Tonight while waiting in line for a weights class (“Rep Reebok”) at my gym I met a really sweet French girl and we got to talking about Parisians (she’s not one), Americans, and — most interestingly — friendships.
She suggested to me, as have many other Europeans, that Americans are more outgoing and friendly and “nice” than folks in many other cultures, but that we don’t treat close friendships in the same way. Specifically, we may have more “friends” at any given moment, but we don’t often really work to deepen our friendships, or even maintain them over time.
She elaborated further, “When I move back to France in a year, I know Veronique will still be my friend, still there, waiting for me.”
My natural instinct was to defend my culture, to defend myself… to note that I have some wonderful American friends, and that it’s not uncommon for people to have and keep “best friends” here. Or, at minimum, I thought about justifying the perceived differences in our cultures by noting that Americans are more transient… moving more often… and having to remain slightly more guarded and less attached, lest they repeatedly have their hearts torn.
But in the end, I just nodded my head. “I understand you,” I answered. “Each Winter I return to Germany to see friends that mean just as much to me now as they did when I lived just a few miles from them. I think about them all the time, and I care about them a lot.”
She smiled. I don’t know if she believed me. And I’m not sure if I think Americans are really more shallow than the French at their very core. Perhaps we just have different ways of expressing friendship and love?
But inside, actually, I winced. And I wondered with some sadness how many of my friends now will still truly be friends when I am far away.
I think your friend is on to something, and yet…
I know a German student going to school here who commented that Americans seem much more inclined to be open and helpful. He didn’t mention in the same context but he e-mails me over the summer about the great times he is having traveling with a group of friends from back home. I assume they are long-established relationships. Sounds like the European trait your friend mentioned of having deeper friendships, maybe.
And it also occurs to me how many friends of mine over the years I have lost contact with, from elementary / junior high / early high school here in my hometown of Kalamazoo, and from prep school, college, graduate school…I’ve been struck with what I thought were close friendships that withered away due to distance and time. Frankly, I don’t care for it, but I have to realize that people change and move on. It really does hurt. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to expect it, but never readily accept it.
But in my adult life, I do have three friends whom I have learned I can count on (and they on me—of course, anyone can count on me, hero in my own mind that I am) and I seriously doubt those friendships will slip away before actual death.
It’s a sad topic, on the one hand, but in the end we go on and develop genuine lasting relationships. And my dog loves me—or, well, actually *depends* on me—and that gives life meaning, too.