First, a disclaimer: I live in the United States because I chose to do so. Even if I hadn’t met and married my American husband, my goal since I immigrated to this country was to do my PhD here and find a job here. So this is not a post of somebody who unwillingly found herself in a situation. But what I wrote on that sentence feels very true to me. Sometimes I care more than others, but it is present in different aspects of my life pretty often. I will offer random snapshots and thoughts, which I think will be better to convey my ideas than a more articulated post.
• One of the reasons I believe friendships are different in the U.S than in Argentina is that in my native country, unless one moves to another country, it is highly unlikely that you will end up living in different parts of the country, the same way that it happens in the U.S. As a result, I still have friends from elementary school with whom I visit every time I go back home.
• No matter how generous and friendly an American can be, I find friendships with them more regimented than in Argentina. In Argentina, it’s very common to call somebody and say: "hey, would you like to grab a coffee with me tonight after dinner?" (that would be at least at 10 pm). In America, that’s highly unlikely, both because of cultural norms and because it would be very hard to find an open coffee house at 10 pm.
• Another difference is that in the United States the range of issues that are considered private and therefore not shared except with your best friend is wider. Americans tend to be more private and, sometimes, even need to put a façade that everything is OK because they are ashamed to confess that something is wrong. Having an emotional problem is seen as “weakness”, one of the capital sins in this country. In Argentina, on the contrary, one of the middle-class routines is going to therapy. Forever. I know people who have been in therapy for 8 years. Whether they are better or not as a result is beyond the point. Therapy is an outlet where you can talk. Moreover, your sessions will also be a part of your conversations with friends. It is very common for an Argentinean to say in a conversation: “I have X problem. My therapist says that it is because Y and Z”. In my home country, we say only half-jokingly that we don’t trust people who do not go to therapy; because that means that they do not want to confront their issues.
• As an example of the above, last time I was visiting Buenos Aires, a good friend of mine, but certainly not my best friend by any means, called me one late afternoon and asked if I was free to have a coffee with her. She said that she really needed to talk to somebody. I was free, so we met soon thereafter. What she had to tell me involved an affair she was having with a married man. I know her pretty well, and the previous week I had had dinner with her and her boyfriend (with whom she had been together for 3 years). But I am not her best friend. We spoke a lot about her situation, and, at the end, I asked her why she had called me, when I knew there were friends she was closer to. Her answer: “Oh, I had just come out from therapy, and my psychologist’s office is three blocks from your apartment. I was feeling overwhelmed by my feelings, I needed to talk to somebody. You are a great listener, and besides you are the one who lives the closest. So I called you”. It makes perfect sense from the point of view of an Argentinean, and I was happy to be able to provide an ear for her, and to be useful. An American would probably feel uncomfortable in such situation.
• In a related but darker note, a personal anecdote. If you ever ask me what was my worst day since I moved to the United States, my answer would not be the day I went on a date with somebody I had a crush on and that person started ranting about all those people who speak Spanish. The worst day was, one year after I had left Argentina, when my mother called me at 7 am in the morning and told me that one of my sisters had tried to commit suicide. That, in itself, is obviously bad enough. However, it wasn’t exactly a surprise. For me the worst part was knowing that there was nobody living in the same town I could call and just get together to talk. And cry. And I am not sure that nowadays, 11 years later, there is somebody either.
• Some of the differences are connected to the way life is structured in the United States. Even leisure time with friends is left for weekends. Getting together with a friend a Wednesday at 6 pm at a coffee house is almost impossible: your friend might be at work, have family, needs to cook dinner, etc. Another reason is that there is less of a support network for individuals in this country. I have a lot of friends my own age (36), who are married and have kids. In Argentina, that is not an impediment to have a social life: your parents, your husband’s parents, your relatives, etc will probably live in the same city and, with a short notice, will be more than happy to take care of your kid(s) for a few hours so that you can go out with friends. In the United States, it looks to me that unless you have a very good income and can afford a nanny often, your social life will revolve around “parents” activities or will be non-existent until your kids leave for college. That is, in fact, one of the reasons why I am not very interested in becoming a mother myself.
To sum up, I think Americans can be wonderful and generous people. But because of cultural differences, if you ask me who my closest 5 friends are, they would all be living in Argentina