These days I find myself thinking a lot about how much people worry about other people’s perceptions of them. In one sense I’m lucky to be living in a new country where no one knows anyone I know, so I can re-invent myself into the person I want to be without fear of being labelled a poseur or anything like that. That’s a good thing, right? Every time I’m out with the few friends I’ve made, I find myself analyzing what they say and do, wondering if they are deliberately trying to create an impression or if they’re just being themselves. I know, skeptic is my middle name. Well, not really, but you know what I mean.
I met this one guy who went on and on about how much money he used to make dealing drugs, and how he has now totally changed and doesn’t do anything except drink beer and smoke weed…you’d be touched, right? I wasn’t. I was sitting there listening to him – well actually I was listening for a pause so I could excuse myself – and I was thinking, he’s meeting me for the first time why does he think I want to know, or that I even care? How could this, the life and mistakes of someone I’d just met, be of any interest to me? When I meet people for the first time I usually don’t give them a re-hash of all the times I messed up. I’ve done it when occasion called for it – like when I met the 20year-old girl who’d been dumped after having sex for the first time – I felt obliged to tell her SOME of my past, in an effort to bond so I could then tell her how to handle herself. There was a method to the apparent madness, I promise. She became like a sister to me – possibly because she wanted to be like me – all carefree and in control, you know *insert hair-flick*. But back to the once-rich boy – I still don’t know why he told me what he told me…I blame it on the Budweiser he was drinking. Which leads me back to my original question: is everything we do and say calculated, whether sub-consciously or not, to produce a particular reaction from the people around us? I think sometimes it is.
As I make new friends in this place – without the benefit of attending school, or working together, or mutual friends, or any of the factors that usually draw people together, I realize afresh how difficult it is to actually make new friends without those connections. How do you just start randomly talking to someone – and when you do, how do you parlay that into a friendship without any common ground to launch from? This is when you find out who you really are. Whoever you’re meeting is meeting you – not their colleague that they’re drawn to because you both have a teenage-like crush on your boss, not someone who knows people you know – this is friendship 101 – we have absolutely NOTHING in common to start with, apart from the obvious – being female and foreign in this country. Even then, as females and as foreigners our experiences are hugely different – black African in Asia vs white American in Asia? Please.
So, when you meet someone, you have nothing to hide behind – no ‘we both know so&so’ background to get the conversational ball rolling. If you’re boring, it becomes obvious pretty quickly. It gets tedious sometimes – where are you from, why are you here, how long will you be here – because when you’ve just met someone and don’t know anything about them what else can you talk about? You’re trying to find some common ground and it can get pretty awkward when you can’t. The uncomfortable silences that are always broken with ‘so…’.
so….how old did you say your little boy is?
so…how long did you say you’ve been here?
so…what kind of work are you planning to get into?
so….where do your kids go to school?
It’s painful, it’s awkward, I hate it.
Why cant making friends be as easy as flirting? When you’re flirting you know almost immediately whether there’s a spark or not and can act accordingly. But what if this stilted ‘so’ conversation is the budding of a beautiful friendship??? The first real conversation I had with the girl I see most often -whom I can now call a friend- (after the ‘where are you froms’ and the ‘what are you doing heres’), was about politics. And sex. We’d bumped into each other several times (she’s my neighbor) and had exchanged pleasantries but never really talked at length. One day she asked me to lunch and I went; we sat for four hours talking politics. Anyone who knows me knows that that’s just not me. But we talked politics, the kind of politics I like, the personal kind. You know, what does it mean to leave your country of birth and start a new life somewhere else? I did that (twice!) so I can talk about that. She did the same so even though our backgrounds differ vastly, we swopped stories about the politics in our birth nations and how we’ve been affected as individuals. Then the conversation moved to sex – what it means in the different cultures, and then to what it means to us as individuals …And a friendship was born. If she hadn’t asked me to lunch we probably never would have moved past the ‘hies’ and the ‘ it’s really hot todays’
…I’m glad she took the first step. Really glad.