The Eyebrow Thing in Tonga
Learning a language or traveling to a country that does not speak English poses some challenges.
The obvious is, learning a language is hard, when you are older (dumber). Older doesn’t equal dumber, except in my case; perhaps!
Oh sure, I am much wiser than I used to be. And wisdom is great when I use it, but I still have my free agency which I frequently use to do something that isn’t so wise, but sure a lot of fun.
But in terms of the speed of my brain (processor) it isn’t what it used to be.
My floppy disk isn’t just talking about my back, it dates me and limits my brain’s ability to swirl around facts and figures and arrive at a coherent thought.
It also explains why sometimes it takes a minute for me to find your name, but allows me to recite your entire posterity all the way back to Adam and then suddenly remember your name when I am at the dinner table.
I am learning there is more than just verbal communication that has to be accounted for. I suppose every culture has its own unique way of communicating with facial expressions.
It has been my experience that with Native Americans, they often point and measure distances with their lips.
People in San Juan County have experience with this and even the Native Americans joke about it.
Well Tongan’s have a similar facial expression, but they use their eyebrows. They raise both their eyebrows in some kind of secret Morse Code.
It seems like they have an entire conversation with someone without speaking a word.
I certainly didn’t get eyebrow reading at the Missionary Training Center as part of my language training.
Some cultures use the nod of the head to say anything from “whatz up” to “thanks”. My own father used to blow a smoke ring to let me know he was thinking about what he was going to say next.
These facial expressions are quick and if you are not familiar with them you will miss an important que.
My too kind and loving wife does something where she knits her eyebrows at me and I pretty much know that I am going to be in big trouble, that whatever I am doing that I think is funny, isn’t!!!
And we WILL talk about this later. And when I say we will talk, I mean that she will talk, and I will listen.
I have a daughter that mastered her ability to lift one eyebrow like Spock in Star Trek which was his way of expressing befuddlement or that something unexpected happened.
It took her a few days of trying but eventually she was able to do the “single eyebrow thing” and would do so often when we were trying to lecture her.
I think that her raising her single eyebrow was more along the line of “why are you talking to me” or “I hope you are done talking because I am done listening.”
Recently, my Bishop in Tonga needed someone to say a closing prayer and apparently, they hadn’t made contact prior to church.
As he started making general announcements, he focused in on a Senior Missionary sitting a few rows back and gave him the “eyebrow thing”.
This particular missionary has been here for nearly two years and he gave the Bishop a slight nod of his head.
The “eyebrow thing” and “head nod” took less than a millisecond but apparently the conversation was complete and soon the Bishop was saying with complete confidence of divine inspiration that Elder WhatsHisBucket was going to give the invocation and his companion, WhatsHerBucket” who doubles as his wife, would be saying the benediction.
I marveled at this. It was like a telepathic superpower, or a Vulcan Mind Meld - “My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts.” Or the Amazing Kreskin ESP superpower.
I thought I had made a significant new discovery about how people communicate and nudged my too kind and loving wife and told her that surely, I would win a Pullet-Surprise or a Noble Peace Prize for discovering the “eyebrow thing”.
She rolled her eyes and said it was unlikely that I could get a Pulitzer Prize or a Nobel Peace Prize for something called an “eyebrow thing”.
It didn’t deter me; her advice never does. So not to be outdone I decided that it was time to test my theory, so I stood to bare my testimony in Tongan and see if it was true that you could communicate with your eyebrows.
I phonetically wrote out what I wanted to say and started my talk by raising my eyebrows once. I think I had them riveted to their seats until I said that “Pork and Beans make me want to be a better person.”
And then I did the double “eyebrow thing” and apparently that means “Where is the bathroom?”
The congregation all responded with the “single eyebrow thing”.