It was my 2nd day at the new job (July 6th). Aside from meeting with my supervisor to learn the ropes for the non-computer aspects of the job, lots of reading, and help from my team members, I didn’t do too much. That was fine because there was a LOT of reading – laws & rules & statutes, oh my. I got to know my team members little by little, in addition to colleagues on other teams somewhat related to my work. Some of them asked lots of questions about home, told me about their visits to the States, and stated their opinions about the many goings-on in the States. These were nice conversation starters because I wouldn’t have initiated conversation.
My work e-mail worked, so I checked it to see if I’d gotten anything. One of the first e-mails I saw was from a newly hired recruiter at the agency that brought me over here. In it she stated that a new group of Americans just arrived, and she requested my attendance at an informal dinner on Thursday to meet the new recruits.
What? Meet people? People I’ve never met before? For dinner? For a long period of time?
For those who know me well (and I’ve mentioned it here a couple of times), I’m an introvert. A proud introvert. For most of my life, people (including family members) made me feel bad about this, saying there was something wrong with me since I’m not a social butterfly. Social interactions, especially for long periods of time, deplete my energy and cause me to withdraw into a cocoon (whether living solo or paired up). It’s my way of recharging (albeit nowhere near as recharged than the average social being). In the past this caused me lots of angst because as a teenager (and like most teenagers), being this way made people misunderstand me even more, which led to a vicious cycle of wanting to please people but not being able to, being angry at the world and hating myself. But now, as an adult, I’ve come to accept the fact that I can’t please everyone and I’ll never be an extrovert. I like that I appreciate one-to-one & small group interactions the most; I prefer more intimate connections with people as opposed to shallow & superficial interactions with tons of people. Besides, bad girls move in silence.
So, I was wary of this e-mail but said to myself, “To hell with it. I’ll force myself to go. Maybe these new people aren’t too bad.” But then I remembered something else about myself:
Because of my past travels, I’ve come to avoid most other Americans when travelling. I’m sorry fellow Americans, but some of you make us look bad worldwide. You have that damn A-merry-can Sarah Palin-esque accent, which annoys me to no end. (American accents vary by region, but more often than not, this is the most common accent I’ve heard during my travels.) And your clothes, for the love of whatever deity might exist… Buy some new clothes! Do you have to wear the same tourist outfits – track suits or mountain gear? And don’t get me started on the terrible American-centric Caucasian-centric superiority complex that many of you have, which makes America/Americans look even more stupid in the eyes of the rest of the world. Don’t you realize that we’re seen as a joke across the world? Hell, it embarrasses me to the point that when people ask me where I’m from, I just mention my city to look better in the eyes of others.
Anyway, I replied “yes” to the e-mail knowing that I’d regret it later. Over the 2 days that preceded the dinner, I thought of every excuse possible to get out of going – I was still jet-lagged, I needed to go to the internet cafe, it was hot outside… whatever it took.
The day came and as much as I tried to convince myself otherwise, I decided to go. This would save me from cooking or buying dinner. I was a little late because although it’s easy to get to London Bridge, the place was hard to find once I got there. A few minutes later I found it, asked for the reserved table and walked over to it.
I had a bad headache and I was hot & grumpy. I said a polite hello and sat down. I sat in the corner seat, deciding that I’d eat & leave within an hour. I didn’t know these people, and they were A-merry-can, which meant that I probably wouldn’t like them anyway (or so I thought). I wasn’t getting up to introduce myself. That’s not what I do.
In the group was a married couple from Texas, a young woman from Texas via Colorado, a man from somewhere in the New York tri-state area, and the 2 women from New Zealand who sat on the other end of the table. I was sitting at the A-merry-can side of the table. Fuck. I was even more chagrined when I learned that most of them never left the United States until now. (The only thing I’m a snob about is travel.) I said to myself (something to the effect of):
“Christ. These people have never left the country? Here we go. More ignorance and bullshit.”
I ordered my food & drink, hoping for this to end soon. The new recruits knew I got here a couple of weeks before them, so the questions started pouring in:
1. Have you ever been here before? (Yes.)
2. What’s the job like? (I just got here just like all of you. I don’t know.)
3. Where are you staying? (My friend’s house.)
Sigh. And too many other questions. They probably didn’t realize it, but I couldn’t deal with all the social interaction yet I forced myself through it.
After a while, I relaxed a little. I began talking a bit more when the husband in the married couple whispered to me,
“Hey, are there any Black people here?”
Sigh. Why me, whatever deity might be in the sky, WHY?
I said, “Are you kidding me? England has the largest population of Black people in Europe. You really haven’t left the States, have you?”
Him: “No. I didn’t know there were Black people here.”
Sigh, help us all.
I began telling him about the different groups of Black people here, cultural events & activities, and told him something that I don’t think he ever heard before:
“As a Black American, you’re part of a very small elite group. Many Black Americans… hell, many Americans in general… have never left the United States, much less lived in another country. Don’t limit yourself to just ‘Black stuff’. There are too many cultures here for you to do that to yourself. Take advantage of everything that this place has to offer.”
He listened intently, and I think its importance hit him after that statement. I began to feel a little more comfortable, mostly because I was only speaking to him at this point, but also because the group wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. I didn’t leave within an hour like I said I would; we didn’t leave until at least 22.00. We all exchanged phone numbers and I told everyone that I’d see them next week (like me when I arrived, they had 1 week to settle in before beginning work).
I still had a headache, but I was happy that I went. Recruitment staff paid for dinner and everything tastes better when it’s free. I headed home exhausted and although I wasn’t ready to embrace them just yet, I was happy to make a couple of potential connections. I told N about the new folks and she shook her head at their lack of travel experience too, but she was glad that I clarified some things.
One of the new people wound up returning to the States 2 days later (I may explain that in another entry, but don’t hold me to it). The rest of us are still here and our connections are stronger; this is especially so for me & the married couple. They’re great and, as a solo expatriate, I’m glad that they’ve accepted me into their lives.
Until next time, ladies & gentlemen.