I’m very happy to introduce today this blog’s first ever guest post! I met John nearly a year ago at a communicator’s conference in Thailand. As we talked, I was amazed at the similarity of our experiences in their complete opposite-ness. I was very much feeling an introvert struggling in an extrovert’s “dream culture” (if such a thing exists), while he was experiencing the opposite in Singapore – extrovert in an introvert’s dream culture. Since then, I’ve enjoyed trading culture notes and other thoughts on life as Americans living overseas. I’m excited he’s agreed to share some of his experiences & thoughts with you… And please join the conversation below!
The food arrives and I pay the server amid the bustle of Singapore’s usual lunchtime food court melee. I examine the spread of Asian delight on my plate and indulge – without talking. I’m not alone at the table – far from it actually. I’m joined by a handful of colleagues who have come to partake in the daily office ritual.
There’s a clamour all around the expansive food court – noises of food preparation, orders being placed and ladies clearing plates from tables. And yet at my table, there’s a curious, seemingly inexplicable silence. Heads to the bowls and chopsticks in motion, I’m left wondering with increasing anxiety who will break this echoing hush? Who will divulge some personal anecdote or stray emotion? Who will think of something their friend told them last night that was just toooo funny to not share? Or who, as a last resort, or perhaps just out of sheer boredom, will finally allay the collective angst and fill the airwaves with whatever words they can muster together?
Because surely it’s better to talk than to not talk.
Turns out Chinese people are a lot more okay with silence than I am.
Such was the verdict after a few initial lunch-time runs like this one. Now, after a year and a half in Singapore, it’s a mantra I return to almost daily when it seems there’s just a little too much silence for comfort.
Admittedly, modern America has become an extrovert’s buffet. From our classroom and office setups to our fixation on endless ‘collaboration’, to the way we’re not okay when others steal away from the group for moments of respite on the playground – there’s seemingly something for everyone at this table!… as long as you’re, well, an extrovert. And I am very much a product of this culture from whence I’ve come. An extrovert by birth, this buffet came somewhat naturally and deliciously to me. Year after year I had my fill, and then some. That is, until East Asia.
I recall my dismay when in a meeting here with office colleagues we were asked to ‘give our input’ on something. HERE! I thought…at last. An explicit call for verbal backup. My chance to un-dam a torrent of solicited verbal fortitude. Surely I can’t fail on this one. And yet, as I freely offered my zealous constructive criticism and waited for equally eager commentary from my colleagues, instead something of a silent awkwardness settled tangibly into the conference room. I was met with ruffled receptions from the superiors, and realized my other colleagues were clearly holstering their verbal side arms. Apparently that wasn’t the extrovert backup they were looking for, I surmised. Indeed, another lesson learned.
What about you? How has your personality clashed with a certain experience or context you’ve been in?