Non-verbal cacophonia in the North

game of thrones, jamie lannister, nonverbal interaction

As for Jamie, it seems he has two possible faces. He has a neutral, expressionless face, that he puts on, when he is somehow taken aback (which seems to take a lot). The other – which he puts on here – is this shrewd fox-like smile, which is saying something along the lines: “I know what you are trying to do, and I do have my own thoughts about it, but don’t you think I will reveal them to you. (Ha!)” The fact that the actor behind Jamie Lannister, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, is a Dane might shed some light this binary facial language.

jamie lannister with two interchangeable faces

It is no wonder newcomers to Denmark have such a hard time adjusting to the culture. One thing is the language itself. The phonetics are so complex, that the language is a hobby horse for many linguists around the world. Danish kids seem to learn the Danish words later than other kids growing up with other languages learn their words. In consequence, learning Danish as an adult is a major challenge. On top of that, as I was saying, we have this arbitrary relationship with non-verbal interaction, where we are cautious to let as little as possible slip through.

The Danish language use, the pragmatics of spoken and written language, can be really efficient, when it comes to collaborating, and getting things done. In Danish, we have a rather small vocabulary – maybe because of the work it takes to learn the words – and a single word usually has a very limited range of meanings. Her is here. Der is there. No mistakes. A culture of efficiency, of accountability and of getting things done.

When it comes to emotional content, to person-to-person interaction, it’s another story. It is as if we had a radio jammer implanted in our bodies, that will obstruct the appropriate coding of our inner states and bodily emotions, washing the other person over with a rain of non-verbal white noise.

Danes are experts in reformatting whatever happens inside them into something unrecognizable, when it reaches the outside world. This is a culture of irony, sarcasm, and non-verbal cacophonia.

No wonder that the Danes’ divorce rate is among the highest in the world.

The un-toast – or how “the social stomach” can save humanity

elleria sand not toasting to tommen
game of thrones, dorne, jamie lannister, kingslayer, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau,
Cheers. Or what?!

Doran brings out a toast for Tommen, to which Ellaria gloomily reacts by emptying her glass on the floor, sending a defying look to Jamie Lannister, creating in the teenage lovers, Myrcella and Trystane, one of these wtf-moments about the adults being SO embarrassing.

The non-verbal element is of course very strong here, very brutal, very simple, and completely on the symbolic level. Drinking together means: we are in on this together. Refusing to drink is a very strong protest reaction.

I can’t help thinking about the role that consumption plays in our society, in Denmark particularly, it is very strong, at least. Not wanting to share a meal means you can really piss off the host. This is of course particularly accentuated when the reason for not eating or drinking is based on religious, cultural, health related, ethical or political reasons.

This is why I suggest we invent “the social stomach”. This is an implant in the body that includes

  • a valve in the throat, controlled by our thoughts (or to begin with, an iPhone with the new app “iSwallow”)
  • a plastic tube, parallel to our gullet
  • a plastic bag, next to our stomach, and finally
  • a second valve, in a hidden place, accessible while at the toilet

This way, we wouldn’t have to create these awkward situations, when with the family, where we’d have to remind them for the hundredth time that we don’t eat this or that. We can simply swallow it, and with a big fat smile on our face let the bad, unhealthy, unethical stuff pass through the body without and side effects. Then at an appropriate moment  simply going to the bathroom and flush it out. Completely acceptable and legitimate behavior. Or better: find an excuse to get a lonely moment in the kitchen, find a clean tupperware container, drop the completely untouched food there, and place it safely in the fridge. Now that is recycling!!

A positive side effect from the social stomach implant – aside from the extremely beneficial effect on the social balance in our society – is of course that we can do our duty as citizens and consume more and more, without having any impact on the health system. What with our innate digestive system, we can simply use our for what it’s there for: nutrition.