By Jill Pertler
My husband and I recently made a happily anticipated purchase of a new summer water toy. We’d been looking forward to it for a long time and I was thrilled. I really was.
When we went to pick up our vessel the nice salesman asked me a number of times if I was excited. I answered in the affirmative, but after about the third query from him I realized I wasn’t demonstrating my fervor like he expected a normal customer might. So I told him the truth.
“I’m an introverted Scandinavian,” I said with as much expressive tone as I could muster.
“This is as excited as I get.”
He got a chuckle out of that and I was happy to have appeased him, although I’m sure my deadpan demeanor failed to demonstrate my delight in any way he could ascertain.
By and large I am an introvert. Oh, I have my talkative days, but I am generally better at putting words on paper than out in the air. Add to that my Swedish heritage and you’ve got a double whammy.
According to the Social Swede website, “The way Scandinavians express feelings is subtle.” We can “be excited without body movement” and “can be happy in silence except when watching ice hockey.” I think that last part is a joke.
This got me to thinking (dangerous I know). If Scandinavians have a tendency to be introverts, maybe other countries lean one way or the other as well. Time for a little Internet research.
Turns out some countries are known for their introverted habits, while others produce a larger percentage of extroverts. Although there is overlap – think of it as an introvert/extrovert spectrum.
Introverts cluster in northern Europe – in places like Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic and Estonia. They also live in Iceland and Canada. In these countries there’s no need to make weather-related chitchat in an elevator. Silence is comfortable – and the norm.
Extroverted countries include Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Latin America, along with Australia. To quote one website, “Everyone wants to be your friend in Australia.”
A quick view of a world map led to the hatching of a theory on how these cultural differences may have evolved. It all comes down to location. People in northern climates historically spent long, cold and harsh winters holed up in their homes with no one to talk to but themselves. It was a life of solitude where self-sufficiency was a benefit. They had no choice but to get used to large amounts of silence.
The isolation would also create a need to avoid conflict. If you’re stuck inside with Uncle Lars for four more months there’s no need to comment on his halitosis. Best to leave things alone. It’s stoicism on steroids but it helps keep the peace.
Conversely, people in southern climates could more comfortably spend greater amounts of time outdoors with family, friends and neighbors, creating and encouraging interaction with others. They had the whole village at their disposal. More friends may have meant increased opportunities to share resources. Their culture cultivated extroverts.
We all have a little introvert and extrovert inside us. Extroverts get excited when the phone rings. Introverts do not. Extroverts talk out loud. Introverts talk to themselves. Extroverts will cross the street in order to meet you face to face and say hi. Introverts will cross the street in order to avoid an encounter and the ensuing small talk. Extroverts feel things deeply and demonstratively. Introverts feel things deeply.
We are the outcomes of our ancestor’s experiences. Some of us are warm and fuzzy on the outside; others demonstrate the cold nose warm heart approach to life. Appreciating each for the contributions we bring can be exciting for everyone, although some of us might show it more than others.
Back to the water toy that started this story: I’m still thrilled about our acquisition. Really! And if the weather cooperates and we can get it out on the water this weekend I might even let out a whoop of excitement.
As long as I’m far enough from shore so no one can hear me.