Europe Can Be Lonely, If You Let It



The biggest shock to my system after my move from Africa to Europe wasn’t that I saw white faces everywhere instead of the usual black, nor was it the strange Czech language. No sir! See, Africa is a continent of (frighteningly) open people, whose friendliness any non-African might find overwhelming. A friend is family and families are close. Europe offered something different though. I walked into a stone wall of closed Europeans who came off as either unfriendly or pissed off to heaven. It was and still is quite difficult to make friends and here’s why.

Greeting a neighbor on public transport is a no-no


My very first brush with the European social freezer was on the Prague metro. Out of a well-honed 24-year habit (I’d previously struck up innumerable conversations with strangers on the Ugandan public transport), I attempted to engage a Czech stranger. My friendly ‘Ahoj’ drew a frown, then a puzzled look but no verbal response. Was my accent that off? Embarrassed, I smiled sheepishly and looked away. What was her problem? Two things dear reader. One, she didn’t know me from Adam. Two,  Ahoj’ as a greeting should be used amongst friends. I should have used the more formal  ‘Dobry den’.

Turning work colleagues into friends is a long and often, futile shot


Just because you see each other daily, go for lunches together, talk about your lives, celebrate birthdays and have nights out doesn’t make you friends. Once out of sight, say, like when I had to take maternity leave, all communication ceases. Some might come together and send you flowers and gifts, but don’t be offended if they have no interest in meeting your new baby.

Friends are mysterious too


You might know them for years before you get to meet any of their family, if ever. If there’s a change in their lives and they are in no position to
call you up, you might never know because, none of their family knows you exist and if they do, you are not family. Simple. You might also never get to meet any of their other friends.  Thriving friendship islands.

Keeping in touch is overrated


Friendships in Europe seem to blossom all on their own without much input from the participants. Months of silence will often come to an end over glasses of your favored legal/illegal intoxicants. You’ll speak the beautiful language of catch–me-up and the friendship embers will glow and keep till next the meet up. It might be in a month or a year.

Dropping by unannounced is just not done  


If you want to visit, plan ahead and plan WITH them. It might take months to find a suitable date to have you around – when they have absolutely nothing else to do – but that’s just how it works. Oh and please-oh-please, don’t drop in unannounced. If you are out of sorts and need a friend’s shoulder, and it occurs to you to go crash at your friend’s place, call first. They most likely won’t want their date with an ice hokey match disturbed. Sorry, this evening is not a good time. Call you tomorrow? Like a friend recently agreed, “People are more selfish here.”

Throwing your head back and laughing out loud in public?! Tut-Tut


People will frown, shake their heads in disapproval and turn away from the raging lunatic – You. Just,  how else is one supposed to express spontaneous happiness?  Sigh.

Singing and whistling in public


Oh, I used to love me a good whistle! I gave up singing but started humming instead. For years, I drew disapproving looks that did nothing to deter me from my mission – humming when I am happy. Then something strange happened. I got a baby. I started singing to her in public and I wasn’t crazy anymore. My renditions of Mariah Carey, Seal, Barry White (list is endless) are truly horrendous but I get the fondest of looks from strangers. Want to sing freely? Get a baby.

Loud music


As an undergraduate at University (Uganda), the second thing I'd reach out for every morning (the first being the snooze button on my alarm clock) was my music system’s power button. I’d crank up the volume, sing and dance along as I went about whatever it was that needed doing. My neighbors never complained. They had louder music systems. Europe? Well, once, twice, one week and they’ll have had enough. They’ll call the cops.

That said, thank you ALL my friends…Europe would be a lot less fun without you. Go dancing soon…?



3 comments:

  1. @'how else is one supposed to express spontaneous happiness?' LOL

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  2. Italians are a bit more outgoing but I still totally relate. I can't get over some of these things. Like how 'friends' become strangers just like that. Or how you can live in a building for 5years and don't even know who your neighbour is. Interesting fact though is that we pick up some these habits after a while here and then become 'weird' to people back home.

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    1. We exchange Hi-hi with most of my neighbours - at the lift, but I don't know their names :D. Some don't bother with the hi and some have totally ignored it... :D

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