. After being handed my bonus, as usual in an unsealed envelope and presented with two hands, we walked to a nearby cafe and on the way my boss stopped on several occasions to talk to women she knew and during each brief interaction told them of her daughter’s success. Suddenly my sociologist’s head was activated as I noticed some fleeting, but very interesting behaviour. Perhaps mothers share a special empathy but on two different occasions the conversing women held their clasped hands to their chests and emitted this strange squeal. I noticed it instantly and almost asked, ‘what the fuck are you doing? Perhaps it was just coincidence or maybe it really is a shared habit – I’ve no idea. The squeal, sounded in unison lasted only a few seconds and is quite hard to describe. It was certainly joyous but in a totally feminine manner. Being a musician, I have a fairly good ear and the strangest aspect of each occurrence was how their squeals rapidly attuned themselves to one pitch so that for a few seconds both were squealing the same note. In that instant, and it was an instant, they seemed to share an understanding, to mutually empathize.
All cultures have their own variations of body language and of sounds, guttural and otherwise that can’t be located in dictionaries. Probably the cutest Korean one I know is when someone doesn’t know something or is unsure and they the touch the back of their head and inhale slightly between their teeth. In a very strange way the shared squeal, their faces and the way they preciously clasped their hands at their chests, conveyed far more emotion and intimacy than their spoken words. Was it a coincidence or is this a gender based, non-verbal, socially shared form of communication?
© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.