Friday, May 20, 2011

The New Kid on the Block

Chances are many of us have been there at least once in our lives, but, at the moment, I'm feeling like I've done it more in the past few years than I have in the whole rest of my life prior.

The other day I told Duncan that I am completely and utterly over it!

I'm over rocking up at events as the 'new person'.  I'm over the stares.  I'm over feeling like a loser because I don't know anyone and they all know each other.

Welcome to life in a small town, Sarah!

I've realised that before I moved to Buntine in 2008 (aged almost 25), I had not been the new kid very much in my whole life, apart from moving to Albany halfway through the school year in 1988, and being the new person at a few workplaces and at my old church in Perth.  Mostly I've been in situations where everyone is new - primary school, high school, uni.

I've also realised that I focus a lot on the negatives.  I'll go to an event in town where I don't know anyone (such as social tennis or netball training) and I'll dwell on the fact that lots of people did not bother to introduce themselves or introduce me to others, and I'll forget about the handful of lovely, welcoming people who went out of their way for me.  I'm trying to remember to thank God for those people and not get weighed down by the demeanour of those who are less than friendly.

While cities can be lonely places, despite being populous, I think it is harder to make friends in small country towns.  In the city, if you meet a 'difficult' person, usually you can move on and never to see them again, and find people who are friendly and you do have something in common with.  If you're a goth, then there are plenty of goths.  If you're a hippy, then there are plenty of hippies.  Despite the busyness, there are a plethora of groups and clubs around.  You're bound to find a likeminded soul in the city.

But in country towns there are far less people and often a very distinct 'culture'.  Most social events tend to revolve around the footy club and drinking.  If you're not into that scene then it's more difficult to meet the locals and to form strong relationships with them.  A friend of mine told me recently that she would really struggle in a small town because she isn't into footy, netball or hockey.  How are you supposed to meet people if you're not into those sports?

Also, in small towns, there are definitely the 'movers and shakers', the dominant people, those who have been the president of the footy club for thirty years and go on a power trip (not saying everyone is like this, but some definitely are).  If you meet a difficult person, you can't avoid them like you can in the city.  As a newcomer, you have to be very careful about what you say because gossip is rife and some people can make life very difficult for you.  Some people are very proud.  At netball training recently, one of the co-ordinators humiliated me in front of everyone after just my second training session.  She said that I wasn't a good enough player.  I don't object to people's honesty as long it is done helpfully and appropriately (she should have approached me individually, not just say it in front of everyone).  Fortunately a fantastic lady from my team came to my defence.  Normally I would have been more sharp with the co-ordinator, but as the new person, I felt like I didn't have a leg to stand on.

Ultimately it is not the locals who are the best judges of how friendly they's the newcomers.  When you're the new kid on the block, you're ultra-sensitive and aware of how you are being treated - whether people go out of their way to be friendly, or whether they look at you with suspicion and retreat into the safety of their cliques.  In Dally, I used to hear new people being labelled 'blow-ins'.  Well, that really makes me feel like I want to stay long-term....not!  Being the new kid on the block has given me a new zeal to welcome the stranger.  I'm not saying I'm perfect in this area, but when you've experienced the discomfort of being the stranger, you're aware of how others must feel.

And before anyone asks - I do try!  I try to smile and look approachable.  I give more than one word answers to those who ask questions.  I try to be open to those who want to know who we are and where we've come from.  Being an introvert, it is hard, but I do try!

What I was getting at in Big Fish in Small Ponds is that I think it's good for everyone to experience what newcomers go through.  If you stay in one place for too long, there is always the temptation to become too forget to extend a welcoming hand.  If I had not experienced two big moves in less than three years, maybe I would become too comfortable too.

Right now, I'm feeling a bit weary of the whole thing.  I can't wait until I feel like I'm part of the furniture.


Jenny said...

Been there done that sooo many times Sarah and it is just super tiring. I feel for you. My favourite is the churches where the people who have been there for ever and are totally in the thick of everything, talk about how wonderfully welcoming they are. I think sometimes they are being wonderfully welcoming to each other so forget about the new people!

Iris Flavia said...

Oh, yips, know what you mean! When I moved in with Spouse and his Grandma in a small village, it was creepy. An old man opposite the house always stared at me (standing in front the door or from the open window) but never greeted or said a word - actually no one was welcoming, just plain curious/suspicious.

I´m glad I live in the city!
Though, it´s kinda a village in the city, too, with time you get to "know" your neighbours, which actually is a good thing. It´s just more moderate.

So... good luck that "new"-phase is over soon and you find some friends there!

Karen said...

Sarah, this is a great post. I agree with what you've written and as we've moved several times and had to try to "fit in" in many different places, I can really relate to how it feels. It gets exhausting after a while.

Thanks for the reminder of the need to remember to make an effort to talk to the new people at church, not just the first week they come, but to keep on being welcoming. It's too easy to stick to talking to people you feel comfortable with.

And I hear you on country towns revolving around sport and drinking! My first job after I moved out of home (and out of the city) was in a small country town like this. Even though I met people at work, they all socialised over...yep, sport and drinking. It took me a while to find a church with enough young people, so it was difficult to meet people who thought the same way I did. It was a very testing time in my Christian life, I think, and I was blessed to find a family through the church I went to (with great "surrogate" parents!) who welcomed me into their lives during this time and kept me on track.

Hang in there, and try to be thankful for those who are welcoming.