Japan vs. Germany III: About being an introvert

(See page 2 for the German version)

[Please note that even though I am generalizing a few things, the opinions expressed below are solely based on my own experiences…]

I am without a doubt an introvert**. When I was small, I had the nickname ‘professor’ because I somehow always was reading a book. The more time I spend with others, the more time I need just with myself, watching movies, surfing the internet, hiking, reading, learning, or simply just for being alone with my own thoughts. If I’m going out with a group of more than 3-4 people, I can have a lot of fun, but it also costs me energy. Above my head I can then see a battery display that slowly goes down until it starts blinking dangerously. Then I know that it’s time to stay a whole weekend day at home, cancelling any invitations. I often also have difficulties to get involved in loud group conversations. I need time to think about an answer before speaking, and until then the extroverts among the people talking have already gone over to the next topic.

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Therefore, to others I might often appear as a quiet person, which in Germany was more than once seen as something negative. I was even told by employers that I should be more outgoing, – no matter how good my actual work performance was. Quiet people are considered non-assertive and weak, and in a work environment are often overshadowed by their outspoken and extrovert colleagues. As a quite person, I was also often considered as being shy, even though shyness and introversion are two completely different things. Shy people are very afraid of being judged negatively by others. There are even many extrovert people out there, who are shy. On the other hand, introverts simply draw their energy from the silence and tranquility and their own thoughts. Dealing and talking with a big group of, especially unknown people, cost them a lot of energy. Since in Germany I was constantly told that I was too quiet and needed to be more outgoing, I always somehow thought that my introversion was something negative and that I needed to change something about me. It took me quite a few years, and reading different books on the topic, in order to become at peace with myself again, to just accept myself as the person that I am, and even see the advantages of highly introverted people: The ability to concentrate oneself for a long time, being able to analyze situations quickly, being very creative and full of new ideas, etc.

And, I admit it, it also helped that I moved to Japan. While in Germany I was often quickly regarded as the quiet and unapproachable Hanna by people, who I had just met, I never made that experience here in Japan. On the contrary, here I am rather considered as a quite talkative and outgoing person. Well, perhaps my most striking feature, that of being a western-looking foreigner, also distracts from my other features way too much 😉

Another reason could be that quiet people are not considered as something negative here, on the contrary, they are instead seen as thoughtful, mature and as persons that can integrate themselves well into a group. More important than showing one’s individual personality is being part of a group, keeping structures and following the rules, at least in the ‘public’ (at home and among close friends this can of course be different). Preserving the group’s harmony is generally more important than expressing oneself and having strong opinions. Even the introversion / extroversion – principle itself is probably less well known in Japan, even though there are also a lot of Japanese people who are extroverted, – although they might not seem like that at first glance.

But while Japan actually seems to be offering a more comfortable life for introverts, on the contrary there is a lot of focus on group activities in peoples’ free time (the more the merrier, and everything has to be planned down to the smallest detail) and most workplaces have huge open-plan offices (30-60 people, working in one room  help, stress!)… but well, you can probably not have everything 😉

**I can recommend this TED–talk about being an introvert (in Western cultures).

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More Japan vs. Germany – posts:
Part I: Life 
Part II: Christmas

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