I once heard that you aren’t really accepted into Greenlandic society until after two years.
“After two years, people will start opening up to you”, a friend told me. As in the locals won’t even consider being your friend until this time. I’ve often wondered about this, thinking that it was a rather snobbish act to assess whether a new migrant or expat was worth befriending.
People do it to protect themselves from emotionally drainage.
Greenland is a migratory nation. People come, people go. They leave to go to another town or another country, for schooling or another job, or for new love and fresh adventure. People leave, creating emotional holes in other people’s lives. Holes that aren’t always quickly filled by new friends, but holes that render one more protective about who to let into their social circle later. It’s also harder to come back and visit due to the isolation and high costs for travel.
People make this decision to screen friends consciously, but also in passive decisions like not actively pursuing a friendship.
A father summed it up well: his children became good friends with a few kids, but then suddenly two or three of the kids’ parents left town leaving his children without their playmates. It was an unsettling period for his kids because then they had to find new friends. So it was at that moment that he and his partner decided that they would prepare their kids emotionally for the future by creating a wide and diverse circle of friends. The most criteria were friends whose parents would likely stay and call the place home.
Protecting oneself. What will one not do to help the wellbeing of oneself and one’s family?
Most new people in Nuuk say that it is easy to make friends enough: there are always others who are just as new as you. However, it might be harder to become close friends with a local or even someone who has lived there longer than you. In Greenland, there is also that further level of assessment of ‘race’, which can get too complicated. Being friends with the ‘native’ gives more social capital than another who was born elsewhere but has lived in Greenland for twenty years. But that’s another story.
There’s also the fear that one will end up in an ‘expat’ bubble, floating in a world which is far from reality.
This is not a challenge unique to Greenland. Internationals and expats all over the world say that the most difficult thing to do when moving to their new destination is to make friends with the locals. Locals are often too busy, already have tight friendship circles, and may not have enough emotional capital to let another person into their lives. However, there is hope. There are always locals in town that are more open to being friends. Find those friendly locals, and you’ll slowly crack that bubble.
When one does not have family close by, your friends become more important, filling the vacuum that is your family. So thank you my friends, for being my family for the past two years I’ve been in Greenland!