It might be a bit counterintuitive or surprising for some of you to think of me as being quite introverted, being I write on a blog and am quite sociable in person, but it is who I am. Socialization is a skill I’ve learned through the years, and although people do shift along the continuum of introversion and extroversion, I do tend to operate closer to the introversion end. I’ve always been solitary in nature, as far back as I can remember; I don’t mind having lunch or dinner by myself. Or, in fact, having a quiet drink by myself at a bar, pub, or café, places usually more suited to socialization and conversation.
True, there have been moments when I had felt like being a social butterfly, but those moments have always been few and far between, espcially lately. And even then, I always would need ample preparation beforehand.
As I’ve mentioned, socialization is a skill, and it takes practice to be good at it. There are certain bits of it though that I have yet to get a good grasp of, especially in the context of being in a new country and culture. For instance, I have not yet fully internalized the everyday pleasantries common here, which admittedly don’t exist in Filipino culture. When someone greets you with “How are you?”, they usually don’t really care how you are, really – and I am still often caught off-guard by this, since in my mind it isn’t an empty neutral greeting devoid of any import, merely serving as a friendly opener. In the Philippines, when a complete stranger (such as a shopkeeper) asks you “Kumusta?”1, it feels totally forward and presumptious, at least in my experience. It hasn’t quite seeped into my social vocabulary, and therefore such interactions usually demand my full attention.
As well, small talk isn’t something I’m relatively comfortable with, and so for me, interacting with strangers can be very tiring, at least here. Usually, the topics of small talk have some origin in the shared cultural context – the everyday minutiae. Although I’ve been living here for some four months now, there’s still a huge amount of stuff I’m not familiar with. What do people talk about when they aren’t necessarily talking?
That brings me to my default mode when socializing: I tend to listen in to conversations, instead of starting one, in the hopes of latching on to a topic that I might have some knowledge in. Which, sometimes, feels ultra-awkward, at least for me.
I distinctly remember just listening in to my team’s lunch-time conversations the first couple of months in. In some senses, I still do. I was, and still am to an extent, trying to piece together the commonalities of experience we have, what things were possible topics of conversation. Talking shop would have been the easiest way out, the simplest starting point, but not everyone wants to spend their breaks talking about work – there should be space for other things, and forming any kind of meaningful relationship with people means understanding that human beings are multi-faceted, not defined solely by their work or their avocations. That being said, that’s probably why I’m not comfortable with small talk, since I find it hard not to try to form meaningful links with people.
It’s not all dire and bleak, I admit. There are a few topics that I feel I could open with, without having lived here, or anywhere for that matter, for any period of time: music, books, hobbies. And I have led with those topics.
But, in the end, there are days where I just feel like enjoying the company of myself.
Translates to “how are you?”, and originates from the Spanish phrase “¿Cómo está?”. ↩