Brits are great at being friendly, but not so much at being friends. Indians are great at being friends, but no so much at being friendly. As a Brit living in India, i'm trying to find a happy balance between the two.
For me, India’s been the easiest country to make friends in, and I’ve been to 27 of them so far.
But India hasn’t been the easiest country to keep friends in. Not for me as a Brit, anyway.
Concerned that I was on the verge of awakening to the fact that I’m a terrible friend and that no-one had cared to tell me this before, I sought guidance from some fellow expats in India and asked about their experiences of making friends in India. And they all reported similar accounts.
I’ve found that Indians generally make friends very quickly and even as a foreigner, or sometimes especially because you’re a foreigner, you can very quickly find yourself with an abundance of Indian friends. It is also very likely that you’ll quickly become accepted into all of your new friends ‘core group.’ Whilst it may make you feel special/welcomed/appreciated and whatever else, it now means that there are certain expectations of you too. A lot of which you probably won’t even be aware of.
I’ll go on to explain further soon.
Among British fellows, however, it doesn’t quite work like this. In a Brit’s social circle there are many different categories of friends and acquaintances, each requiring a different level of commitment to the relationship.
If that sounds complicated, it’s because it is.
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Us Brits tend to have a very small circle of core friends, no more than 10 usually, but even here i’m being generous and these wouldn’t typically feature anyone related to us, close or distant. (That’s why when we say we’re having a ‘small and intimate’ wedding ceremony, we really mean it.)
These core friends are people we’ve known for years, we went to school with, we used to work with together etc. Basically they are people who after years of sticking around, have earned their right to be in your core group. They are the only ones who we feel some obligation towards; a 3am phone call, emergency drinks after work to console a break-up, a birthday gift, that type of thing.
To everyone else, we’re friendly, we’re pleasant but there are no formal obligations or expectations to be a ‘friend’ per se. And by that I mean everyone else; we smile at strangers a lot, make small talk with people we don’t know and won’t ever see again and hold open the door for anyone within a 50m radius of us.
We’re very good at being friendly, but not so good at being friends. With Indians however, I feel the opposite applies.
The average Indian has a much bigger circle of core friends and you can very easily, and quickly, find yourself thrust into that circle without any prior warning, with all the obligations that come with it, whether you like it or not.
A very scary place to be when usually, for you, such a situation would take months, even years to form.
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Which is why you suddenly find that the things you’d normally do alone, you now have 10 offers from friends to join you, why it’s now an obligation to go to your work colleague friend’s daughter’s 1st birthday party/mother-in-laws 75th birthday, why you must stay for lunch, chai and snacks when you drop in on your friend/neighbour/landlords house for a quick hello even though you’ve just eaten your own lunch, and why you must try and help get your friend’s sister’s nephew get a job at your workplace.
And which is why I struggle to keep friends in India. Because I don’t do any of the above.
Because unbeknownst to me, I haven’t been holding up my side of the friendship bargain.
There’s no real straightforward way for me to get around this. I live in India so of course I want to make as many friends as I can, but it’s not easy to do when you make so many, so easily.
It’s unlikely that i’m going to start going to every birthday party or special occasion I’m invited to, and it’s likely that I’ll make, and then break, plenty more friendships during my time in India, but I will try to be a better friend to the ones I have managed to hold on to so far.