Although I, the nurse, am a social media junkie, and the engineer has his own circle of enginerds, we both tend to be very anti-social. You often hear people telling these stories about how they’ve met a ton of new people on the road, backpacking around the world with new friends they’ve just met. We listen in awe, and then crawl back to our little bubble where it’s just us and the people we already know (who could tell you I actually talk non-stop if given half a chance and tend to approach strangers and like them. I just do it when I know there’s a way to escape).
Sometimes we both agree on strange people being suspicious, or somehow dangerous or at the very least their taste in food has to be somehow off. Although we really, really like people, we both find it sometimes scary and what if they invite us to their home??!!
This has to stop! We are grown ups enough to play with others, too.
This is how we’re doing it (great tips if you’re looking for solitary), how we have been trying to change it, and why us being anti-social has both pros and cons.
- We only contact the people around the world we already know. When we traveled around the world in 2014, we hung out with several people we had already checked out and confirmed to be non-suspicious. A lot of our friends live abroad, and they came in handy when we wanted to hang out with other people, learn about new places, experience local life style, drink (even more) local alcohol or stay in an actual house instead of hotels. Also, in Beijing, I got to hang out with the same people I did when I lived there, in the same bars we used to hang out. It was one of the best thing that happened there, but then again, we didn’t get to know any new people. And this happens every single time I go to China. There’s over 1.33 billion people living in the country, and I only hang out with the same people I’ve known for over 8 years… (A lovely bunch, though. Wouldn’t change them for anything.) This habit I could actually try and break, reaching out to other travelers once we leave. I think it might be nice to meet the people I talk to on Twitter and Facebook and who’s blogs we follow.
- We get drunk in our hotel room. Going out to bars is closely related to the previous point. We like to get more or less tipsy (drunk AF, TBH) every now and then, but hey, if we went out to bars, someone might actually come talk to us! And how do you even know if the waiter is coming to your table or should you order at the bar and when do you pay? Letting go of this habit has lead to some memorable encounters of drinking with other travelers in Goa, at a house party in Topeka, in a beer tent at the spring Oktoberfest in Stuttgart (including dancing on tables with some random Chinese dudes…), countless karaoke nights in Beijing… Quite often we’ve been lured into this by someone we already know, though.
- We find comfort in speaking only English. This is sort of funny, because English is not even close to be our first language. However, I used to speak English on daily basis with native speakers for years, and also did my Bachelor’s studies in English. I’m comfortable with the language, and as it happens, in my current job at the hospital I always get all the foreign patients (no matter whether they speak English or not. Even if they don’t speak Swedish or Chinese, either. They’re my patients, and I don’t mind). However, my Chinese skills being very poor at the moment, it takes an amazing amount of alcohol or a situation where there’s no other choice, for me to speak it. I have had very interesting conversation with taxi drivers in China (eg differences between our cell phones’ GPS system), and also being abused by them. In Beijing, the taxi drivers are the best teachers. I have had not one, not two, but a countless number of encounters with them where I wasn’t let out of the car before pronouncing the address exactly correctly. The taxi drivers in Beijing can do this for five minutes or more. They don’t mind. They turn off the meter before that. They just want you stop being a stupid foreigner and learn the langue. Hotel concierges and maintenance staff are also the best people to talk with in foreign language. This actually has saved us some money, since we got to stay in some pretty fancy hotels for really cheap in China. Booking a room in a local business hotel gives you the same benefits as staying in an international hotel, but for half the price. You just need to speak Chinese to the staff. Letting go of my need to speak only English also led to an evening out where I had a German dictionary, three plus liters of beer in my system and amazing conversations in a language I don’t speak.
We book everything online. This way we don’t have to talk to people. Excellent!
- We try to book seats as far as possible from other passengers. This is partially a matter of comfort, too, since it usually means more space. Unfortunately, it also leads to us not being talking to any locals or other travelers. Luckily, little kids don’t care. I have been interrogated by a little Chinese girl on a train, if I’m married and do I have kids and why not and off she went to tell to her mom about this auntie who has to be yay old (under 30 back then…) and doesn’t even have kids yet. Once I lost my train ticket before the conductor showed up, but this very nice Chinese man sitting next to me promised to tell the staff he had actually just seen my ticket (this is true, the ticket got lost only to be found between my passport later in a hotel in Xi’an). In India, the train was so packed we had no option but to sit in a very close contact with others. However, we were already starting to feel the first waves of the infamous Delhi belly, and were not exactly in a mood to even notice the existence of others’.
- We don’t talk to random strangers. The following people don’t count: Our friends’ friends. Restaurant staff. Hotel staff. Cashiers. Airport staff. Little kids and their parents. Anyone drunk when we’re drunk. You, if you reach out to us first.
- We shut up and walk away if we hear someone speaking Finnish. The funny thing is, we have seen so many other Finns do the same to us. Like, seriously, you think we didn’t hear you talking in a loud voice about how great the view is and then all of a sudden getting all quiet and whispering together after seeing us. We DO recognize our somewhat rare language even if you whisper. Luckily, we’re never that obvious. Totally. Why do we even do this? I guess we’d like to keep the illusion of being the only Finns who ever got to that place. Plus, we might have to say hello if they noticed us. That equals talking to strangers. So it’s forbidden. The worst thing is, we might end up again having coffee with a Finnish business man in the Trump Tower in Manhattan, and learning about his life as an expat and how he’s one of the best business men in his field in the whole USA. This is because he caught us on a subway, started talking to us and invited us to visit his office and his coworkers. You could tell he’s been living in New York for too long, being so rude as to talk to people from his own country. Ugh!
- We don’t trust strangers. What if they want to talk to us? The enginerd even once ended up visiting this rich Indian dude’s country house and meeting his family. Once in San Francisco we actually had good time with the family we stayed with via Airbnb. They were this really cool Philippine/American family with a very awesome look at the world. Can’t let that happen again, either.
- We stay in hotels or Airbnb’s, instead of hostels. Let’s admit it, we like comfort. We also don’t want to share our room with strangers. (Un)fortunately, being somewhat picky with accommodation also means that there’s less chances to meet other travelers, share stories and hang out with new people. And get drunk with them.
In the end, we’ve had a ton of fun and strange encounters with strange people. Hanging out with new people gives us the benefit of learning a language, sharing experiences and new points of view and just generally having fun. However, sometimes we need our alone time.
Wanna hang out? You can find us in Goa and Kuala Lumpur in December, and in Taiwan next year. Let us know where you’re at and the first round might be on us 😉