Thursday, January 17, 2008

Only in America: going out alone = staying alone

Here is another big difference between America and the rest of the world, which makes the social life really sad and suffocating for me.

In America, if you go out alone, you are almost guaranteed to be alone, unless you get really lucky. Usually, nothing happens socially if you go out alone. It's not the kind of place or society where you can go out by yourself and meet people "just because" to hang out with. That's why people in America are so adamant about having friends to go out with because deep down, they know that if they go out alone, they will stay alone. And they fear that being alone will bring a feeling of detachment and alienation, that leads to insecurity. That's just how it is here.

The social norms here dictate that people in public stay with the company they are with. These are the unspoken but real customs of the social scene and public life in America. It’s nothing official, just a learned habit that people here grow up with. No one needs to mention it, because it's just how people normally are out in public and socially. It's a mutual understanding of the collective in America, one that we grow up with and assume is the norm. In general, people have an isolationist mentality rather than an interconnected one with others. Though it's far different from how other countries are, (which do not have the inherent isolation mentality that America does) most Americans don't know it, because the rest of the world is not part of "their world".

Anyone can go out in public and see that this is so - those that are out alone, stay alone (and strangely enough, they want to stay alone, especially if they're female), and those that are out with their friends/family, stay hanging around them. You can see this in any public place - cafes, restaurants, Starbucks, grocery stores, parks, bus stops, malls, and even bars and nightclubs. Attempting to violate this rule or change it is awkward and against the flow, making you feel like a lone ant trying to change the social rules of the whole ant colony.

"Breaking the ice" - proof that Americans are uncomfortable talking to strangers

I'm sure you've all heard the term in America "breaking the ice" referring to initiating contact with strangers. This common phrase speaks volumes about the social barriers against talking to strangers in America (so you don't have to take my word for it). And the fact that we have such a phrase to describe talking to strangers, pretty much proves my claim that Americans are uncomfortable talking to strangers and see it as abnormal, awkward, and intrusive (unless its business-related), making it self-evident. Obviously, if talking strangers is like "breaking ice", it implies that there is a cold, sterile, "ice barrier" that naturally exists between strangers by default, making it a huge psychological obstacle between both parties (even if one is from abroad) to initiate contact. If you've never left America, this seems normal, but if you are used to a country where there is no "ice" between strangers, then it seems awkward, unnatural, and inhuman for Americans to be this way.

Unfortunately, talking to strangers or "breaking the ice" in America freaks many people out, and makes the initiator feel awkward and intrusive. And if you must break the ice, you gotta do it in a very subtle, distant, overly polite, proper, nonchalant manner to avoid being seen as intrusive or "creepy". You can't be too forward, passionate, wild, or sensual like you can in Europe, South America, Mexico, Russia and the former Soviet Union, etc. To me, that's just weak, since I'm already used to it being totally different.

Thus, even a very outgoing sociable person from abroad who opens up to everyone will feel shy and cautious in the US, not because he/she is that way, but because since everyone else around that person IS that way, it rubs off on him/her, making that person abide by the social rules of "keeping the same company in public that you're with."

Even if you go to a crowded nightclub where people are partying and dancing, where it is more socially acceptable to meet people (at least in concept), most still keep with the company they are with, talking only to their friends, rather than meet any new people. And sadly, you can still feel the strong vibe that most of the girls there don't want to talk to you. So even there, if you go alone, you are likely to be alone. And if you try to break that hard "ice" by saying hi to girls there that you don't know to introduce yourself, you will feel guilty for violating "the boundaries" and, unless there is something really special about you, they will either look at you like you're a freak, ignore you, or say hi quickly and then leave. I've always said, North America is the only part of the world where you can be in a room or area full of gorgeous women who are all "unapproachable" (for various reasons). In other countries, that is virtually impossible. I can personally attest to this.

Anyone who tries to deny this collective social contract is either lying, deluded, or religiously against generalizing (the politically correct crowd) that they will always play devil's advocate to anyone who makes observations about people, no matter how true. It's just way too obvious, as obvious as the big obesity epidemic is in America. So much so that I would only need 5 - 10 minutes out in public to show someone all this in person. People out in public just don't approach people, so demonstrating that first hand would be way too easy. In fact, it's easier to demonstrate than shooting fish in a barrel. Surprisingly, even though I could prove all this in 5 minutes, there are still those out there who try to deny that this is true!

On the other hand, in most of the world, not just in Europe/Russia, one can easily go out alone without having to be alone. It is easy and natural to meet people, find company to hang out with, someone interesting to spend your time with, or even get a nice date with the opposite sex that same day or night, if you just chat them up sincerely. Or sometimes of course, they may chat you up as well. So in a sense, you don't even have to "break the ice" because there is no "ice" to begin with! You can see ample evidence of this, enough to convince anyone, in my photojournals. And even if you remain alone, you still know deep down in your intuition, soul, and gut instinct that you don't have to be alone, because the vibe all around you in public is far more inclusive and warm than in the USA, which is inherently exclusive in its nature, form, collective mentality and public behavior.

All this I can guarantee 100 percent beyond any doubt, and I give my word to it.

And even in nations which are somewhat cliquish, such as Britain, France, Germany or Japan, it is still easier to meet people when you go out alone (at least for those like me), comparatively speaking, than it is in the USA.