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.