I’m not always the nicest person. No, really: I hear you all protesting vociferously (don’t I?), but it’s true. I tend to make snap judgments about people based on little things. And my judgments aren’t always nice.
I think I’ve let my judgmental side take over more because of this lifestyle. You’re forever throwing yourself into new situations, with new people, who may or may not share the same cultural touchstones with which you grew up. Example: the Euros at the pool tend to smoke. Right there at the kiddie pool. But I’m from California, where you probably can’t even smoke inside your own house anymore. I happen to think the Californians have the right idea, so when I see some lady sucking on a cigarette mere feet from where my child is wading, my judge-y self pops out and I think all sorts of disapproving things about her. She could be a perfectly nice woman and a wonderful mother, but I’ll never find out because ohmygawd-she’s smoking-get awayyyy! And don’t even get me started on the dad who wore his bright orange speedo last summer when he had to dash from the pool into the store. Cover ups, people! They hide a multitude of sins, none of which the gentleman was aware he had.
(See? There I go judging again.)
I bring this up because I’m nearing the end of my tour, and I’ve just spent the past three years in close proximity to a lot of the same people. I judged them all – and they me, undoubtedly – when we arrived, and it amuses me to walk around now and see all of the times I was right, and the many more times I was wrong.
I’ve become friends with the oddest assortment of people, and many are the exact people with whom I assumed I’d have nothing in common. There are a few friends whom I found within weeks of arriving (Peggy? Jen? Shawna? You listening?) and with whom I simply clicked. There are so many others whom I wish I still had the time to get to know better. So many.
Here I am, finally having found my tribe, and it’s already time to move along. So I have to remind myself: it’s important to take it slowly when you move to a new post– you don’t want to accidentally befriend the neighborhood nightmare, after all. But it’s also important not to let those snap judgments prevent you from pursuing new friends.
Here’s a great example. There’s a woman here – I’ll call her, oh, let’s say, Kim – and when I first met her, I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we would NOT be friends. The lady always had perfectly coiffed blonde hair. When I met her, she was wearing some serious stilettos and a mini skirt, with her perfect hair and her perfect nails and yikes! I could never, ever have anything in common with that woman. I’m a t-shirt and jeans gal, myself.
So I avoided her, mostly. But then one nasty winter day, I ran into her at Jenny Lous. How are you? I asked politely, and she smiled back and said “great, thanks,” or something inane like that. I continued digging through the fruit bin and forgot all about her. But a minute later, she reappeared by my side. “Can I tell you the truth?” she asked, before immediately launching into a monologue about how she actually wasn’t that great: her husband was working a lot, the weather was too nasty to go outside, and she couldn’t find whatever it was she needed in the store that day. It was so unexpected, this little bit of candid misery, coming from this perfect-haired woman, that I stood there awkwardly, not quite knowing how to respond. But we started chatting, laughing about the weather and the way it makes you crazy to be housebound, and I was amazed the whole time that she managed to be so vulnerable with an almost complete stranger right there in the produce aisle. Who does that?
This woman, with her perfect shoes and chunky jewelry, is one of my favorite people in all of Beijing now. If she hadn’t started the conversation that day, I doubt I ever would have felt the need to chat her up. But she’s funny as hell, a curious mix of confidence and insecurity, with the best laugh you’ve ever heard. She’ll tell you the truth right to your face and not worry about how you’re going to take it. She might have the best shoes in the room, but she’ll tell you if they’re giving her a blister. And I’m really glad she gave me the chance to get to know her.
Snap judgments are helpful when you’re living such a transient lifestyle. They keep you out of trouble: Don’t go down that alley! Buy your apricots from this vendor, not that one! Stay away from the guy in the orange speedo!
But I really have to try harder to assume that anyone I meet could end up being my new best friend. And I don’t know: maybe I should get Kim to lend me a few pairs of high-heeled shoes.