Tag Archives: Minnesota

An American in China

4 Jul
4th of July Postcard

an independence day postcard

The 4th of July—a day designed to bring a patriotic tear to the eye of every red-blooded American—seemed like the right time to tackle the complex topic of being an American living overseas. While abroad, my distance from the United States allows me to escape many of the worries and interests that commonly arose during my days back home. Now I spend most of the waking hours focused on the growth and resilience necessary to be successful in a foreign land.

But no matter how complex my life in Shanghai becomes, I’m aware that my concerns about the US are still there, hiding in the recesses of my mind, waiting to reemerge in an instant upon my return.

Being away from your home country for a long time arouses a host of revelations and feelings that would have remained unawakened at home. In order to take in new cultures and a new country, especially one as different as China, I find myself using my American experiences, ideals, and expectations to measure and understand the unfamiliar. Through the process of studying China, I’m actually learning a great deal about my own moral, social, and political indoctrination.

walking in shanghai

walking in shanghai

If I want to give China a fair chance, a fair assessment, I have to know my own lens or bias. It’s not always easy to examine the fibers that make up one’s cultural identity. I’ve often found that acknowledging the admirable here in China requires me to have an honest look at the shortcomings back home.

Before moving to China, people warned me about the country. They said that it was a frustrating, inconsistent place to live and that there was a good chance that I wouldn’t like it. The American headlines about China only exacerbated the concerns. Would it be possible to enjoy living in such a big, scary, communist country? It’s clear that the growing economic authority of China is a source of fear and unease among many back home.

People are threatened by China. In their minds (and also, I must admit, in mine at times) the success of China seems to mean the failure of America. Can we still be Number One if China continues to grow? Surely their messed up political system will implode before the day comes!

To make sense of China, I had to honestly examine the United States. I realized that the US and China, although governed with different political systems and described in different terms, often share a lot of the same problems.  Just like the US, China has its own set of challenges, its own areas for improvement.

the bund in shanghai

the bund in shanghai

When I was preparing to leave home, I was so focused on understanding and exposing the situation in China that I hardly gave a thought to the situation I was leaving behind in America.  To my surprise, moving to China has in its own way been a blissful escape from the drama and heartbreak of America. The lies, the wars, the thirst for oil, the fundamentalists and tea partiers and anarchists, the denial of poverty, the decay of public education—the list goes on.

I stepped off the plane last summer and POOF—all of these issues suddenly felt a little less like my own. No more being haunted by negative messages day in and day out. No more endless war against terror and women and the working class on the top of my mind all the time. At one point a few years ago, I think I was actually crying over my concerns.

I love the place where I come from (Minnesota), and there are so many things that I appreciate about America. But to live in a democracy is to be told—to believe—that you have a say in what happens. And because of this, if you’re not careful, you may end up carrying an invisible weight on your shoulders. At times, my sense of responsibility for my nation’s rotten agenda and actions left me feeling guilty, overwhelmed, and exhausted.

The 4th of July is a time for celebration, but I hope that it can also become a time for deep and honest thought about our country, a time to consider our direction and the changes we hope to realize. Because if anything has become clear since I landed in Asia last year, it’s that America still has a lot of room for improvement.

As an American, how do you respond to or make peace with the actions of the United States of which you disapprove? Do you feel like you can be an agent of change?

The Modern Friendemic – The Decline of Real Friendship in Minneapolis

11 Jun

You're gonna be big, kid--real big.

When you (and the majority of your friends) choose to go to college 45 minutes away from your hometown, you do a pretty good job of sidestepping the necessity of making new friends. I may have made friends during college and occasionally at past jobs, but where are those people now? I have a vague idea of their relative geographic location, but I couldn’t tell you much else.

It’s been a while since I fled the coop, and in the past 5 years or so I’ve spent a lot of time considering friendship, facebook, and the Twin Cities. What I’ve discovered is that it’s really hard to make new, close, “real” friends in Minneapolis. Everyone seems to be well contented with their own current social life, and in no rush to make additions.

