Friday, July 26, 2013

Friendship in Curaçao: The Ugly (Part III)

This is Part III of the series Friendship in Curaçao: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, The Sad.

If ex-pat socialization is so damn limited, why not get some non-ex-pat friends? Join the local communities?

Ah, dushi grasshopper. Befriending Antilleans is easier said than done.

Let me be clear on something: I have Antillean friends. Awesome people, all of them, and all as different from each other as the ex-pats themselves. Curaçao has been a melting pot since the Spanish discovered it back in the XVI century, so it's only to be expected that the "locals" are, too, as mixed a population as the new arrivals waiting for audience in the halls of Immigration. Portuguese, Venezuelan, Dutch, Dominican, German, Colombian--and of course, African. In essence, I suppose, the people we ex-pats call "local" have, like the Mayflower descendants, just been here longer. And Curaçao doesn't have any Cherokees or Mohicans to claim primacy--the Arawak indians that populated the Caribbean were enslaved, relocated to wherever labor was needed, and in all likelihood, exterminated. And to think the Pope sanctioned that.

I digress. The point was, I think, that I have Antillean friends. But I've lived in Curaçao ten years. Yes, TEN. I've earned the right, through my permanence, to be considered for the position.

Think of it. These locals went to school here, their families live here, their friends, friends of their parents, friends of their friends... They have lives--real ones, not the ex-pat version. Their friendship mechanics are, like the rest of the world's, a matter of cultivation. Ask any farmer, any lab tech: cultivation takes time.

For Antilleans, investing in a friendship with an ex-pat is kind of like falling head over heels for someone who's on the first flight out to Timbuktu tomorrow. It could happen--oboyoboy--but you know it's going to end badly. Antilleans understand, better perhaps than we ex-pats do, the temporal nature of our Curaçao stint.

If you live anywhere with a lot of tourists or immigrants, you can probably sympathize. Man, foreigners are annoying! They get lost, they disrupt traffic, they don't know street names or local landmarks, they don't speak the language (although in Curaçao, as I've mentioned before, language isn't as big an issue as in other, more linguistically limited countries), they need their hands held for everything... Foreigners just don't get it. Foreigners don't get us.

I've experienced two ways, broad-stroke, that Antilleans use to deal with the foreign invasion. One: actively promote integration--as in, whenever I'm required to interact with you, it's my duty as a citizen to teach you, so... I'll only speak Papiamentu to you, okay?

Two: ignore. They're friendly enough. But there's a line. You know, and they know (and you know that they know, and they know that you--) it's there.

Both attitudes have their good and not-so-good sides, and maybe some other time we'll get into them. After all, this is the general attitude all around the world to friendship. Taking into your heart, and home, someone who's leaving in a few months just isn't emotionally sensible.

In essence, though, this is the basic contrast that makes friendship within the ex-pat community here so remarkable. You don't speak my language? No reason why you should. We'll communicate in one we both speak, or a mix, or sign language. Or we'll drink lots of beer, which everyone knows develops the language centers of the brain. Your car broke down in the middle of the mondi? If can't get there myself, I'll find someone who can, and I'll do it now.

The mondi of Curaçao. Image
credit: Villa Indiana
This contrast is jarring, especially to newcomers, even more especially to those who've never been a part of an ex-pat community before. The Antillean attitude is what we expect, because, probably, it's the same attitude we've exhibited at one point or another towards foreigners in our own land. The ex-pat one is what surprises--and enchants.

1 comment :

  1. Interesting, Guilie. I know precious little about Curacao, so this is cool. Can't say I experience this removed attitude here (Californians nowadays are of many nationalities, and residents move between states often), but I do remember life back in Romania as a kid. There, we came in contact with visiting students from all over, especially Africa. We made some friends, but there was always a very cautious friendship in which, like you say, we didn't want to invest a whole lot of ourselves since the students were not going to be around long. Friendship has many facets, doesn't it?


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