I’ve been working with a new boss for about half a year now, and every time we have a group meeting or a private conversation, I apparently laugh (not laughing out loud, but more of a tiny giggle) a lot. He always asks me why I laugh, because it usually happens in a context where there really isn’t something that is apparently funny, and most of the time, I don’t realize that I’ve giggled, or do realize it but cannot explain myself about my own behavior. He then gets very confused and the matter is unresolved.
In the past month therefore, I have been trying to closely document my behavior and trying to think of a reason for this irrational giggling. If I realize that I have inadvertently giggled, I immediately try to think of why I did so. By being hyperaware, I’ve started to notice that in a split second, my mind makes associations to a topic that I find funny, but this happens so fast that unless I’m actively trying to recall, I don’t remember how those associations occurred. For example, if someone says, “It’s raining outside” that fact is not funny in any way, but the comment would trigger some past situation that was funny, which would make me giggle, much to the confusion of the person who made the comment. It seems a little like attention disorder, but I don’t really have attention issues in general, so perhaps it is a reflection of divergent thinking or some proclivity for connecting dots between isolated events.
Although there could be some individual/personality reasons for the ill-timed, seemingly irrelevant giggling, the non-conscious way in which it happens (I don’t notice it unless someone points it out or I am making an effort to notice it) also makes me wonder if there is some cultural component. A lot of my Korean girl friends giggle for no reason- and although I’ve seen a lot of blog posts and online forum comments speculating about what this means (a lot of people assume that it is because the girls want to be seen as cute, are embarrassed, don’t know what to say, etc… all examples which seem like good reasons but doesn’t pertain to my situations) I think that the inherent reason for why Korean girls giggle is because it is a way of acknowledging understanding of the conversation, kind of like a nod, when you want to indicate that you’ve heard what the other person has to say but you yourself don’t have a specific response. Based on my completely unscientific observation of historical dramas, it appears that smiling or laughing in a very gentle manner was seen as being a sign of politeness. This is, of course my speculation as I have not done any kind of research in this area.
If non-conscious giggling is truly a culturally-learned behavior specific to women, it is very possible that a lot of miscommunication or misinterpretation is taking place between Korean (and perhaps, more broadly, Asian) women and Westerners. In other words, Asian women may be giving off the impression of being insensitive, flighty, embarrassed, or just plain weird/inappropriate by giggling in a context where there is no humor. It would be really interesting to see if this were true, and if this non-conscious behavior affects how others perceive you.