The story of my experiences making friends in a new country, continued from Part 2. If you missed it, you can start here at Part 1.
One of the challenges I’ve run into when making friends from scratch, is understanding what “friendship” means to me. I’ve not thought about it that closely before.
From what I’ve read and learned, different cultures define friendship differently. In some cultures – the French, for example – families have known each other for generations and while people will be polite and helpful to newcomers, attaining the label of “friend” could take several decades, if not generations.
In Southern California on the other hand, it seems that you can become someone’s best friend in less time than it takes to get stuck on the 405 freeway. But those friendships seem to evaporate just as mysteriously as a traffic jam, with no rhyme or reason behind why it went away or what caused it in the first place.
Numerous guidebooks for expats in Thailand warn that the natural friendliness of Thais shouldn’t be mistaken as close friendship. They may confide many things in you because they see you as someone outside the rigid hierarchy of Thai society. It is that same hierarchy, though, that will forever keep you in a certain place that isn’t quite friendship.
A question that came up from some readers was whether I’ve developed any close friendships with Tawn’s friends. While they are nice people and most make an effort to engage with me when we socialize together, we haven’t developed any unique friendships. Looking back to our time in San Francisco, I think there are two or three of my friends with whom Tawn would hang out on occasion in my absence. I can’t imagine any of Tawn’s friends here in Krungthep inviting me out while Tawn was out of town.
A Haphazard Process
I’ve met many people here – most of them nice people. They come from many different countries and backgrounds. Granted, there is a disproportionate representation of gay American men, but there is still some diversity to the larger group.
The process of meeting these people has been haphazard. Sometimes it has been through chance meetings. Other people read my blog or trip reports and, being in similar relationships to mine, have contacted me, giving us a common starting ground. I meet other people when several degrees of separation are closed by a mutual acquaintance.
I continue to try other ways of meeting people. I’ve attended events at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club and joined Democrats Abroad Thailand and met interesting people. I’ve even posted an advertisement in the “strictly platonic” section of the Craigslist website that resulted in meeting one person, who has now moved off to Australia.
I’ve tried meeting Thais. In general, the Thai women seem less comfortable making friends with a random farang. Some Thai men I’ve met are attached to farang partners, so the group grows by pairs. Other Thai men may or may not be attached, but Tawn gets suspicious of their true intentions – probably rightfully so. On top of it, there is some truth to the previously mentioned expat guidebook warnings about the challenges of making friends with locals.
It is the haphazard nature of these meetings that I think makes the process strange for me. Meeting people through school or work, as has been most of my previous experience, ensured that there were a lot of common interests and experiences to begin with. Nowadays, the common ground is less clear at first, other than knowing we are all expats.
Slowly, connections and common ground have become clearer amidst the haphazardness. Along the way, I’ve had some really good conversations, shared experiences, and situations that create unique connections with others. I’ve learned from their many perspectives. I’ve certainly had the opportunity to commiserate with others who are going through the same expat experiences as I.
But how many of these haphazardly-met people will really develop into friends?
To be concluded tomorrow…