12 September 2013; AT5 = 1051 hours; total time = 1989 hours; TV = 352.2 hours
I’m on my first visit home since going to Thailand two and a quarter years ago. I arrived here in the far southeastern corner of the U.S. about 10 days ago, and there really isn’t any Thai here other than what I summoned up in online episodes of Wanida (วนิดา) and photos I showed my family from a recent trip to northern Thailand. There is a lot of English, of course, and some Spanish that I’ve caught on the radio stations.
Today I was sitting at a waterfront restaurant with my mother. We’re having a seafood lunch, ’70s music in the background – Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bee Gees, and other stuff that I’ve heard zillions of times in the past but can’t put a name to. The overcastness of the day is making for a pleasant temperature.
Still catching up on family news, my mother’s telling me a story about a relative who had some medical problems while traveling outside the U.S. The hospital that had admitted her told her she was good-to-go and discharged her after a perhaps too-short stay, without really doing anything for her. The story triggers off a cynical reaction on my part – I feel that our relative was given the bum’s rush by a hospital that didn’t want to do anything for her and wanted to get rid of her as soon as possible. Instinctively I make a gesture with my hand, which is hovering over the tabletop – it’s an abrupt flicking-from-the-wrist motion with fingers extended and fanned out, as if I’m trying to sweep something away or motion for someone to leave. At the same time I mouth the Thai word for Go! without actually vocalizing it.
This gesture – along with the unvocalized Thai – gets repeated one time before I realize I’m doing something Thai in an American situation. My mother doesn’t know any Thai at all but doesn’t comment on my reaction – I don’t think she caught the subaudible Thai Go!, though I now realize that the Thai word for go sounds a bit like the English word ‘bye, which would certainly have fit perfectly here. From an English speaker’s perspective, would it have looked like I was mouthing the word ‘bye?
The flicking/sweeping gesture too – don’t we have that same gesture here in America, with the same meaning?: leave, go, get out. Or maybe in the American version the wrist wouldn’t have been snapped quite so stiffly, and the fingers would have been more relaxed, not so rigidly extended and fanned out. I’m not sure, I can’t remember.
Did I slip into this particular Thai language-gesture combination because it in some ways so closely resembles the English?
Maybe the hand gesture summoned up the Thai.
Language, which is habitual and entangled with all kinds of non-verbal things, gets triggered by circumstances.
Anyway, a minor incident, a ripple on the surface of my day – but it wouldn’t have happened the last time I was in the U.S.!