Social distancing in Denmark
In a time of social distancing, many have been forced to be more aware of the unwritten habits of interaction, be it at the grocery store, in line or passing on the sidewalk.
Expats commonly have lots of practice thinking about how different these norms are; how much personal space to give, do you smile when you meet a stranger, rules of cueing, etc. Some expats have struggled with these as they experience the differences as rude, invasive, or cold.
Now we all have to think about them.
We are expected to give more personal space, and non-verbally communicate intentions in ways we are not accustomed to.
In those moments of meeting another person and having to be aware of these new rules, more people are learning that these un-spoken assumptions may be quite flexible. I can only hope that this will lead to increased tolerance of differences.
Expats being marginalised
Many expats have not been here very long and may not yet have fully developed social connections. Expats are less likely to have as many friends, and often have little or no family here, in turn relying more on coworkers or fellow students for social interaction.
However, these connections are challenged due to the coronavirus crisis with the demands of working or studying from home, not getting together in groups, having Danish classes cancelled or moved to virtual classrooms, and so on. The process of integration that may have been okay before, has suddenly been halted.
Introverted while Expat
There are some introverts who are enjoying this time. Not to say that they are at all happy that the world is in these dire straits. Not at all. But, now, suddenly, they don’t have to pretend to be extroverted anymore. They have a good excuse to say no to invitations, they can choose to stay at home all day with a clear conscience.
However, the introverted among us are also at risk of social isolation. Though it is nearly impossible for most extroverts to comprehend, the introverted enjoy alone time, as this is where they tend to get their energy stores replenished. It may indeed feel really good for the introvert to simply stay home for days on end. There is a subset of introverts who, having always lived in extroverted societies, perpetually long for alone-time. This alone-time is perhaps now available, especially amongst the Expat population.
Social isolation, however, is not good for anyone. Nearly all humans need interaction with other people. It is in the contact with others that we can most clearly see ourselves, and it is also here we can adjust our thought patterns. As opposed to the unclear and often non-verbal ruminations we engage in when alone, through speech we are challenged to put our thoughts into a more logical and coherent structure, that can be examined for reasonableness. So, if you are an Expat introvert, consider challenging that gut-level feeling of wanting to play hermit in your apartment.
What can we do?
It is important that we all follow the government mandates to reduce the risk of transmission. So, what can you do, right here and now, to have more contact with others? Be creative! The tried and true Skype/Zoom/Google account that so often is the cornerstone of those who live abroad, is likely getting used quite a bit more.
Calling friends and family at home has become much more frequent than before. Reaching out and making sure everyone at home is okay, and following along on social media has increased dramatically.
Here are some other ideas:
1. Go for coffee with a friend. By this I mean, meet at a park bench, say, and sit at either end of the bench with the required distance between you. Talk this through before you meet!
2. Go for a walk. You can likely find a place quiet enough that you can easily hear each other, even when walking on either side of the path.
3. Watch a movie together, “When Harry met Sally” style. Plan to watch the movie together but separately. You both stay home, but start the movie at the same time. Connect via phone (etc.), so you can comment on the movie together. You might even both make pop-corn.
4. Have virtual lunches. Arrange with a friend, colleague, etc., to meet on skype at lunch time. Eat and chat over Skype.
5. Virtual Friday beer. Get your team together for a beer, via Skype. Perhaps there is a working group, a research group, a study group that used to meet, but now is all business all the time. You really can each sit at home, with a can of beer or soda. You might also take turns coming up with “activities”. Such as quizzes, or other activities.
6. Play games together. This one many of you were already doing, via whatever gaming system you have. But see if you can’t arrange it ahead of time, with a good group of friends. There are communication platforms for talking to each other, such as Discord and others.
Let’s stick together, while keeping distance. Also you introverts out there.