Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Give Me A Sign

My husband always teases me about the fact that I use my hands when I talk.  A lot.  It’s almost as if I use a variety of American Sign Language to communicate.  I’ve always done it, and been teased about it.  I will say that my husband doesn’t tease me in a negative way; he thinks it’s adorable.  The other evening we were talking about penguins (due to an upcoming trip to Antarctica with his mother) and I told the story about the book “And Tango Makes Three”.  It's one of the most challenged books in libraries in the country due to the so-called "gay" theme.  (Don't get me started .. they're PENGUINS for crying out loud; furthermore, the story really happened.  But I digress ... )  Mitch challenged me to sit on my hands, which I did, but when it came around to the part where the daddy penguin sits on the egg, I did a little hip wiggle in a fashion that I suppose penguins do when they settle down over their egg.  My little sashay resulted in uproarious laughter.  "You see!  You just can't talk without gesturing!" he roared.  

This morning I told my mom I was off to take a shower, and made the universal “taking a shower” gesture, waggling my fingers over my head.  It hit me: what do we do when we travel to a foreign country where we don’t know the language?  Sign language.  Mom said, “Even if I wasn’t an English speaker, I would know that you were going to take a shower."

I spent the larger part of my early life living in countries where most people didn’t speak English.  Japan.  Belgium.  Singapore. When you’re overseas, facing a local shop attendant, and the words just aren’t coming, what do you do?  Make pictures with your hands.  

Bond ... James Bond.

Although sometimes it can be futile: on a school sponsored trip to Russia after I graduated from college (I guess it was still the USSR back then), one of the professors brought along her elderly father.  He was a true curmudgeon; I still wonder why he even bothered to go on the trip.  He was the epitome of annoyed. 

At breakfast the first morning we were there, I sat nearby as the old man got into a heated argument with the waiter.  “I want some tea!  TEA!!” he yelled in frustration, making the sign of the letter “t” with his fingers, shaking it angrily in the face of the poor guy.  Too bad the word for tea in Russian is “chai” … the waiter stood, looking blankly in his face and slowly shaking his head.  I could tell this was a dead end. 

My dad would always ask for the check in a restaurant by making a squiggly writing motion in the air.  No waiter ever misunderstood that.  You can point to your wrist in just about every spot on the globe and ask for the time.  I guess it could be difficult to ask where the toilet is.  (Which brings me to another issue: in this country, "toilet" seems to be a bad word ... we have to euphemistically call it the "rest room" or the "powder room," which in a foreign country will get you nowhere.  It is what it is ...  but I digress again).  Think about all the differences around the world for people to tell people where to get off.  There's the right hand in the bent elbow of the other arm, the thumb flicked off the front teeth.  Of course there's the elusive bird.  There's always a way to curse across the language spectrum.

Is it not out of the realm of possibility that this is where I got my “gesture-itis?”  Perhaps this is a remnant of my life overseas; a sign (pun intended) of my Third Culture Kid-ness.  My husband says it's because in spite of the fact that my (very large) head is so full of adjectives, I run out sometimes; my hands are my way of adding to my stash.  They are my adjunct adjectives.  I think it's because there must be some Italian in my DNA.  

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