Building friendships can be difficult in a small village where families go back generations and nearly everyone is related. Unless you were born here, or at least somewhere in the Highlands, you will forever be “an incomer.”
Which isn’t to say people are unfriendly – the opposite is true! But they are slow to extend friendship. They’ve seen so many people move here only to immediately start telling them that they should do things the way they’re done “back where I come from,” which leaves many a villager thinking, “If it’s so great where you came from, then why did you come here?”
It makes people a bit leery of new faces, that’s for sure.
When I moved here I didn’t give a lot of thought to making new friends because hey, I’m a friendly gal! Who wouldn’t want to be friends with me, right?
Oh dear … That thinking was akin to when I was laid off years ago and foolishly hoped I would get at least a couple of weeks off before someone hired me, to get a break between jobs. Ha! Six months of increasingly-desperate unemployment cured me of that particular hubris. Picking up and moving to another country has taught me a similar and humbling lesson – just because I think I’m a nice person and a good friend doesn’t mean friendship will come easily!
I’d been living here for two years and was at the smile-and-talk-about-the-weather stage with folks around the village, but I hadn’t really “made friends” with anyone, and I was starting to take it a bit personally. I had very little common ground on which to base new friendships, though I tried.
My husband said to give it time. Sem isn’t “a local” but he is from the north, which is a lot more local than I’ll ever be! Even so, he said that integrating oneself into a place like this involves “keeping the mouth shut and the ears open” for a couple of years, to learn the way of things.
I’ve seen the opposite attitude and the results, too. A woman I know moved here shortly before I did, and she did the reverse – she kept her ears shut and her mouth open, jumping right in, volunteering for every committee she could find, and throwing herself into various groups and clubs. Unfortunately she is a bit pushy and quick to be overly-familiar, and within a few months she managed to offend or upset just about everyone she came across, wholly unintentionally. She’s been trying to undo the damage ever since, but I don’t think it will work.
But I had Sem, my trusty guide-to-the-ways-of-Highlanders, and so I smiled at people, said hello, commented on the weather, patted lots of doggies, and kept an open mind along with my open ears and closed mouth. It wasn’t getting me any actual friends, but I wasn’t amassing a long list of almost-enemies like my fellow incomer had, either.
The years went by and then came a wonderful day. One fine morning I was coming home from shopping when I spotted wee Margaret. Tiny, energetic and quick of wit, Margaret lives a few houses over and was about eighty years old at the time. “Hi, Debbie,” she said brightly (why do all old people call me Debbie?). “It’s a bonny day!” I agreed that it was, expecting her to move on, but she patted my arm and smiled up at me. “Come by for a cup of coffee,” she said, much to my surprise. “Anytime is fine!”
Angels didn’t actually sing, but my heart did. After two years of feeling unaccepted, it was like all of my Christmases had come at once. I beamed at her and promised to stop by soon. “Good,” she replied, “and you should stop in and see Dinah, too, she would like that.”
Dinah is our next-door neighbor, in her 60s, who was by then mostly housebound. While I’d waved to her on occasion over the years, I would never have presumed to knock on her door, but it seemed that they had discussed it and I would be welcome.
I did go to Margaret’s for coffee a week or so later, and enjoyed the visit very much. She was full of stories about the village past and present, but even then it was evident that she was becoming quite deaf, so it was a bit of a shouty chat. Sadly, she is so very hard of hearing now that she cannot make out what I say to her at all, but Margaret is still always ready with a quip and a friendly smile whenever we meet. She doesn’t wait for a reply, knowing herself that a conversation is almost impossible now, but I’m always glad to see her.
I will always be grateful that she opened the door to friendship, just when I’d started to wonder if I was somewhat invisible.
I still don’t have a “bestie” (other than my Sem!), or a circle of friends, but I’ve sown the seeds of friendship here and there. Maybe in another seven years, it’ll happen.