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Friendship around the world Friendship around the world
by Joseph Gatt
2020-12-24 09:28:59
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We in the Western world are accustomed to making friends based on shared interests. I love sports, so I'll make friends who also like sports. I love chatting about politics, so I'll meet like-minded friends. I love fashion and accessories, so I'll hang out with that crowd.

So Americans, Canadians or Spaniards take this definition of friendship for granted.

But if you go to France or Korea, that's not how you make friends. In France or Korea, when you meet someone or a group of people, you negotiate your “rank” with them. Self-introductions are very important, and you have to discuss your age, what kind of university you attended, what kind of job you have, how much money you make etc.

frien0001_400Problem is in France, Korea, Japan, China or Vietnam, bluntly and overtly stating how much money you make or naming the college you went to is considered very rude when trying to make friends.

So what you do is you drop subtle hints and use codes when you discuss your financial or educational background. You could mention that you live near “Charles de Gaulle metro station” in Paris which will automatically bump you up in the ranks, because that's an expensive district. Or you could say that Ahn Cheol Soo was your professor in college, which automatically means you attended to prestigious KAIST in Korea.

Once the rank is negotiated in France or Korea, friendship is no longer a game of affection or shared interests. Friendship involves companionship, but more importantly, the higher-ranked friend shames, blames and disciplines the lower-ranked friend.

Because higher-ranked and lower-ranked friends both need companionship, the higher-ranked friend in Paris or Tokyo is usually going to test the limits of the lower-ranked friend.

The lower-ranked friend will usually affirm that his or her limits have been tested by refusing to pick up phone calls and giving the silent treatment. The higher-ranked friend will then try to insist to win back the lower-ranked friend. In some cases the lower-ranked friend comes back, in other cases the relationship is broken for good.

What do higher-ranked friends test the limits on lower-ranked friends with? It usually involves painful insults, sexual harassment, money extortion, or ordering certain favors to be performed like cleaning a house, or ordering that unwelcome chores be performed such as working in a rice field for a weekend or an entire week.

So if you have that friend in Paris, Beijing, Taipei or Hanoi, that guy or girl who keeps shaming you, testing your limits, and seeing how far they can shame you, the Western method of “talking things out” usually doesn't work. Because you don't “talk things out” with higher-ranked people.

What do I mean by shaming? Could be, for example, that you say you never drink alcohol, and they force you to drink alcohol. Could be, for example, that you specifically tell you friend that you hate Pierre Doe, and your friend keeps inviting Pierre Doe to every meeting. That kind of shaming.

In Paris or Rangoon, friendship also involves a great deal of disciplining and even punishing of lower-ranked friends by higher-ranked friends. Your higher-ranked friend will impose rules that you will have to follow, for example, they won't allow you to talk about certain people, discuss certain topics, go to certain places, or attend certain parties.

Finally, in Paris or Tokyo or Shanghai, your higher-ranked friend will almost never privately mention your assets. If you have a Ph.D. and speak 30 languages, your higher-ranked friend will get bestial at any mention of that. But your higher-ranked friend will focus on your liabilities, so if you have asthma but speak 30 languages, your higher-ranked friend will keep discussing your problems with asthma and nothing else.

Interestingly, in Paris or Seoul, you could end up being the higher-ranked friend. This is where it gets fun. As the higher-ranked friend, your lower-ranked friends will almost blindly follow your orders. You get to speak the whole time, almost never being interrupted. You get lots of praise. They will come each time you call them. If you don't test their limits too much, don't shame them or humiliate them, they will beg you to come “lecture” them. BUT, Americans or Italians tend to find the passivity of lower-ranked friends rather disconcerting.

Finally, if you go to India, the Middle East or Africa, or Latin America, friendship is a completely different game. Friendship is not based on mutual hobbies or interests, nor is it based on rank-based relationships.

In Arab nations or India, Pakistan or sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America, friends tend to form around financial and marriage obligations and interests.

This confuses a lot of Americans who meet Arabs or Indians thinking those guys are being friendly. Only, as the relationship evolves, the Arab or the Indian will start calculating how to share the American guy's income, even if it involves trying to find a good wife for the American.

So Americans or Canadians could be confused by how sub-Saharan Africans or Latin Americans insist on trying to be friends despite the clear lack of common shared interests or hobbies.

In fact, in the Middle East, Latin America, the Indian sub-continent or sub-Saharan Africa, most men only really have two hobbies: politics and soccer (cricket in the Indian sub-continent). Politics and soccer arouse passionate debates, but little else is every discussed.

More importantly, soccer and politics is often tied to tribal affiliations, and there can be no logical debate on politics or soccer. The worst ranked team is the best team if it's my tribe's team. And the worst-ranked politician is the best politician if he's from my tribe.

Finally, in the Middle East or India or Africa or Latin America, reputation is super important. So if they will want to be friends with you, it's probably also because their reputation gains a lot of points. The minute your reputation becomes a bad one, they will ditch you like an old pair of socks.

In sum, in those countries, your local friends are carefully calculating how to take your money, and are probably trying to find you a good husband or a good wife. So don't expect the friendship to be based on common interests.

Of course some people in India are westernized and some people in the United States have more militarized or tribal mentalities. This is just to give you a general idea of how things work.

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