On being quiet in one of the friendliest, most outgoing cities in the world

I started reading Quiet by Susan Cain on my second week in Auckland, where I am based until 2017. It’s the perfect book for this phase of my life. My introversion is such a contrast to the reality of this mega-friendly city . The book is giving me some kind of validation – that it’s perfectly fine and acceptable to be an introvert. Sadly, I’m finding it difficult to squeeze in non-academic reading so I haven’t made much progress with the book. Nonetheless, the chapters I’ve read so far are packed with well-researched, interesting examples and arguments. The book does a good job tackling extroversion and how/why our society thrives in it and how introverts are amazing too except we have no choice but to live in/with the world “that can’t stop talking”.

I’m from the Philippines. Filipinos are quite friendly. We are very warm but we usually save that demeanor for loved ones, special visitors, foreigners, balikbayans, or people we regard highly. On normal days, we keep to ourselves. We are not friendly to strangers, we do not talk to people in public transit, we barely say hi to that co-worker we see everyday. We’re not really friends with them so why start a conversation now?

Kiwis on the other hand are a sociable bunch. They love small talk. They will talk to anyone and show genuine interest in what the other is saying. My Kiwi flatmate, a very sweet and smart girl, always asks me how my day is going whenever we see each other (so that’s every single day!). Some days, she also asks me how my family is doing and she seems genuinely concerned.

They ask how’s it going like it’s their job. I never know how to answer. I feel unprepared every time even if the casual chat comes up every day!

They also have no problem inviting people they barely know to activities usually spent with close friends or family (at least in the case of less outgoing societies). These range from playing cards at someone’s flat to a big hike somewhere outside the city. We have a Facebook group for residents living in my student accommodation. 75% of the posts are residents inviting other residents to come join some kind of activity. “Anyone keen to…“, and people reply “I’m keen“, like, all, the, time.

It’s a consistent trait I find in  many people I meet here, many of whom are not natural-born Kiwis, but immigrants or children of immigrants. I guess that’s exactly why they’re friendly. They know from experience how it’s like to move to a new place. Being surrounded by warm, friendly people definitely helps newcomers in adjusting and feeling less lonely.

I’ve been here almost a month and I still find it fascinating how it’s so natural for New Zealanders to be sociable. For introverts, we have to work hard at it. Because life. Because genes. Because historicity or whatever that means. I’m not outgoing and “keen” enough and I doubt that will ever change.

Last weekend, I met a couple of Filipinos my age who were introduced to me by a common friend. We had dinner and drinks and we talked about life in Auckland. One of them is new like me and the other has been living in NZ for 8-9 years. We talked about New Zealand being different from the country we grew up in. The topic of being outgoing kept coming up. I admitted to being “shy”, so they spent the night convincing me to be the opposite because that’s how it is here, that it will be good for me and it will make make my stay more exciting if I become more sociable, if I meet new people and go out a lot. We made plans to do exactly that even if in my head I knew I am going to regret it and eventually back out.

I did not tell them about introversion and how some people don’t mind not meeting new people (or even close friends) for long periods of time. How some people prefer spending their Friday nights by themselves, doing nothing and still find it enjoyable. How I would love to go on road trips but I’m not really interested in clubbing or drinking (except I surprisingly liked the summer ale beer I ordered that night, I think I’d love to try it another time but maybe not in a few weeks, or months).

This is an exact manifestation of what Susan Cain says in the book. Introversion is perceived as a negative trait. We’re made to feel we’re lacking as individuals if we are not extroverted. We are then encouraged, sometimes, forced, to try to “overcome” the “shyness”.

“Aya, why are you so quiet in class?”, my professor asked me yesterday. I wanted to say “I’m not very comfortable sharing my thoughts in class. It takes me a while to formulate what I have to say. I’m also an easily anxious person (anxiety is different from introversion, so I also have that to deal with), and I’m not very articulate so even when I have something insightful or interesting to say, I get so nervous that I fumble for words and it comes out not the way I formulated it in my head, which makes me even more nervous and self-conscious.” 

Except I did not say that. I just told her I’d rather listen to what others have to say, which is true. My classes are very interesting, although heavy on the readings. Most if not all my classmates are participative, sharing what’s on their minds without any hint of reluctance. Very often they have good insights and make good arguments. I’m learning so much just from listening actually. Introverts are good at listening and I hope more people gave us credit for that.

Going back to university has been a struggle for me — mentally, emotionally, physically and socially. But at least I’m not at Harvard Business School. Susan Cain studied how it was at HBS and it goes without saying that people there are overflowing with confidence and social skills and the introverts have to feign confidence and enthusiasm to survive. If they are not inherently extroverts, they are trained to appear as one.

My brother, who is also an introvert but has done a great job developing his communication and social skills, told me I should enjoy reciting and reporting in class because those are “Life Skills”. I agree. Learning how to speak well and make good presentations are necessary because our society made talking such a big deal…

I’m still struggling to come to terms with my introversion. The book is very helpful in that sense so I really hope to get back at it.

For now, excuse me while I cancel a Tinder meet-up………….