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…
Interesting observations about the duration of friendships in Southern California and the effect of Thai culture on friendships and relationships. It must also be a bit awkward if you click with just one person from a pair but not the other.
I don’t want to assume but I would guess that maybe you have made some lasting friendships over the internet as well? i.e. Xanga? I certainly have!
@yang1815 – That’s a whole other series… =)
I am not comfortable about Californians in general. Very superficial at times I feel. I am quite contented with the friendships I have developed in the mid section of this country. I am so happy you are posting your thoughts so well here Chris.
@ElusiveWords – Yeah, but that’s true in any situation where you meet a couple and one person is more engaging or more of a click than the other.@ZSA_MD – My parents and most of my family is from the midwest but I didn’t get the opportunity to live there until the 14 months before I moved to Bangkok. One thing that experience taught me is that the coastal stereotypes of midwesterners, while there are some grains of truth to them, are largely wrong.
Wow, touched I got a mention in your blog. It’s true making friends in a new place is something else. In the 7 months I have been in Australia, I have made one friend, maybe friend, besides the people I live with. Sometimes I miss having large groups of people around, but I’ve traded quantity for quality. The connections I have now are much stronger and come without any baggage or misconceptions.
As far as making friends with the locals, yeah, one maybe friend in 7 months. I could make more friends if I wanted to, but between working, exercising and doing all the fun stuff I can with my man and housemates, there isn’t much time. Oh and playing with the pets. So yeah, it’s a change, but it’s a good one for me.
Missing you though!
@AussieGirl – Of course you were mentioned! In fact, I said to Tawn just the other evening how fun it would be to have you here for some more cooking.
@ElusiveWords – @christao408 – It’s a very long traffic jam on 405
@christao408 – Wooh, speaking of meeting couples, I don’t get how it works quite yet.Boyfriend wants to meet couples, but what happens when you run into the situation when one is more engaging than the other? (I think I am probably the less engaging one out of the two of us…)Do you give up because it’s too difficult to maintain it?He also mentioned that when 2 gay men become friends, especially as couples, at least one is attracted to another, or more attracted to another. Do you find this true?I feel like I am making you into some kind of a relationship column Chris Savage
@Wangium – SIG Alert!@Wangium – Chris Savage – LOL! One of the things that is largely missing in the gay community (you can thank the absence of gay marriage for this) are lots of examples of successfully long-term relationships. Especially when I was younger (say, your age), I knew very few couples who had been together even a year. As such, I had lots of questions and few answers.As for your question, it is natural that when couples socialize, sometimes there are better “clicks” between the individuals than other times, compounded by the challenge that unlike hetero couples, there isn’t as obvious a pairing – the girls talk about girl things and the boys about boy things. Tawn and I have made an effort over the years to meet other couples and while some of those friendships have developed, many of them aren’t really the closest friendships. Still, there is a lot of benefit to at least sometimes socializing with other couples. It helps reinforce the relationship, lets you know that the challenges your relationship faces is not as bad as what others face (they are saying the same thing about you, too!), and it keeps you out of a social scene that promotes the dating merry-go-round. Plus, it can be great for dinner parties as people respond in pairs. Even numbers is so much easier if you want to play board games afterwards.As for you boyfriend’s theory about gay friends always involving attraction, if you mean sexual attraction then I don’t buy it. I have lots of friends and have observed lots of gay frindships that are rooted strictly in a platonic friendship, without any sexual tension. That theory seems to buy into the stereotype that all gay men do is think with their dicks.
Maybe all his friends do think with dicks or he’s really stunningly attractive (?)I don’t quite see it, but ok I should be happy
@Wangium – Well, isn’t he stunningly attractive? That’s why you’re with him, right? =PYes, you should be happy.