What does good conversation require?

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by EJP Photo

Today I discovered that conversation between two people is possible, even when the only thing one of the participants is able to mutter is “ja.”

One of the greatest difficulties someone living abroad can encounter is not being able to communicate in the host country’s language.

Nevertheless, today I found out this isn’t always the case.

As Roxy and I sat on a park bench, soaking up the sun’s early morning rays, an elderly lady made her way to where we were and sat down.

Immediately, she smiled and started talking in a bubbly tone; one I hadn’t heard since I last spoke to myself in the mirror.

I was about to tell her I didn’t speak her language when suddenly, she chuckled.

She said a few more words, energetically gestured with her hands, and continued to chuckle.

Before I knew it, I was chuckling too.

And then we were laughing; full belly laugh that made Roxy’s ears perk up as if to question, what the heck are you laughing at?

Or more significantly, why are you laughing when you haven’t understood a word?

Giving Roxy a look that said, “Stop being such a cynic,” I continued to listen to the lady, nodding my head and inserting a “ja” from time to time.

After a few minutes, she stood up, said goodbye, and continued on her way.

As I saw her leave, I realized I hadn’t enjoyed a “conversation” like that in a while; a conversation in which I had only laughed and uttered “ja.”

A couple of hours later, as I sit nursing a cup of coffee, I ponder today’s encounter.

I wonder if having been relegated almost exclusively to the role of listener made for the enjoyable exchange.

Or if, however, it was due to the woman’s infectious enthusiasm.

Had this exchange proven the Significant Other to be right when he claims “I’m actively engaged in conversation even when I’m letting you do all the talking?”

Or had it served to demonstrate that laughter is universal and that at times, it’s the glue that holds a conversation together?

I also wonder the reasons for the woman’s merriment.

Was she happy because it was warm and sunny? Was she simply content to have company? Had she purchased new shoes?

I could say that, had I been able to speak her language, I would know the answer to these questions, but I won’t.

Because today I want to believe that conversation isn’t always about two people verbalizing.

Sometimes, it’s about chuckling with someone else, even when that someone else is a stranger.

Sometimes, words aren’t necessary to convey I’m happy, excited, glad to be alive.

Sometimes, all you need is a warm day, a place to sit, and someone who’ll listen.

When was the last time you were the listener?


51 thoughts on “What does good conversation require?

  1. What a wonderful post! I can remember a childhood camping trip when I made friends with a little girl at the playground. She spoke only French and I spoke only English, so we couldn’t communicate with words, but we had a wonderful time together anyway. Looking back, I wonder if that fleeting friendship was one of the things that inspired me to learn French. If I met her now, we could talk together in her language. But like you say, maybe we wouldn’t need to. Sometimes we don’t need words to share our thoughts with others.

    1. Shary, I’m delighted you enjoyed the post! You’re right–sometimes we don’t need words to convey our thoughts. Sometimes all it takes is a smile. :)

  2. We learn so much being foreigners, don’t we? Or is it that we learn so much from mastering the act of seeing the world with fresh eyes…something we can do no matter where we live or what language we speak. Thankfully communication is a lot more than words or most of my life I would be communication-less:) Thanks for the smiles, Bella!

    1. Brynne, living in your little town of Mexico, you’re more of an expert than I am. Are you fluent in Spanish? I would think that with your beautiful nature and engaging personality, the last thing you would need is words, amiga. :)

  3. Most of the time, I listen much more than I talk. My kid brother, who’s very, very talkative, used to joke that on the average the two of us talked just as much as we should.

  4. I love this… The art of listening – which, in good part, involves paying attention to body language and facial expression – is such a gift; it’s possible to learn so much more about the person to whom you’re listening.

    I love to listen – really listen. What I’m being told is then being received on many levels, and the listener can sense it, too; full engagement. :-) xo

    1. Hot Coco, you’ve made fully engaged listening totally sexy! hee hee! I like the idea of being engaged in the listening process. Hmm…methinks I have to try it! :)

  5. How wonderful! I loved this! You ask some really good questions. Perhaps it is all those things?? Listening though is very valuable. Something we all probably need to work more at. Thanks for the great post!

