Although my family is not (as described in the article) from New York, not Jewish, and not of Eastern European descent, we display the same “high-engagement conversation style” (to put it nicely) that many people interpret as rude. Conversely, for us, a patient silence conveys boredom and disinterest. I often feel that my spouse and his family, displaying stereotypical British reserve, don’t really care about the topic of conversation or is distracted elsewhere, lost in thought. When my enthusiasm is met with silence, I feel deflated. It’s hard to remember that in their culture, they are being polite.
The Japanese, too, also require the listeners to actively engage, to nod and frequently say “hai” to demonstrate that they are following the conversation. Even newsreaders often have a co-anchor, whose job is to sit there and say “hai” as the news is broadcast, to fill in for the TV audience, I assume. While more restrained than the New Yorker’s enthusiastic, “Get the fuck outta here!” it serves the same purpose: demonstrable active engagement.
My own silences have little to do with respect. They usually mean that I don’t feel it worth wasting words on the topic or the other person.
The article develops from these thoughts a different way to look at those random commenters who stop by to put their two cents in. Are they really malicious? or is it their way of showing they’re engaged in the conversation?
Take it whatever way you will. For me the bottom line, once again, is that there is no one right way to interact. What’s natural for me might not be natural for you. We can try to bridge cross-cultural gaps or we can complain about just how awful those other people are.
In Reference To…
Splain it to Me by Alice Maz. Posted on January 6, 2016, on Status451