When I checked Facebook this morning, I saw that someone from the US had published a nice list of ten ways to show our love to other people. The first item on the list was, “Listen without interrupting,” with a reference to Proverbs 18. It made me smile. In Italy, interrupting people when they speak is part of the communication style. A website describing national etiquettes states:
- [In Italy] It is common to be interrupted while speaking or for several people to speak at once.
- People often raise their voice to be heard over other speakers, not because they are angry.
During our very first parent-teacher conference, we found ourselves sitting in front of four friendly teachers who started talking all at the same time, while we were trying to phrase our first question. We don’t have a television, but sometimes we catch a glimpse of Italian talk shows on a TV in a bar or restaurant and then we see people who talk loudly and simultaneously. Also during tasty dinners with friends, we keep wondering about the multi-tasking skills of Italian people. Can they really listen and talk at the same moment?
I have to admit, being born and raised in northern Europe, where we were taught to wait for our turn in a conversation, it is sometimes difficult to have to “defend” our speaking time, especially when we are counseling people. “Would you like to hear what God is saying about your situation?”
Yet, Italians don’t interrupt because they are disrespectful or impolite–not always, at least–but because they are vivacious and enthusiastic. Most people actually think they are helpful as they start responding before their discussion partners have finished talking. And if their interlocutors are convinced that they need to complete their line of thought, they simply interrupt right back. Obviously, to be heard while other people talk, you need to increase the volume.
Perhaps, to “listen without interrupting” isn’t a universal way to show other people how much you love them. It might simply be a matter of cultural difference. What matters, is the heart.
We love Italy.
“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).