Awkward Silence

Generally Europeans always comment about how loud Americans are. And I guess we are.  You go to the subway or metro of any European city and the one group of voices you hear that are almost shouting in comparison to the others are American voices.  Europeans aren’t like that, and I didn’t realize the implications of that until recently.

If you see a group of Americans sitting around not talking to each other, they’re probably all feeling something close to dread and trying desperately to think of the next topic of conversation. We even have a phrase for this: “awkward silence”.

If we see a whole group of people doing this, but not feeling the awkward bit (a bunch of people standing there complacently in silence), the thought is “wow, they really don’t want to be around each other” or “wow they’re not having any fun at all”.  Here, it means… well, I haven’t quite figured that out yet, but here it doesn’t mean the above.  I’ve seen groups of long-time friends as well as new acquaintances just stand around there and not talk for amazingly unbearable stretches of time. I don’t mean like a break in conversation; I mean like 5 minutes of just sitting there, staring at each other.

As a new person trying to mingle with groups and make friends, this definitely weirded me out at first, until I saw this was the same thing everyone else does. Not that I don’t still feel weird, I just know it’s not me.

I guess we also have a less-common “comfortable silence” in the US as well. It usually doesn’t occur in large groups, and it’s that feeling where you’re just so comfortable with someone that you don’t even need to say anything. It’s rare and noteworthy for us.  I don’t know if that’s what the Europeans feel, it might be some combination of both.

I just realized how ambiguous this makes our behavior. If an American is silent with you, it means either they don’t want to be around you, they do want to be around you and you’re making them uncomfortable, or they feel super-close to you.  Take that, confusing Europeans!

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