Quote

"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Thursday, September 9, 2010

On basic social skills, and finding them lacking.

One of the obvious consequences of moving to a new place is that you meet new people, you create a whole network of acquaintances - some of which may eventually morph into friendships. This means going up to people you don't know, or maybe you saw them somewhere but have not been formally introduced, but in either cases, the simple fact that they look foreign - like you - means that you can, and often will, strike instant conversations with them.

This is a rather personal statement, but I never realized until now how socially handicapped I am. Or no, let me rephrase this. I was somewhat aware of the fact that my social skills are rather poor. I grew up in a small family unit, with parents who did not entertain at all. Our holidays were spent with my uncle and aunt who'd come from Spain to find work and a better life, and never had children. They spent their twenty + years in Paris with their heart still in Spain, saving money for the moment they could return to Spain, which is exactly what they did at the first given opportunity. Our vacations were mostly spent in Spain, with another aunt, a couple of cousins, and that's it. We didn't have friends over, and I may have gone to two birthday parties in all the years I spent in school. Then, as destiny would have it (but then, I probably pushed that destiny), I have spent the majority of my professional life working from home, and having limited day to day contact with the outside world. Yes, I travelled extensively. But with a backpack on, always on the move. And yes, I forged great, long lasting friendships along the way. I am not a misanthrope. Just a bit of a loner - definitely not a social animal (even though I married one.)

Anyway, to make a long story short, one of my resolutions with this new move is to try and be more social. I know I will always need a lot of silence, lots of time alone. This is who I am, and there is no changing that. But I also know that I sometimes suffer from being too isolated, and this is compounded by the fact that my work requires me to be at home, writing. I need to find a balance between the translating, the writing, and the need to get out a bit, see people, exercise, join in some social activity.

And where am I going with all this heart pouring? Well, I had a belated epiphany, yesterday. If I am to meet my new resolution, I'll need to be extremely focused, mindful, and most of all, I need to learn a few skills. How can a woman approaching fifty, someone who's lived in seven countries and counting, who speaks three languages fluently and can fend for herself in a few others, find it so difficult to juggle meeting and talking to two different, unknown people at the same time? How is it that this person can find herself in a group, and feel her mind literally freeze?

I was discussing this with my husband, yesterday, after we met a lady at one of the clubs in town (I will have to write a post about the club culture in Dhaka, by the way). She knew the couple we were sitting with, and joined us, and started talking with me, but did not acknowledge my husband. He thought she was being superior, maybe even racist. And I just know, deep in my bones, that she was shy, and not very skilled at meeting several people at once. Just a few hours before, I had made exactly the same mistake. I saw a lady that I ran into a few days ago, said hello and thanked her because she had given me the phone number of a taylor; I asked for her name, which I didn't know, but forgot to tell her mine, and totally ignored the lady who was sitting with her. I shudder in retrospect and wish I could turn the clock, but the fact is, I did not introduce myself to her, nor did I include her in the small conversation. Why? I forgot. I mean, I never even thought about it. It is as if the mere act of walking up to someone I don't know to strike up a conversation demands so much energy from me, I loose all ability to do anything else. If that makes any sense. And I'm writing this in case someone else out there suffers from the same kind of mental paralysis, and they happen to read this some day. I want them to know they are not alone.

That said, I firmly believe that we can all improve ourselves up until our very last breath. I also believe that once clearly aware of a problem, the work is half done. So, I hereby pronounce myself ready to dedicate myself to improving my social skills... Insh'Allah, as they say here.

3 comments:

janet brown said...

The other night I went to a birthday dinner party of a man who is turning seventy and has lived somewhat sporadically (he is a dedicated traveler) in Bangkok for three years. The number of people who were at his table were diverse, interesting, and delightful--and easily twenty times more than the friends I have made over a much longer extent of time.

I began to wonder why I am so solitary in my habits--yes I work at home and am a rabid reader and I prefer to travel alone--but in my daily life, why don't I gravitate to other people? As I face a move to another corner of the world, I've decided to become more approachable and sociable--so reading this was like looking in a mirror.

At least you live with a socially skilled person, Katia! That has to be a big plus.

Leigh Anne Gilbert said...

First, you are not as bad as you are writing, I have seen you do a fantastic job in every situation. It takes you longer than 20 minutes to get the lay of the land, but that is FINE. But that is just 10 more minutes that it takes me. And 18 more than either of our husbands, we just look slow in comparison. You are fine, just the way you are. Because if you see someone again, you'll get to your 20+ minute mark with them and you'll break through. If you don't see them...no worries.

Katia said...

Leigh Ann, how nice to see you here. You made me laugh. If it takes me 20 mns to get the lay of the land, as you say, it doesn't take you 10 mns, my dear, but ten nanoseconds flat !
And Janet, life is interesting. It's taken me the longest time to realize that my husband being an extroverted social animal was not something I had to subconsciously fight by being extra-introverted ;) as if my job was to somehow restore some kind of balance. I'm glad you're also trying to come out of your shell, a bit. I need to get in touch again with my friends in Penang. I'll send you an email when I hear from them.