During my search for new friends, I’ve experienced a distinct pattern:

Stage 1: Complacency/Comfort. I LOVE my old friends and we have so much fun.
Stage 2: Growing Pains. A bunch of my friends (or I) decide to relocate for a while – just where did my social life go?
Stage 3: The Pep Talk. I’m determined to make new friends. This involves a fervent attempt to talk to new people in Minneapolis and make plans with them.
Stage 4: The Let Down. If I manage to arrange a “first date” with someone (including the obligatory Facebooking “friending”), I either get blown off or make it to the “first friend date” where I experience a live and painful social nosedive due to lack of enthusiasm/mutual interest.
Stage 5: The Return. I continue to spend time with my lovely, understanding, old friends with whom I share a lot of history and opinions, but, I still occasionally hanker for new faces and perspectives.

Where is the friendship chemistry, Minneapolis?

I used to blame myself for not making enough new friends. Did I have some sort of inherent disability to meet new people? But the more I got to talking with others, the more I realized that my struggle to make new friends in Minnesota was not an exception—it was the rule. Especially when speaking to folks who’ve relocated from out of state, it’s apparent that “Minnesotans don’t make new friends.”

As a Minnesotan myself, it’s not hard to recognize the strange cliquiness that occurs here in the Cities. Identifying people from out of state is a snap because they’ll actually talk to you, despite the fact that you are a stranger. And as for all of these “great friends” we consider our besties—admit it, the majority of them are from grade school.

Now, before you find yourself in a huff over my outrageous claims, I’ll admit that there are some unique individuals who’ve managed to rise above the status quo and befriend some new people. But I bet you $5 that most of these new friends aren’t from Minneapolis—that’s for damn sure.

Is this friendemic specific to the Twin Cities, or is it part of the larger worldwide shift in friendship we’ve seen as of late?

According to Stephen Marche of the Atlantic, the average number of close confidants of a person has been in steady decline.

Marche states that in 1985, “only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15 percent said they had only one such good friend. By 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only 1 confidant.” Scary stuff, right? One in four of us (or more) feels as though we have no one to talk to about life’s biggest challenges.

Why is it that we “Minnesota Nicers” don’t make room for new friends? Is it our cold, closed, Scandinavian attitude?  Or is this friend stagnation we’re experiencing actually reflective of larger shifts in social interaction suggeted in the Atlantic?

Is this what it's come to?

Marche explains that the internet and social media may be to blame for the degradation of modern friendships. Last month’s copy of the Atlantic overtly points an inquisitive finger in the direction of social networking sites, its cover asking in bold, blue text, “Is Facebook Making us Lonely?”

Marche urges readers to differentiate between the social networks of the past and today. Modern communication and the internet may have grown our web of connections, but these connections are shallower. Suddenly, we exist in a world of distinctions between “real friends” and online friends, and these digital connections are “interfering with our real friendships, distancing us from each other, making us lonelier…”

This screen-based way of life is more isolated, and therefore often lonelier:

A 2010 AARP survey found that 35 percent of adults older than 45 were chronically lonely, as opposed to 20 percent of a similar group only a decade earlier. According to the major study by a leading scholar of the subject, roughly 20 percent of Americans—about 60 million people—are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness.

It makes sense that we share less face time due to screens and social media. As Marche outlines, “We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds our less meaningful and less easy.”

In today’s market, you can even rent a friend or husband or mother by the hour to help you feel socially secure and deal with your problems. Wha?!

The size of our physical social networks is in decline, with the mean size of networks of personal confidants shrinking “from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004,” as Marche explains.

The allure and offerings of the social network phenomenon culminate into a contradiction between growing close and growing apart, a incongruity coined the “Internet paradox”.

The question at hand: Does modern communication technology bring us together or break us apart?

When it comes to understanding the reason why Twin Cities residents are irked by the idea of forming new friendships, I turn to Marche’s exploration of Facebook’s appeal:

“The beauty of Facebook, the source of its power, is that it enables us to be social while sparing us the embarrassing reality of society—the accidental revelations we make at parties, the awkward pauses, the farting and the spilled drinks and the general gaucherie of face-to-face contact. Instead, we have the lovely smoothness of a seemingly social machine. Everything’s so simple: status update, pictures, your wall.”

Real friendships, whether old or new, are a lot of work and involve a certain amount of clumsiness and room for error, unlike your glossy, seemingly nonchalant wall post.

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