Today I officially decided to give up. I saw a neighbour walking through the back garden, a lady who I have met once. She was very nice and friendly, but in a kind of welcome-to-the-building-I-have-to-be-friendly kind of a way. Not a yay-we’re-neighbours-and-so-maybe-lifelong-friends kind of a way. And that was more than a month ago. Since then I have not talked to her again.
I think we may actually be on some subconscious level avoiding each other, and so today when I saw her walking through the back garden, I gave up. My neighbours will not be my friends. This is, to be completely honest, mainly my fault. When I moved in, I had ideas about baking cookies for everyone in the building, planning some kind of a building barbecue when the weather gets better, knocking on everyone’s door just to introduce myself.
Turns out I’m just too shy. Maybe they are too. Two of the families in my building have small children. When I met them, I did offer to babysit if they ever need it. They looked surprised and thanked me. I know that if I really want them to take me up on it (which honestly would be rather nice), I’d have to repeat the offer in about a dozen different ways and then find that moment when they feel frazzled and jump in. That sounds so exhausting. The babysitting doesn’t sound the exhausting, the effort of getting to know them well enough and earn their trust so that I might babysit is what sounds exhausting. So I’m giving up.
One thing I am realising is that this ease by which I can give up has nothing to do with race, ethnicity or nationality. You may be thinking, of course it’s not a race issue! But I admit I kind of thought it was. After all, so many people come from such friendly welcoming parts of the world and, when they arrive in London, seem to become so contained! Quiet, shy, without many friends or efforts to make friends. I figured it was something we learned here.
But last week I met some people who live in neighbouring buildings through the resident’s association. They were possibly the most White English people I’d encountered since I moved to London! They were also very nice and friendly and seemed devoted to building community. They even invited me to join them for a potluck dinner, and they’d only just met me. Unfortunately, I already had plans, but that is what real community should do, isn’t it?
So why is it that us immigrants, us outsiders in this culture, are so shy and homebound? I thought we were taking on the culture of the Londoner, but the natives seem to be the friendly ones. Why do we seem to lose all of our skills in hospitality, friendliness, community, when we move here? For me, personally, I think it has to do with the circumstances under which I came here – I came here at a place of burn-out and needing to rest, which has entailed a degree of introversion. But I don’t want to learn bad habits.