‘Come By For Coffee’ …

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Deb Segelitz
Deb Segelitz was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and is astounded to find herself living in the Scottish Highlands. Equally surprising to her is that she now has a small business restoring and selling old fountain pens. These two facts have convinced Deb that life is either beautifully random, or filled with destiny created by someone with a sense of humor. She hopes the fine north state residents will accept her as an honorary member, since she has some cousins in California who she visited once, but even more importantly because the north state folks she actually knows are fabulous people, who are also the reason for her presence here on anewscafe.com. An enthusiastic amateur photographer, Deb is grateful that she lives in a place that's about as point-and-shoot as it gets. Her tortoiseshell cat, Smartie, rates her as an average minion, too slow with the door-opening but not too bad on the food-dish-refilling, and her husband hasn't had her deported back to the States yet, so things must be going all right there, as well.
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19 Responses

  1. Randall R. Smith says:

    This attitude toward new arrivals is not unique to the Highlands.  Greeks have been doing it for centuries and my mom had the same experience in Charleston, SC.  Welcoming “incomers” is as or was as American as apple pie.  Now we join a long list of cloistered people around the world where knowing neighbors is less likely than being familiar with craters on the moon.  Bummer!

     

    • Deb says:

      It would be a beautiful thing indeed if all the people from all the places in the world would be welcoming to incomers, wouldn’t it?   It’s certainly true that other parts of the world are the same – especially in established places where everyone knows everyone else.  This can also obviously extend to situations in which one’s ethnicity or accent sets one apart from “the locals”.  However, I write not about the world at large – merely my own small corner of it.

      It’s been a refreshing change to know my neighbors, here in our village, though to be honest I was fortunate to know my neighbors in other places I’ve lived as well.  Perhaps I’ve just lived in friendly places!

  2. Matthew Grigsby says:

    It’s ironic that you’ve so quickly established an entire cadre of friends and admirers here in our wee hamlet on the other side of the pond, just through your writing.  It’s a shame the door hasn’t been so easily opened there, but it appears cultural barriers aren’t easily overcome.

    Naturally, you’re welcome by my cottage for a cuppa and a chat ANYTIME.

  3. Deb says:

    Aw thanks Matt!  I suppose it’s a bit difficult to build friendships based on casual chats in the village (almost always about the weather!).  Here in A News Cafe I just pour it all out, and fortunately for me it is well received by those in your wee hamlet!

    A cuppa and a chat in your cottage would be lovely – and you, dear soul, are welcome anytime in our wee hoose as well.

  4. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    This is yet another fascinating narrative of your life in a far-away land, Deb. Thank you.

    • Deb says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Hal!  I wonder what you would make of the music, here? 😉

      • Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

        Heh. Are there any pubs doing live music in your community, Deb? I’d be inclined to include them in my live music column just for the fun of it. 🙂

        After Hurricane Katrina hit, I was assigned to live on a North Sea “hotel vessel” for a few days; it had been repositioned offshore from Louisiana. The heliport crew were Scottish guys, and they were sure entertaining. The head of the crew was nicknamed “Mad Mike.” He was the oldest of the four, and known for his antics in New Orleans bars before flying home to Scotland the following day.

        The guys were all from different areas of Scotland. At first, I had trouble understanding all of them. However, after a couple of days of hanging around with them in their ready room between flights, I had an easier time of it. Well, except for Mad Mike, that is. The younger guys would usually have to “translate” for me. I remarked one afternoon to the youngest in the crew that I felt bad about not being able to understand Mad Mike, even though I had little trouble with the other Scottish fellows.

        “Don’t worry about that,” the youngest guy said. “When Mad Mike drinks, we can’t understand him.”

        I still miss those guys.

        • Deb says:

          Some pubs do have live music.  Our village used to have a weekend-long music festival, but sadly that wound down before I came here!

          Love your story of the Scots on the North Sea “hotel vessel”!  I still have trouble with the accents I don’t hear as often just due to geography.  Mad Mike sounds like quite a character!

  5. A. Jacoby says:

    We ‘Mer-cans’ have developed the myth that we are all so open and friendly and loud and out-going a host of other epitaphs. I think we convince ourselves of these things because we are such a mobile, unrooted culture; HOWEVER, scratch any group of people, whether it’s a neighborhood watch group, or a PTA group, or a sewing circle, and somewhere close under the surface, provinciaoism raises it’s head. Notice I did NOT say UGLY!  I think the instinct is rooted in our tribal past for the protection of the herd and is quite natural. Would that many of us could learn your well-heeded lesson of closed mouth and open ears . ..and PATIENCE. We are such a spoiled lot an tend to want everything right now! Good on you, dear friend of the ether-net, for sharing that lesson with us. And  I believe, that should you ever cross the lentil of our community, there would be many kitchens at the ready.

    • Matthew Grigsby says:

      What a beautifully worded post, Adrienne!

    • Deb says:

      Very well said!  Here in the village, I think they’ve just seen so many incomers come and go that they are a bit skeptical until people stay awhile – and try to fit in, rather than make the village(rs) fit their own ideas!

      Perhaps one day… a North State Tour! 😀  Lovely to know there would be a warm welcome on offer. 🙂

  6. cheyenne says:

    Deb, as I have moved around SF, Idaho, Redding, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming I have found the locals are warm and welcoming if one, like you say, keeps their mouth shut and their ears open.  The ones, again like you say, that keep their mouths open and their ears shut, tend to be treated as less desirable.

     

    • Deb says:

      It seems logical, doesn’t it?  It’s always astounding when people sort of blunder right in without thought.  I’m glad you’ve had such warm welcomes in your new locations!

  7. Teuchter says:

    Great tales, Deb.  Funny how the old girls are the ones that realize a stranger in their midst is a chance for friendship.

    Come on over to Redding for our bagpipe recital in April.  The music will be grand and it will probably be better weather than your new hame.

    • Deb says:

      Glad you enjoyed it!

      It did take a full two years before the old girls extended friendship but I will always be grateful that they did 🙂

      How cool that you’ve got a bagpipe recital there in Redding!  Better weather definitely – anytime I get to hear the pipes here it’s usually raining and chilly, even in August at the Highland Games!

  8. Joanne Lobeski-Snyder says:

    Deb, your writing is a pleasure to read!

    I once lived in a coastal town that fit the description of your town.  I’m an introvert, but I make an effort to be friendly and respectful to everyone I meet.   In this town, people were  closed, unfriendly, and generally unresponsive to my existence.  It felt as though people were saying “My life is complete without adding a new annoyance to it!”   I had left a town in Southern California where people were open and friendly with strangers and curious and respectful to me.  People would strike up conversations in the line at the grocery store in Southern California, and the same was true in Redding when I first arrived.   The culture in different towns is different.  Thank you for a great article.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you, Joanne!

      That sounds so isolating and difficult!  I’m an introvert too (I just hide it well), so even among friendly folk it can be challenging to put myself out there, so to be met with a wall of unacceptance and unfriendliness must have been so awful.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article.  Here’s to living in friendly places!

  9. Ginny says:

    Wonderful read again, Deb.  Thank you for showing, in words, the life you lead in your new land.

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