This is what I believe in;
The power of alcohol to solve whatever is it that ails you.
The first five seconds of meeting a person will tell me everything about them.
And only twenty per cent of communication is verbal.
The rest is made up of a of a series of visual and paralinguistic cogs, springs and counterweights, intricate, silent pieces of message mechanism. Encoded in our facial muscles, our posture, is a pure truth. Take a man cheating on his wife; his excessive absence of blinking when detailing how his day went sends the unspoken message – I’m sleeping with the florist.
This brings me to the Poles and their curiously annoying habit of avoiding eye-contact. Curious, in that there’s no obvious philosophy behind it other than putting the recipient on edge for no better reason than if they’re not relaxed then why the hell should you be?
Am I referring here to my own direct experiences? No. Throwing me into the equation would excuse this socially demoralising habit as a means of deferring to foreigners or avoiding awkward language encounters. This is Poles interacting with other Poles, a national characteristic, a collective non-verbal communication methodology, as habitual as cheating in exams or applauding when an airplane lands. It’s a full-time practice, done between friends and family with such remarkable consistency, it’s a wonder they recognise each other at all.
I suppose all countries have their own unique customs governing interaction.There’s the Finnish habit of marking conversations with huge swathes of silence. The Finns don’t do small talk. They place an importance on listening and will regularly interrupt the flow of verbal interaction by shutting up and processing what’s just been said. This is strange, especially when you consider the Finns have the highest rate of coffee consumption in the world per person. What do they do with all that caffeine energy? It used to be for killing Russians, but now?
Stranger still is the habit in Columbia and the Philippines to point to something with your lips. They consider it rude to use the index finger, so they make a kissy-face and aim it at what they’re directing you towards. Nice.
Even nicer is the way Brazilians mark most conversations with hugs. When they meet, they embrace as if they’ve just been released from solitary confinement. When men are talking to other men, they maintain physical contact, going as far as to pull their shoulders if one of them gazes off in a different direction.
Compare that to the Poles who are constantly giving the impression there is something more interesting going on three centimeters to the right of whoever they’re talking to. It’s staggering how accepted it is – I’ve seen members of the same family arrange themselves side-by-side, intently discussing how much they hate doctors, both staring at an imaginary third person in front of them.
This shouldn’t be confused with the Japanese custom where it’s impolite to make eye-contact, as it turns out they only observe this practice during formal occasions, or when they’re making an apology.
This inability to look their neighbour in the eye is uniquely Polish. I know a few Ukrainian-Polish couples and it’s always the Lviv or Kiev natives who make a point of looking you directly in the face, while their shifty-eyed partners are forever finding something amazingly important happening in the sky.
It doesn’t have to be the sky. Sometimes it’s the hills. I was at a dinner in Warsaw with the former Minister for Health, and for the better part of the night he kept his eyes firmly glued to my PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE’S chest.
Fascinating as this region is, her eyes are more interesting. This is where the real action takes place when anthropoids are exchanging messages. The eyes are the window to the soul? For me, they’re the soul’s voice. Look into them and you’ll hear a person’s needs, their hopes and desires. They eyes speak. They tell you who is naughty and who is nice and at some base level, I think the Poles know this. The eyes speak the truth and for the Poles the truth is something the rest of the world can’t know. It could be used against them. It’s private. Top secret.
For your eyes only.