Anxhela went to visit her old friends from Albania, Dea and Ardit, in Rotterdam one day. The easiest way to get there was by train.
Anxhela: When I got on the train, I saw that everybody seemed to occupy two seats, one for sitting and another for a coat or a bag. I walked through the train but couldn’t find an empty seat and nobody offered to clear the seat next to them. They didn’t even look at me. They just sat reading a book, a paper or listening to music. I felt very uneasy and insecure.
A passenger in the train: Finally, I am in the train. Hope it leaves on time. Last thing I need after a stressful meeting is somebody who wants to talk to me. If I pretend to be busy, nobody will try to sit next to me.
What is happening?
Anxhela is looking for some sort of contact to feel invited to sit next to somebody. Everybody in the train is minding their own business, actually hoping that nobody will sit next to them, because they enjoy their privacy. So in many trains or buses, everybody sits alone and nobody speaks (except on the phone or with someone they already know).
Coming from Albania, Anxhela is used looking to the group to guarantee some sort of protection. As nobody looks at her, that effect seems absent. She feels alone and vulnerable.
Where lies the connection?
When no one offers Anxhela a space, she could step forward and ask somebody if a seat is free: “Excuse me, can I sit here?” This way, she would have initial interaction and feel safer. People will readily make a seat available and even respect her for posing the question. Speaking up is very much appreciated in the Netherlands, and even though Anxhela may be shy, she should understand that doing things the way the Dutch do in their own country will ultimately help her feel more comfortable. It’s also possible for other passengers to recognize the vulnerability of Anxhela and invite her over.
In individualistic cultures, privacy is considered important. People tend to interact only if there is a need or a purpose. Often, they just keep to themselves and even avoid interaction with other people (so they don’t look up if someone walks by).
In collectivistic societies, the relationship you have with others defines your place and position in the world. So collectivist people always search for interaction, in any way or form. If that is missing, the collectivists feel lost, possibly even excluded.
Besides providing a social network, the groups also provides various forms of security for the collectivists. In this story, a woman on her own might not only be looking for social interaction, but also for the safety of being included in the group.
Important to know
This anecdote is based on stories that have been shared with us. Connect2Us aims to illuminate the dilemma from both sides and not to label people or suggest that one or the other should behave differently. We see in our daily intercultural work that awareness is enough for those involved to move towards each other without denying themselves. Connect2Us wants to help readers recognise and avoid prejudice.