Are you worth befriending?

Source: Lucy Ann Moll

“New kids on the block need to work hard for acceptance. In Greenland, even though they let you eat cake, they make you sweat before they embrace you with open arms. Then they give you deodorant, and more cake.”  

That was a totally weird conversation I had the other day. We were talking about kaffemiks and running (two things Greenlanders seem obsessed with) and somehow the two subjects intermingled. Yet in a way, the analogy makes sense. Not too long ago I wrote a post about the concept of feeling at home in another country and whether that was possible. If you’re based in Greenland, it’s worth asking a flip question: when will locals will accept you as ‘living here’?

Many people on the ground will agree that one of the first things that people ask in Greenland is ‘how long are you here for?’. Your answer will determine whether you are worth investing in as a friend.

Due to the history and the immense mass transit of people between Denmark and Greenland, it seems that Greenlanders expect everyone to be in the country for a limited amount of time. It’s easy to see why: lots of people fly in for ‘research’ or holiday. Many imported workers and professionals are here on contracts. The nurses and doctors might be here for two months, while government officials and teachers may stay for a couple of years. Eventually, so many people leave. This makes many ‘longer-term’ residents (including non-Greenlanders) become more selective in who they become friends with.

Even I who have been here just five months have come across this scenario. A few friends I made have already left, and more will be leaving soon. So I understand their point.

I wonder if Greenlanders consider this a criteria for making friends among themselves too, since they as a nation are a very mobile society. At a recent lecture for visiting students from Dartmouth University, Klaus Georg Hansen, leader of the Ilimmarfik Institute (part of the University of Greenland, Ilisimatusarfik) talked about a study which mapped 10 years of internal movement from 1996 to 2006. Impressively, a whopping twenty per cent of Greenlandic citizens moved around within the country. The studies discovered that people were moving away from South Greenland, and unsurprisingly more were moving towards the capital, Nuuk. The main reasons were education and professional opportunity.

The point is, people move a lot but so do Greenlanders.

So is it easy to make friends here in Nuuk? I would say no and yes.

‘No’ because one dinner a friend mentioned that Greenlanders used a sort-of golden rule to assess if they should befriend you or not. If you passed the two-year mark living in Greenland, it was likely that you were here to stay and it would be worth investing the effort.

‘Yes’, because there are so many open-minded and friendly people from different walks of life and backgrounds. In that sense, it’s an easy enough place to make friends. However, if you want to make friends with longer-term residents, you probably have to try harder, or at least think more creatively about how to connect with them. Get interested in what they are interested in and do what they do.

Well, considering I’ve only been here 5 months, I have to work out more and sweat it out… but that also means I get to eat more cake. Bring on the deodorant!

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15 thoughts on “Are you worth befriending?

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  5. Tanny, this is a great topic – not just for international living, but for making friendships that last. We have moved regularly around the world our entire lives and have sustained wonderful friendships from afar. I decided long ago that if I like someone and want to be friends, then I just “go for it.” If the friendship is real, the “logistics” will work out. Thanks for a great post. All the best, Terri

  6. This is an interesting topic. I imagine it’s hard to assimilate when local people don’t entirely trust your motives for being among them, and it’s hard to win their trust when you don’t exactly know how to behave and don’t have a trusted local role model. I’m enjoying your perspective.
    BB

  7. I can sort of relate. I’m an expat who has spent many many years in Dubai and when people tell me they have spent a long time year and then say it’s been 3 years I find that really funny. Just because many expats have been here for over 20 years. Not that it’s an excuse to not befriend the newbies.

  8. How important is it to learn Danish and Greenlandic? Just because most people speak English doesn’t mean that they want to conduct relaxed conversation with friends in a foreign language. At least that’s my experience.

    • Language is a topic which I’m still formulating thoughts on for a post so i haven’t touched it deeply yet. It is a sensitive and political issue. Simply put though, Danish is the logical working language to learn but with Greenlandic you reach the heart.

      I would say that in order to be accepted and to feel completely included, it is important to understand both local languages right now. Especially if you are a Greenlander, you should know how to speak Greenlandic and I think you get a lot of slack if you can’t. You get away with it more if you don’t look like a Greenlander (are Danish-speaking) but if you mix heavily in circles where the Greenlandic language is dominant don’t expect anyone to translate everything for you. It sometimes doesn’t happen even in public events.

      And in terms of English only, it’s true, you only get so far….

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