Grey Matter
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‘You don’t know what you got till it’s gone’

Published on 07/03/2015

I was deaf this week for a couple of days. I will spare you the anatomical details and photos of why this happened but I am now back to normal and maybe because of that experience I am appreciating more than ever the capacity of my ears and thinking about what I hear.

This week I flew from Toulouse to Madrid and after a fairly normal flight the passengers got down onto the tarmac and into the waiting bus to go to the terminal. In the bus, that’s when it struck me … Spanish people talking together talk at three or four times the volume of others.

I once spent a night in a mountain hut in the Pyrenees. There were four or five Brits, some French and about 15 Spanish trekkers. Wow the volume was tremendous! It was too cold to go outside so we all sat in the canteen area of the hut and suffered the shouts of the Spanish fellow travellers. It’s not just loud. It also sounds like they are having a really nasty argument when actually I think they were just saying something like… I am fed up of this card game, can’t we stop and play something else? And who ate the last biscuit?

I had a similar experience in Beijing. I was taken to a restaurant by my local host and I would have sworn that my host and the restaurant owner began the evening by having a good old angry shouting match. I guess the correct translation would have been … we have some fresh fish which I can really recommend this week, want to try it? But it sounded like …  I told you last time! Don’t come here again with your puffed up business cronies, get out of here before I take a kitchen knife and…

I figure that Italians are pretty expressive when it comes to verbal and body language but somehow I manage to tell when they are happy, annoyed, telling a story, having a joke. But in Beijing I just couldn’t tune in to what was really going on.

Makes me wonder what happens when a Beijing restaurant owner gets angry for real. Maybe they talk really quietly, in a whisper cloaked with threat and that’s when you should really worry.

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