How do you show that you’re really listening in England and Madagascar?
- Make eye contact
- Make listening noises (aha, yup, indeed)
- Ask questions
- Look at the ground
- Remain silent
Thus an English person listening to a Malagasy could be perceived as:
- Wanting to speak themselves
- Trying to dominate
- Being disrespectful
- Intrusive by asking questions
And a Malagasy listening to an English person could be perceived as:
- Trying to indicate you should shut up
I’ve had some excruciating nights out with groups of timid Malagasys where I’ve kept trying to instigate conversation by looking everyone in the eye (thus assuming the dominant position), asking questions and filling silences. At the end of the night I’m wondering why nobody else was helping me create a group dynamic and they were probably intimidated the whole night.
As an English person this has also caused problems in my relationship with my partner. I cry out frequently ‘Are you listening to me?’.
Once you get used to everybody looking bored it can be quite liberating when you’re speaking in public because it means that there’s no point assessing body language – you just keep rambling on and on and on (Malagasys like a good long speech).
The Village leader in the photo kept talking for about an hour as life went on around him. As you can see, he’s enjoying himself.
I’m good at rambling on (as this blog will testify) and choose to interpret people’s bored expressions as respect…and not boredom. Must remember not to do this when back in UK.