    1. Michael Ann, I’m so glad you liked the post! I believe it might be all of these things. One thing’s for sure, we could all benefit from being better listeners. :)

  6. Hey Bella, great post! Laughter always connects us. Oftentimes, common language keep us separate. This is especially true if we don’t fully engage our listening skills which must include more than just our ears. Much connection is lost when we are rushed or when we “think” we know what the other means to convey. Language barriers force our hand at extending kindness and streeeeeeetch us out of our comfort zone of relying merely on words to communicate. Listening only with our ears expands to observing and feeling what is being conveyed, which is what really hearing the other is all about. Even though we may all speak English, or French, or whatever, it can still seem a totally different language. We must learn to listen, as you did, with all we’ve got, and receive the blessings that shower down. You lucky girl, you! How fun! Cheers, Red

    1. Red, thank you for enhancing this post! Whew girl, you really know what listening’s about! I agree with you when you say, “Oftentimes, common language keep us separate.” Isn’t it ironic that this is true? After reading your comment, I feel smarter. Thank you for that! :)

  7. Such a sweet encounter. It’s probably been a long time since your bench partner had a “listener” as good as you–I think that’s what made her happy!

  8. I love that you took the time to reflect on this encounter. Thank you for sharing what you learned, both about yourself and the world around you. I’m sure the woman was delighted to have such friendly listeners as you and Roxy.

    When I hear foreign languages I find myself straining to understand. As if I’m going to pick out a recognizalbe phrase in Hindi or Russian. Good thing smiles and nods translate so easily.

    1. Eden, and that’s a good thing cause smiles and nods is all I had for this sweet lady today! Are you fluent in Spanish or are you still in the nodding and smiling stage? Do tell! :)

  9. This post brought a smile to my face! I recall a family event some 20+ years ago where my husband was sitting on the couch at my brother’s and very francophone sister-in-law’s home. He was having a very animated conversation (over several glasses of wine!) with my sister-in-law’s mother. She did not speak English and my husband did not speak French. Somehow they managed :)

    1. Astra, that must’ve been one heck of an evening! And I’m glad you brought up the subject of wine because I’m sure than under more extenuating circumstances, it sure comes in handy! :)

  10. Ja. I know what you mean. I’ve had a few conversations like that and they’ve been lots of fun. One most memorable one happened first time I went to Italy. I met a woman on the train who didn’t speak English and I barely spoke Italian. We communicated with gestures and lots of laughter. One of my best train rides and meetings with a stranger. ;-)

  11. Oh Bella, I loved this post! What a pure exchange. I, myself, really had to listen last night. A gentleman came into my work with questions and he was not a native English speaker. I took a breath and leaned in and we accomplished a lot with gestures and slooow talking. It worked. :)

    Also, love your new thumbnail, you look beautiful!

    1. Heidi, I read your comment and immediately visualized what your exchange with the gentleman must have been like! And Heidi, thanks for telling me I look beautiful! You have totally made my night! :)

  12. Ah Bella, I love you! You have a beautiful heart. I try to actively listen unless I am pissed off. Then my ears shut down and all bets are off. What was that you said? Cough cough, I can only hear white noise LOL.

    Seriously though, I loved this post because it serves to illustrate what I believe – the best conversations are had when we tune into another person. If a person’s emanations are positive it is a joy to be the listener aka “receptacle” :). To me, it says a lot about you both that you could engage without a shared language. Kudos to you Bella for bringing joy to another person who was likely lonely and needed your ear. Ja!

    P.S. – Digging the new Theme :)

    1. Coco, you are a beautiful lady. Not just because you make my heart sing with your kind words, but because I can see the thought you put into things. And that, my friend, is beautiful. So often we go through life doing things superficially and half assed. So it’s quite refreshing to see your ability to rise above that. I’m honored you like the post and that you like the new theme! :)

    2. Thank you, Bella. I like your emanations too. I am touched and happy to a part of your community. :)

      P.S. – I bet she got new shoes, maybe at my favorite NY store – SHOEGASM LOL

  13. Interesting since I’m in another country. And this woman chose you to communicate her happiness with. Everything happens for a reason though.
    Laughing is kinda universal, as is happiness. It’s something we all understand and want.

