Sunday, September 3, 2017

Does Living in the Middle of Nowhere for Years Makes a Person Less Socially Competent?

If there is anything that characterizes life in rural Africa, it is the small social circles that many expats (more often than not, choose to) confine themselves.  A small group of people have very specific conversations about work and life in a small town, dealing with issues that largely remain unchanged over the course of years.  The fact that people and topics of conversation change so little in such a long time means that expats living in rural Africa develop a very specific way of speaking to a very specific group of people, tailored for long-term relationships and not so much for meeting new ones out of the blue.

Such a skill has proven to be largely useless in the urban jungle that is Tokyo (and certainly would also be useless in other major cities around the world). Hundreds of events involving thousands of strangers require ability to quickly generate conversations and find common languages with people whose background is completely unknown.  For someone returning from a small, set social community, the task can be daunting, simply because there has been so little need to do the same for years.  When suddenly thrust into such a situation, one's rusty conversational skills makes one seem like a complete social novice.

At the same time, however, there is a concrete desire to take advantage of almost limitless opportunities to be social.  If there is one negative thing about being in a small, set social community, it is that its members are "stuck" in the group with little alternative.  What if there is no one that shares similar viewpoints, ideologies, hobbies, and interests?  Unfortunately, little can be done to mitigate unless the person explicitly goes out of his/her way to find others.  Given the distances and inconveniences of rural Africa, such a proposition can be costly, time-consuming, and frankly, impossible in many cases.

The urban jungle is exhilarating for someone used to social confinement in the middle of nowhere.  Among thousands to be met, there are bound to be some people who share similar passions and can be compatible.  And in all the excitement to meet as many people as possible as quickly as possible, there are bound to be many social faux pas committed.  The sheer energy and enthusiasm, combined with blatantly unrefined directness crafted in small social groups, comes off not just as put-offish but laced with ulterior purposes not kosher to conversations with complete strangers.

That social otherworldliness is especially apparent when dealing with people of opposite gender.  Being confined to small social circles where eligible potential romantic partners are few and far in between, so when someone new to the urban jungle is presented with opportunities to meet more such people, s/he jumps at those opportunities.  But when s/he devote most effort, energy, and care in cultivating those potential relationships, they are just as likely to meet suspicion and irritation as they are to meet equally happy reactions in response.

After all, for someone used to meeting many different people all the time, the idea that someone is so happy to meet people of opposite gender can only mean one thing: desperation.  For them, the display of energy is equivalent to compensation mechanism for social awkwardness, which they consciously but unsuccessfully suppress in order to impress others for romantic purposes.  As bad as the description sounds, it is difficult for the returnee from rural Africa to deny that he does not have at least some elements of exactly that.  After years of not meeting the right people, lost time needs to be made up for.

The urban compatriots not only do not share that excitement to meet potential partners, but also see those hyperactive sense of befriending as dangerous.  The anxiety of the urban jungle is not having too few people to meet, but way too many.  Among those many people that inhabit the place, a portion of them certainly cannot be trusted to do the right things when getting in touch with others.  Subtlety toward romance is thrown straight out of the door as they blanket a whole population with their love, never mind the fact that many are not even seeking romance to begin with.

The new import from rural Africa just seem too similar to those people, who, despite having lived in the urban jungle for, well, forever, have not lost their sheer creepiness.  To not be grouped together with such unbearable, undesirable lot, urban social newbies ought to be more patient.  Instead of jumping at every opportunity that they can find their hands on, they need to learn to take it slow, and first find and get acclimated to the unwritten rules of social engagements unique to a densely populated place.  Only then can they be productive members of the urban jungle without seeming like desperate social outcasts.  

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