Getting to know you

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I have learnt to accept over the years that one should look beyond the surface of things before coming to conclusions about the cultural traits of various peoples. The fact that folks from the south of England can be best described as “not easy to get to know” doesn’t mean they are not good at sustaining friendships. Meanwhile, there are other subcultures that have a reputation for being more accessible on the surface, but that initial impression can be later discovered to be superficial.

The stereotype of “happy smiling Africans” is also complex notion that needs to be unpicked. Folks who appear to be open handed in dealing with tourists or strangers can suddenly be discovered to have ulterior motives and can then behave in seemingly baffling ways.

Underneath it all, maybe it is possible that we all have insular traits up to a point. Those of us who live in big cities are used to minding our own businesses and being respectful of personal boundaries in ways that people from less urban places might regard as “cold”.

On several occasions I have been surprised to learn that people I regarded as good acquaintances have actually relocated to other parts of the world and haven’t been living in London for many years, when I thought they were still based in town and were “only a phone call away”.

Matters are even more complex nowadays, with the presence of Whatsapp, Skype and other sorts of instant messaging.  People can reach each other easily across time zones and thousands of miles. This sort of technology can give one a feeling of intimacy that isn’t the same as the experience of being together in the same space. Have we truly learnt to master the differences between these forms of contact?

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