The Universal Language of Friendship

Home sweet home. After a glorious eight days in Hong Kong, China and Macau, I’m back on American soil. Fighting jet lag, re-adjusting to not eating noodle soup for breakfast (boo), and remembering what it’s like to live somewhere that isn’t 100 percent humidity every day (yay).

And of course, back to my new friends.

As usual, I spent a good chunk of time thinking about the act of making new friends while in Hong Kong. Our hosts, one of whom is American and the other from Honduras, have lived in HK for two years and have carved out great lives for themselves. They have friends–a tight-knit group of friends, in fact–and a whole social scene. Which, it seems, would be really hard to do when one of them speaks no Cantonese.

Of course, there’s a pretty large international population in HK, and their friends are made up of Americans, Canadians, Koreans, and French. At least. But I noticed that there’s another way that foreigners in a foreign land can make casual friends, if not besties. And that’s through the universal languages.

Hear me out. On the second morning of our trip, Matt and I headed to the local park to hang with the locals and get some exercise in. Matt jumped in a full court pick-up basketball game with nine other local residents. He couldn’t communicate with any of them in words, barring the little English some of his teammates spoke, but by the time we left he was laughing and high-fiving with these guys. They may not have had language in common, but the rules (and the fun) of basketball is universal, and that’s how they connected.

When I travel, it never ceases to amaze me how certain activities transcend spoken language or country lines. Sports are sports. No matter your native tongue, you can communicate with others when you play. Matt had so much fun he returned the next day. I think the same is true of music. Also, art. And there are others, I know it, though I can’t think of them right now. Which is frustrating.

It’s fascinating to see how well and how quickly we adapt to our surroundings. Companionship is as basic and essential a need as water, so if we can’t get it through spoken words, we find another way. We’re survivors, after all .

Have you ever made a friend with whom you didn’t speak a common language? How? Are there other universal languages that make pals of people who can’t communicate otherwise? How do different speakers connect despite the language barrier?


Filed under The Search

5 responses to “The Universal Language of Friendship

  1. Wow. That is so neat.

    I super enjoyed reading the posts from your friends. A couple of them sounded like when my friends talk about how we met. Apparently, I am an aggressive friend maker too. 🙂

  2. That is a really neat story – how did Matt jump in? I guess that would be the step that I would screw up/be afraid to take. But it is really neat that it happened and worked out so well.
    I have found that being at an event/taking part in the same event as someone will make you instant friends. I was staked out for a free concert at the state fair last year and I made a new friend…now, she wasn’t local and I haven’t talked with her since, but it was nice to have someone to chat with while I waited…I’m kind of hoping for more of the same this year when I go and stake out for Jake Owen.
    Hope your trip was great and you aren’t too jet-lagged, I can’t imagine what it must feel like (as I need more sleep than most it seems)

    • I think with pickup basketball there is an unspoken rule of showing up and when there are ten guys, a game starts. So he just showed up, started shooting around, and suddenly there were ten guys on the court! I watched it happen and even I was in awe of how seamless it seemed! Ugh, boys. They have it so easy!

  3. Anonymous

    I teach newcomers to the US and my favorite picture consistents of 3 newly arrived students: one from Russia, one from Japan, and one from Mexico. They were completing a science experiment and without one word in common they were laughing and working together AMAZINGLY!!! They became fast friends and learned bits and pieces of each other’s languages, while learning English from me. Always and amazing experience to witness.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s