Creepers Always Creep?
Ah, the creepers. You know, the ones that post compliment attempts on the wrong thread, or email via your profile saying they just want to be your friend….or perhaps they’ve somehow snuck into a chat enabled circle and manage to message you directly. I’ve decided I don’t like this term and here’s why.
Many of us are very open to random conversations with strangers, but there is a sort of etiquette governing who we’re willing to converse with and who gets shut down with full force. Let me give you some examples of emails I’ve received in the past couple of days. There were more, but these are the ones I saved:
“u beautiful.,. i like”
“hello we do not know that I am a Uruguayan like to do friendship with you. If you want to reply to this message”
“nice if we could be friend :)”
“j’aimerais bien faire votre connaissance mais essayer d’ecrire en francais merci gros bisous.”
You wonder, what do they have to gain by starting a private conversation with me? Are they trying to scam me? Do they think they might see me naked? But, I have to admit, I started thinking…..
In my career, more than half of my daily correspondence is with people from overseas. I negotiate contracts from all over the world and daily interact with a multitude of different cultures. In my experience, there can be some very awkward moments when the language and cultural differences just don’t translate. While Americans seem to be known for being rude and crass, there are cultures that are far more aggressive, but in a far different manner. Coupled with more formal language structures that just do not translate to English, there’s an enormous target for misunderstanding. I remember one particular phone conversation that left me in a sweat. Hammered with questions, he didn’t take my first answer is a final answer and kept repeating his questions, phrased slightly differently each time. Not fully understanding that in his culture, the first answer is never the final answer I struggled to make him realize my statements weren’t going to change.
Then it dawned on me, he couldn’t accept that my first answer was the final answer. In his culture this wasn’t the way things went and he was equally frustrated by my intractability. I learned, I grew. I know now to present a case that has negotiating room when approaching people from certain areas of the world. To be honest, this is really most of the non-Western world.
Well, reflecting on this experience made me re-evaluate the entire thought process behind “the creepers.” What if I was “rudely” ignoring honest attempts to just get to know me? Yes, these types of approaches from an American (or even European) man would send off the alarm bells, but it was startlingly similar to some of the business correspondence I’ve had; albeit in a far different context.
I got a wild idea and I ran with it. I answered one of them.
To be honest, at first I was offput. He kept messaging me at the most awkward times, like when I was driving to work or just going to bed. Of course the time difference really didn’t help. But, I promised to chat with him and one Saturday morning he stayed up late and we started chatting on gTalk.
I was completely wrong about the creepers.
Yes, he asked me socially awkward questions that seemed invasive and forward. Did I drink? How often? Why was I divorced? He hammered me with questions I’d never expect from even a hostile mother in law. But as we conversed I discovered why these “creepers” aren’t always creeping.
Turns out he’s a college student, in a developing country. Unlike us, he doesn’t have access to the internet all the time and the access he does have is heavily censored. Most sites we take for granted are not available and he’s even largely prevented from uploading pictures. Reasonable that his profile is incomplete. I’m not naive, I’ve seen research that shows how much of the world is not plugged in the way we are, but it’s hard to put that in context about how it affects their daily lives.
We dug deeper. While discussing the facts of my divorce he says, “You’re lucky you live in a developed country, my mom is going through the same thing and she cannot escape like you did.” Chilling words. I mean, I know that women are frequently trapped in desperate situations around the globe, but again, it’s so very hard to truly conceptualize these ideas sitting in my cushy home with a full belly and control over my home.
As we chatted I learned that my birthday falls on a major holiday in his culture. I discovered the nuanced complexity of the social framework he navigates through daily. He told me of love lost, dictated by the harsh social and religious segregation found in his culture. But most of all, he was so hungry for information about our culture, our society; a society equally foreign and complex to him as his was to me. What I found was a person, an individual sharing his story and just looking to learn mine.
I am profoundly thankful that I jumped in and said hello. I feel like my eyes have been opened to fascinating new cultures and my mind is delightfully humming with this broad world that is opening up to me. I am a people person. I love people. I find them fascinating. I want to hear all the little stories that make them who they are. We’ve all got a tale to tell and I’m glad I heard his. I won’t answer all the emails I receive, I simply haven’t the time. But….I will pick one each week to answer and I’m going to see where it takes me.