Monday, November 29, 2010

Pavlovian bowing

I had a bit of a strange experience when walking to work last week. I was passing some guy on my left when he bowed at a person who must have been right behind me and said "あ、どうも、おはようございます" ("Oh! Good morning!"). I was looking forward and, out of the corner of my eye, it kind of looked like he was bowing at me. Before I had time to even consciously register what I was doing, I was already leaning in to bow back. It was only then that I turned my eyes towards him to see him looking towards someone behind me, and thought how odd my reflexive action was.

I think that was the body language equivalent of the automatic reply of "Hi!" when someone says "Hi!" to you. You often don't even think about it before it comes out.

In learning a foreign language, it's exactly that kind of thing that you should be striving for—in both spoken and body language (which of course is an integral part of learning a language); common social communications should ultimately be coming out so naturally that it's almost Pavlovian. And it's no less true if it means that you end up half bowing to random people on the street.

1 comment:

  1. I had an even weirder experience when I had just gotten back from Brazil. I walked up to the dryer where my mom was doing something, and she asked me about the clothes in there. I replied, and then she laughed awkwardly. Given that there was nothing weird about my reply (something like, "Yeah, my clothes should be in there", although I don't recall exactly what it was), I was kind of puzzled as to why she was laughing.

    When I replayed in my head what I had just said, I realized that I had said it all in Portuguese. And this was several days after I had gotten back, so I had been speaking English for a bit when I suddenly reverted to the Portuguese habit I had developed over the previous three months in Brazil.

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