While making friends as a foreigner is more difficult in some countries it’s even harder as a local.
PRAGUE, Czech Republic- My friend Andy Graham’s take on Europe is simple: it’s hard to make friends there. We met up in Prague and I listened to him talk about how people are not really into meeting new people there and his sometimes comical attempts to make friends. Andy doesn’t drink, and I would tell him that people there need the social aphrodisiac beer and the framework of a bar before they tend to open up. It’s just how the social signaling works there … but he had a very good point:
Go to Africa, Latin America, the backwoods of China, SE Asia … it’s easy to make friends: all you need to do is walk down the street with your head up. These are “in the streets” cultures. Europe, on the other hand, is a “closed door” culture. That doesn’t mean that people are not nice. It’s just that they don’t have the social avenues that allow for on the fly engagements with people they don’t know. Talk with someone there and they ask the question, “What does this guy want? Why is he talking to me?” Start talking with someone you don’t know in Haiti and it’s just something normal and ordinary — everybody is talking with everybody anyway.
I’ve never really have difficulty making friends pretty much anywhere in the world. If I’m in a beer drinking social culture, I drink beer. If I’m in a vodka culture, I drink vodka. I never run out of things to talk about as I can always ask questions about the people around me and the place that I’m in. I’m truly interested — this is why I travel — and I also have the vested interest that I write and make films, so understanding the place that I’m in and cultivating contacts is essential for my work. As a foreigner, you can talk engage people over differences, bring new things to the discussion table, ask stupid questions. Locals can’t do this — they’re supposed to be the authority already.
I didn’t realize how lonely of a place Europe can be for locals too until I met a the dad of a girl that my daughter befriended on the playground. He told me that a while back he started a social network for socially awkward / lonely people in the Czech Republic. He had spent a good amount of years living in the USA and when he moved back home he found that his social network had disintegrated. He became lonely and didn’t know how to go out and meet people. Wait, so locals have a hard time making friends here too?
Apparently, they do. Throw smartphones into a closed-door-culture and it becomes a very, very lonely place. However, people in these more socially restricted climes are responding to this phenomenon with intentional action: meet-up clubs for the friendless. Groups are forming based on nothing more than the natural human drive to interact with other humans. It’s artificial, purposefully structured, overtly not natural … but it’s the best thing we’ve got.
I’m becoming jaded. I don’t like where the world is going. I don’t like how formalized interaction is becoming, how natural non-verbal communication is being co-opted by movements which demand people to verbalize all intentions and as permission before engaging another person for whatever reason:
“Can I have permission to shake your hand?”
“May I please look at you?”
I asked a woman who was in a long-term relationship if she was thinking about having kids the other day, and my wife informed my that my question was offensive. Apparently, mentioning something that has to do with woman-ness to a women in the USA is a faux-pax.
Nobody knows what to say to each other anymore, so we just look at our phones instead. Human social life has become overtly unnatural, and many people are finding it easier to just stay inside by themselves — in Europe and elsewhere.
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