  14. Bella, this post just reminded me to listen to people more. I’m one of those attention whores…yes, I admit it. And I really like to talk. sometimes I forget that people want to talk too. Listening is as integral as talking in a relationship :) I gotta remember that more often. Thanks, Bella!

    1. Laura, sweetheart, you’re welcome! Something tells me you’re being too hard on yourself. I’m sure you’re a wonderful listener! Have I told you I’m lovin’ your new avatar photo? :)

  15. Ha ha. But how do you know she wasn’t laughing at you? Maybe she knew all along you didn’t understand what she was saying and was having a good time with it?
    But listening can be hard sometimes, especially when you’re distracted thinking about all the stuff you need to do. Your post is a good reminder to be in the moment. Listen and laugh. You can’t be sad when you’re laughing your ass off.


    1. Monica, when I started writing this post I thought, I’ll make it funny and say the woman was probably laughing her ass off at worn out shorts and baggy tee. Then I thought I’d put a twist on it and say, “God only what I was saying ja to” and then I thought, nah, let my readers see a softer side of me. What do you think? Was I effective? :) But you’re so right, lady, she was more than likely thinking, “Dumb American pretending to know what I’m saying!” See, you’ve ruined it. You’ve brought out my dark comedic side! Argh! hee hee! :)

  16. I love that you totally played along – ya big faker!! Hhahahha!!
    I stink at languages, except my dear mother tongue. On a trip to Europe about 10 years ago, I learned the value of miming. I looked a fool, but then again I got the stamps, drink, or snack I needed. We called it “playing Coco the Clown.”

    1. Lori, I would have loved to come along on that trip to Europe! Imagine the fun! Coco the Clown sounds like a fabulous roadshow that would make us mucho dinero. Raincheck? :)

  17. First, nice picture, quite the sexy chica you are Miss Bella. Sometimes it’s just the smile and welcoming nature of they sound of laughter which connects to people–who knows. It could be the shorts, but probably your warmth and good nature enveloped her. And as others have said, laughter is universally understood.

    1. Aw, you like my picture! Thank you! I was going for cute but if sexy’s what resulted, even better! hee hee! Brenda, I’ll take warmth and good nature over ratty shorts any day! Gracias, amiga! Imagine how much we would laugh if we got together! :)

  18. What a beautiful post! This story puts a smile on my face. I can picture the woman talking to you, laughing, chuckling, her eyes gleaming with delight. And I can imagine you, first unsure about the conversation, then drawn in by the woman’s infections enthusiasm. You may not know exactly what was said, but I’m betting it was one of the more genuine human interactions in existence. How uplifting. :)

  19. What a great story. And I think you’re so right — a conversation doesn’t necessarily require words and dialogue. I can be two people sharing a moment, as you and the woman did. Love it!

  20. Good on her for trying to talk to you! The first time I visited another country b myself was when I was 15 and although I had studied English at school, I found it very difficult to make conversation in English when I first arrived in New Zealand. Dialect and sayings, figures of speech… all these things you do not get taught in school. You just have to figure it out yourself. Fortunately, I met some lovely people who didn’t make me feel bad when I totally messed up the grammar. Instead, they were lovely, made me feel they understood no matter how quirky my babbling sounded and taught me how to say it right next time. This way, my English has improved so much and so has my confidence – especially when it comes to making conversation.
    French, on the other hand, is something I always have trouble with. Unfortunately, I only encountered one helpful French lady so far. Everybody else I met when travelling in France and Belgium always made me feel stupid when I didn’t know a certain word or idiom. So when I have to speak French, I feel very insecure and wished there were more people who would just start talking to me and trying to help me when I try to tell them something. I always try really hard, but not everyone seems to appreciate that.
    So good on you, Bella, for laughing with that lady and making her feel understood! I’m sure she enjoyed your conversation!

    1. Sabrina, thank you! I hear you about feeling silly when you don’t know a certain word or idiomatic expression. The other day I was trying to say queen and instead said “rabbit.” Hey, it happens. What are you going to do, right? Keep doing what you’re doing. I’m sure you’re doing just fine! :)

    1. Lady, that sort of reminds me of how the Significant Other is most funny when he’s not trying to be. If the opposite is true, then what you mention ensues! :)

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