Talking Without Words: Non Verbal Communication

"We're getting married," my son announced. We cheered. "In Brazil."

The prospect of an escape from England, as it shivered in mid-December, made us crow with delight. What's more, the wedding venue was Salvador,  in the hot north-east of the country near the equator, where the new in-laws live.

Yes, it really does look like this.© Lisa James | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Sunshine: check.  Palm trees: check. Heat 30 degrees: what’s not to like?

Girls with tanned bodies and long hair. No wonder my husband was so keen.

Did you know that Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish as I imagined? So much for my vague memories of learning Spanish on holiday on the Costas, then.

We did not speak Portuguese. My son’s fiancée’s family spoke no English. How then, were we to understand each other, let alone spend the entire day of the wedding together? The thought was daunting, but the solution simple.

We had to loosen up our British stiff upper lips and let our bodies do the talking.

We dipped our toes in the water with smiles and nods, hugs and multiple kisses on the cheek (at least two). Good relations established, we saw rougher seas ahead. How do you make small talk, or just chat or crack jokes, when you don't share a language?

We would not let words get in our way. We took deep breaths and plunged in, arms waving and eyebrows waggling.

“Oh,” we said, with smiles and two hands to our faces. Everyone saw it meant, "She looks beautiful."

We shrugged, frowned and glanced to either side to ask where we should sit. They pointed and patted the seats.

“Have some cake” was easy, so was “More champagne?” Everyone can mime eating and drinking.

With a little help from our dictionaries, some paper to draw on and more champagne we didn't look back. 

We waved our hands; we jumped up to perform elaborate mimes. If one person couldn’t guess what we meant, another one could.

We found out who was on their second marriage, who had been having affairs and who with. We talked about the price of houses and debated how to travel by car around Salvador. (Tip: close your eyes.)

Sometimes, the conversation stopped for a while. But it didn’t matter. We sat together, not talking, to enjoy each other’s company.

Of course, everything's easier when the sun shines and you sit outside around the pool, but some of the lessons from that day will stay with me always.

So here’s what I learned:

  • If you want to communicate you can do so without words. All it takes is goodwill and the willingness to lose some of your inhibitions.

  •  Silence is no enemy to communication. Sitting quietly together can create a real bond.

  •  Always have paper and a pen with you.

  • Don’t be afraid to draw – stick people are the high points of my ability, but they get the message across.

  • Use your hands, your facial expressions and even inarticulate grunts: anything to help people understand. Unleash your inner actor.

And yes, since you ask, the women are scandalously gorgeous over there. But, on the other hand, our new Brazilian family swooned over our fair hair and blue eyes.

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