I have always known, to an extent, that you don’t need to speak the same language as someone to connect with them. Largely I know this because I am shit at languages, but half of my family is French. I was a very slow learner picking up francais growing up, but I visited my grandparents every year in their massive house for about ten days in the summer with my sister. Though my grandparents and I couldn’t communicate verbally, we’d communicate in a whole host of other ways – little cuddles and kisses, holding hands, expressive sounds (mmm, aaah, oooh! – usually in relation to my grandma’s awesome cooking) and, most of all, through laughter. Some of my fondest memories as a kid in France is lying in the guest room with my sister and listening to my grandma read Harry Potter in English, aloud. She didn’t have a clue how any of the words on the page were meant to sound and also has the most delightfully thick, honeyed French accent – I found her flawed rendition utterly hilarious and laughed and laughed until I cried. She did too.
The point? We couldn’t speak back then with words, not really – but a bond was fostered in other ways. Connections, in my opinion, are born from hundreds of different incidences, regardless of language – this theme has been touched upon in this series already in article number one (involving an elderly Japanese lady who quickly became my best mate).
I have another story with this theme at its core right here.
We were in Chiang Mai, the northern capital city of Thailand. (Incidentally, I’d like to throw in here that if you’re ever planning on going to Thailand you HAVE to go there. Lots of traditional, architectural eye candy and adventure-type things to do. And one sick British pub.) We decided on our second morning there to go and have a massage. Massages in Thailand are about £3 a pop so you’d be mental not to seek them out at every possible opportunity. Considering ourselves largely sane, we went to go get them
We bustled into a little massage parlour we’d clocked near our hostel, and entered the foyer. Four chirpy masseuses immediately came to grab us, leading us upstairs to the main massage parlour. Everything normal so far. They were conversational girls, chattering away happily to each other. I remember they all wore really bright clothes. One of them had bright orange hair to boot.
We all lay down on our individual mats. The masseuses began to do their thang and started pinching and prodding at our bods. Emily and I (who were on mats next to each other) had vague exchanges from time to time (‘it’s bright out’, ‘yeah’, ‘ooh, my bone just cracked’, ‘mine too’, ‘weird’) but that was about it. We were just chilling, dude. Everything was normal.
And then it got a little weird.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever had a masseuse straddle you before, but let me tell you if you haven’t – it’s a catalyst for hysteria. It was just so unexpected. One moment we were each lying there, talking and staring at the nice, flowery ceiling – the next, a jovial Thai face was suddenly DIRECTLY in front of my face and an entire body was sitting on my belly.
The laughter floodgates opened. We were all so surprised by the sudden ‘mounting’ (I don’t know what else to call it, to be honest) that laughter seemed to be the snap response. The giggles only intensified, too, when the masseuses started pummelling us from their new, awkward vantage points, pulling our arms every which way and punching our collarbones (not punching, I hasten to add for all you literalists all there. Just intense rubbing).
(t genuinely felt like we had been pinned down and were being beaten to shit, too. And it was fucking hilarious.
My friend Laura was screaming with laughter – I think her laugh fuelled the rest of us as we were all crying (happy tears) in response. It was like a thin veil of hilarity fell over us and, from then, it was nigh on impossible for our poor masseuses to finish the massages in time, as things were slowed down tenfold. I remember after the torso-pummelling that my masseuse went to massage my legs (which are super sensitive), making my entire body spasm like I was being violently electrocuted (LITERALLY springing off the bed from the contact) which would set the room off all over again. I think I had a better workout laughing and twitching on that mattress than I’ve had at the gym over the past six months.
ANYWAY, THIS WAS US:
There IS a point to this story, believe it or not – and no, it’s not that British people are prudish and weak. Or that you should practice the straddlesage (straddle massage… I made that word up myself, can’t you tell?) on your friends (though maybe you should, because it’ll provide endless amusement).
The point is this – laughter transcends all boundaries. There was true camaraderie between the Thai ladies and us in that little orange room, laughing and laughing the morning away. It doesn’t matter if none of us really knew what we were laughing about by the end – if we were laughing at the straddling or the beating up or the spasming or my friend Laura’s incredibly infectious giggle – the fact is that we were all in the same boat, and all on the same level.
Nothing written, or spoken, is universal – laughter is one of the only universal languages out there, and one of the things that connects us, no matter what.