There’s been a lot of great conversation on the blog this week. I’ve been fascinated to read your take on mean girls and online friending, not to mention last week’s discussion of appropriate birthday greetings. (Birthdays are a touchy subject—I love it!). Yesterday I was super intrigued by the divide when it came to huggers and non-huggers. And the comments brought to light another friendship topic I’ve had on the brain: Cultural differences as they pertain to BFFs.
In response to my awkward hugging encounter, one commenter, a German native, wrote: “Maybe this is a cultural thing, but I only hug people I feel somewhat close to. … I don’t hug old-coworkers, classmates or sports buddies just because I haven’t seen them in a long time. We shake hands (this is much more common in Europe, and it’s not at all business-like, just friendly).”
An Australian reader wrote: “North America is a hug or handshake culture and it seems awkward to shake hands with a friend or non-professional acquaintance. Here in Australia we mostly do the European cheek-kiss thing. It still sometimes brings awkward situations but not as much.”
Acceptable friendship behaviors, and the general expectation of what a friendship will be, vary pretty significantly from one country to the next. For example, a reader once told me that in Italy it is totally acceptable to ask a solo diner if you can share a table with them. (Doesn’t that sound like the beginning of every romantic comedy ever?) Not always the case in the good ol’ U.S. of A.
Then there are the Croatians and their “friendship over business” stance.
When I first started writing about my search, I discussed it over email with a friend who’s living in Hong Kong. He wrote, “I would be willing to bet that Americans are much more likely to relate to your blog for the simple reason that they are much more likely to travel. In fact, I heard once that something like 85% of the world population ends up living within 20 miles of the house in which they grew up.” I haven’t been able to confirm that exact statistic, but I can say that Americans are the most mobile people in the world. We move, on average, every 5 years. If adults across the globe are more likely to stay in one place, they’re obviously less likely to encounter problems of the I’m-moving-how-do-I-make-new-friends variety.
A study released just last week delved into the differences in how American and Japanese friends communicate. The study discovered that while Americans are all about telling our friends everything, that doesn’t fly between friends in Japan. “[Researchers] found that Japanese people were more likely to feel that relationships were stable and because of this, were less likely to share so much information with their closest friend. However, Americans shared more information with friends than the Japanese because they saw their relationships as more fragile and shifting more often, thus requiring more maintenance via self-disclosure.” The simple fact that Americans move around more is responsible for other cultural differences in friendship behavior—including our tendency to share everything from our bodily functions to our morning drive traffic report.
Tell me, what cultural differences have you noticed? If you live in the U.S., have you observed any changes in friendship behavior when you travel? If you live outside the States, what is the difference between friends here versus where you live?