Sophie in Santa Cruz
‘How’s it going?’
‘I’m awesome!’ (accompanied by big thumbs up)
‘We should totally meet up sometime. Text me!’
And you never see them again.
This is a typical round of American small talk, as acted out by our orientation leader during the ‘Understanding US Culture’ presentation. Standing in front of a room of exchange students, she is as exuberant and hyperbolic as the stereotypical American she is introducing to us: they will, she says, find everything ‘awesome!’, talk to you when standing in line for coffee, ask you how you are, find everything ‘awesome!’, and will probably never follow up un that initial exchange. They will be warm and friendly but at the end of the day they won’t invite you home to dinner.
For everyday interactions this openness is a pleasant, welcoming backdrop (as I discussed in a previous column). But when it comes to making friends it can be confusing for someone socialized in Europe to decipher the difference between an advance towards friendship and a onetime interaction. Especially when said someone is an introvert. My usual mode of interaction is the complete opposite of ‘loud conversation about the weather with the whole room’. I’m much more ‘heavy substance but in the corner with just one person’. According to the presentation introducing us to American socializing some topics are strictly out of bounds: no politics, no controversial topics. Then what is left for me to talk about?
Thankfully, we are provided with another piece of invaluable information on American culture. Apparently, Americans love to meticulously schedule their time (why has nobody told me this before? I could have been an organized person all my life if only I’d known). So this is how you can make an American friend, maybe even without the extroverted shallow small talk: pick a person, find a specific activity to do together and both put it in our calendars. There are no strings attached until it goes in the calendar.