Apologies for the Dead Air

The crickets have been chirping over here; my sincerest apologies for that. Life in the form of work and viruses has gotten in the way of my writing, which is admittedly a bit absurd, seeing as writing can be done from the sickbed, but it is what it is. So let’s see, where did we leave off?

Ah yes, with promises of posts about Teutonic female feistiness (with a long apology to Damon who has left a really awesome, as-yet unreplied-to comment), the question of cutting, and a very nice discussion in the comments section about how much it sucks to be a foreigner meeting new people. Also, I got past hello so that’s another post, but not a very interesting one I’m afraid. All to come.

Instead, for today, can we just talk about how difficult it is to not have a voice? For the second time this summer, viruses have left my vocal cords out of commission. A normal cold + too much talking/wine-drinking/not sleeping = an inability to make so much as a peep.

This would be something to brush off if I were in the land of English speakers. I could go about my daily business and mime things and still get my shit done because of the cultural universality of hand gestures. In the US, it’s almost as if they’re so used to people not speaking English, sales clerks have a whole routine prepared for how to convey info without ever blinking an eyelid. There’s a lot of writing and hand gestures involved, but whatever. Totally different than in Italy, where, even with a voice and enough Italian to explain I could understand not a single word someone was saying, I became the center of what felt like a village media circus as more than a dozen people tried to explain how to get to my hotel. All without a map or pen and paper or those other accoutrements that help when playing charades in a country where the “universal” hand symbol for ok is used by prostitutes to show their open-for-business-ess.

When I lost my voice in Prague in May, the people I encountered took a different tack; seemingly thinking I was a complete idiot, not only mute but unable to speak German or English, the sales clerks also played dumb. Trying to order lunch was fun because dude behind the counter, instead of using words I could hear or understand, tried to describe what a hot dog was with hand gestures. Even when I tried to tell him HE could speak, he just carried on pretending to be an overheated four-legged creature. Awesome.

Here in Germany, it’s been a lot more difficult because I have had to go about my daily business, and people are utterly confused by why one day I can speak German and the next not. I’m afraid I’ve offended quite a few people in the last few days but not saying anything in passing, but what do you say? “I can’t talk” in English may be code for “I’m busy, get out of my face,” but that doesn’t stop the other person from trying to jabber your ear off. Here in Germany, it seems to mean, “I’m busy, get out of my face,” and people scram. Many people have scrammed lately and I’ve spent the last few days trying to reassure them that no, I was not blowing them off. I really couldn’t speak.

Then there’s also the business of the telephone. It took me years getting comfortable enough to make a phone call in German, so I got a bit out of the habit, but now I find I have to do it all the damned time. Try making a doctor’s appointment without being able to talk. His secretary hung up on me twice. (His diagnosis, by the way, was great Typisch Deutsch: “You’re sick. Put on a scarf and drink hot lemon and lay in bed.”) And when my voice started to trickle back in and I returned a couple days’ worth of messages, the first guy I called said, “You’re never the loudest in the room, so this is really tough. Maybe we can Gchat instead?”

To which I replied, “Clearly, we’ve never been drunk together,” but he didn’t hear me.

But Gchat? Um, no.

See that’s the weird thing about not having a voice. Thanks to technology, there really are ways to communicate that don’t require words. And I prefer a few of them. SMS, for instance. Who in the bloody hell leaves voicemails anymore? I don’t even know how to check my VM at work, and I only know how to do it at home because my iphone has this button that says listen to voicemail on it. If you SMS me, I will reply, and I’ll do it really damned quick, usually.

But this whole “accessible to chat on my computer at all times” thing really grates on me. Yes I have Skype and Gchat, but I prefer to stay in my pajamas and not be seen with my do-rag on. I also have email. Works awesomely, because who needs a voice when you’ve got words? At some point, maybe the next time I lose my voice since it seems like it’s going to be a frequent occurrence, I’ll embrace this newfangled technology. But until then, I’ll stick to words on paper to be heard.


2 thoughts on “Apologies for the Dead Air

  1. cliff1976 September 16, 2012 / 2:22 pm

    Heh. I prefer email too. Hate the SMS culture. But that’s mostly because of my ancient POS phone. If I something running a halfway modern iOS or Android, my tune might change.

    I think it’s perfectly fine to keep your camera turned off for instant messaging on any platform. With that in mind, and other than the medium (live written word vs. live spoken word) I’m not sure really what the difference is between “accessible to chat on my computer at all times” and the expectation to speak to someone on the phone. So I don’t get your reluctance to use an instant messaging platform if you’d be willing to talk on the phone. Am I missing something?

  2. Milly September 26, 2012 / 10:07 am

    Funny, we’re totally opposite …. I’m addicted to SMS, but I hate talking on the phone mainly because I cannot abide by the nuances you lose when talking but not seeing a person and I cannot sit still long enough to do nothing else but talk. I have to do it for interviews, but that’s easy because I record them and don’t really have to listen all that well so I can carry on with other stuff. Call me for personal reasons and you’ll get annoyed right quick because I’m doing dishes or something else. Part of my hyperactivity, I guess. That’s the same reason I don’t like chat. I do too many things to be chained to my computer. I’m a bit flighty, so even though I “work” on my computer all day, if I’m actually sitting at my desk, it’s because I have a deadline and I have zero interest in chatting then because it’s too distracting. Does that make sense? I think it’s also that I find chatting mainly pointless, though now for editors in the US I have to do it and that works okay, since there’s always a clear endpoint to the conversation.

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