The Boulanger asks what I want and I summon up my best French: ‘Une baguette s’il vous plâit.’
Inevitably the response is ‘Deux?’
Each day I tried a little harder; I listened to how people pronounced the word ‘une’; I listened to hear how they asked for bread. I tried stressing the word ‘une’, tried different tonality: ‘UNE baguette.s’il vous plâit,’; ‘Une baGUETTE, s’il vous plâit,’ even, ‘Une BAguette s’il vous plâit.’ All to no avail; still the question ‘Deux?’ came back. I racked my brains for what I was doing wrong. My pronunciation wasn’t so bad was it? Then a stall holder in the market pointed out I was holding up two fingers. She demonstrated, asking for une baguette, holding up her thumb!
My gesture, using the index finger was clearly a request for two, regardless of what was coming out of my mouth. And it worked. Since using the thumb alone there have been no questions, and I have been able to cut down on my bread consumption.
It got me thinking. Of course I knew actions spoke louder than words and that most of the meaning of communication is conveyed non-verbally. I just didn’t expect it to be so specific. Then I thought about how much effort I was putting into writing dialog; looking back I could see that I was using dialog to carry the whole story, more or less. More importantly, I was relying on dialog to establish the characters. ‘Actions speak louder than words’ sure, sure but I had people talking about actions. Of course, the written word is less ambiguous than the spoken, but if it is true that people form their opinions of each other based more on their body language and tone of voice than the words they use*, then it follows that the way the characters in a story will base their opinions on what others do rather than what they say.
Notes duly made for the next revision.
* See research by Albert Mehrabian for more on this