In one way iktsuarpok, the word the Inuit use for the fidgety feeling when guests are due, is a foreign emotion. But in another way it’s very familiar to a lot of us. So what are the emotions that we might feel that only other cultures name?
Guests also inspire the idea of awumbuk amongst the Baining of Papua New Guinea. This is the emptiness and lassitude felt after guests leave, and for the Baining it lasts three days. They banish it with a simple ritual – filling a bowl of water when guests leave, and then pouring it away, along with the collected awumbuk, after three days. Whilst the ritual may be specific, the experience of emptiness when guests leave isn’t an entirely foreign emotion.
Unsurprisingly home inspires a range of emotions. Gezelligheid is the Dutch word for feeling snug and warm indoors on a cold wet day, normally with company. Perhaps the nearest we come to it in English is our little known word homefulness, being full of the pleasures of being at a home after a long absence.
Another form of homesickness is the Finnish kaukokaipuu, homesickness in this instance for a place you’ve never been to. And if that sounds an enjoyable sort of melancholy you may well also understand the Brazilian idea of saudade, the yearning for someone or somewhere far away.
As well as the home another wellspring for emotion is, unsurprisingly, relationships with other people. The Iban in Indonesia talk about malu, which is sometimes translated as ‘shame’ or ‘modesty’. More correctly however it’s a feeling of inferiority around people of higher status. Why this is thought of as a more foreign emotion than shame or modesty will puzzle many of us.
Another familiar, if previously unnamed, emotion might be fremdschamen – the German word for the embarrassment caused by someone else’s unawareness of their poor social skills. And fremdschamen wouldn’t seem to be a million miles away from the Spanish’s verguenza ajena – shame and embarrassment triggered by someone else’s actions.
The awkwardness inherent in some relationships seems to be behind the Thai concept of greng jai. This covers not just loss of face and embarrassment, but the actual reluctance to accept someone’s help because of the bother it will cause them. The other side of this situation is perhaps best expressed by the Japanese idea of oime, the intense discomfort that comes from being indebted to someone due to their care or kindness.
The German language’s capacity for portmanteau words also gives us torschlusspanik (literally “gate-shut-panic”), the existential fear of time running out to achieve what we want to in life. This may have been caused by too much of what the Italians know as dolce far niente, the sweet pleasure of doing not very much, if anything, at all.
Why is it useful to be able to name these? Studies show that more emotionally aware we are, and the greater the range of emotions we recognise, the better our mental health. And also because it’s good to be able to recognise hwyl in your life – the wonderful Welsh word for exuberance and joy.
If you’ve recognised a particular foreign emotion or two then why not see what it’s like to wake up with a foreign accent all of a sudden? Or download a pdf of these, and some other, Foreign emotions.
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