The other day a group of us were at our traditional lunch with summer clerks at Indian Oven. I wanted to get the check, so I caught the waiter’s eye and gave the universal “I would like the check” sign — that is, left hand held flat and extended, right hand scribbling across it, like you are signing your name to a credit card receipt. (I’ve been told by waiters that they prefer this to the one finger raised in the air and waggled, like Horshack begging for Mr. Kotter to call on him.)
Except that the universal sign apparently isn’t that universal. The Unkempt Guy looked baffled and asked what the hell I was doing. A quick poll of the table confirmed that everyone else at our lunch, aging attorneys and fresh-faced clerks alike, understood the meaning of the gesture. It just confirms what most of us have long believed: the Unkempt Guy needs to get out more.
The fact is, a surprising amount of our communication is usefully non-verbal and therefore capable of getting the message across from a distance or in a loud setting where the spoken word might not be heard. Whether it’s the thumbs-up signal of approval, or the finger twirl telling you to speed things up, or the index finger tapping at the temple to remind you to use your noggin, or the finger drawn across the throat instructing you to stop, just stop, our hands and fingers are extremely effective communication tools — and that’s without even getting into the kind of vulgar gestures that drivers might use to express displeasure at your abrupt, no-signal lane change on the morning drive to work.
The eyes are an wonderfully effective non-verbal communication tool, too. Long-time married couples are adept at reading each other’s eyes and faces. A glance and look can tell you unmistakably not to get into that topic, or that it’s time to get heck out of there. Correctly interpreting the non-verbal cues of your spouse is a crucial element of any successful marriage.