Maverick Traveler

Location Independence, Geo Arbitrage, Individual Freedom

Why Friendships in Eastern Europe Are Very Different Than Those In The West

When I was in Lithuania, I had a chance to meet up with an American travel blogger who made the capital, Vilnius, his home.  While he still travels around Europe and beyond, his base is now Lithuania so that’s where you’ll find him most of the time.

He eventually even applied for and received a residency permit allowing him longer stays in the country than a typical non-EU tourist on short-term visa.  Since he’s not working, studying, or has notable income, on what grounds he got the permit and via what contacts is something that I’ll never know because, as he puts it: he figured it out himself, and won’t share this specific “loophole.”

Had this been a Eastern European guy, we would’ve immediately entered in an unspoken pact where he would explain how to do what he did in exchange for some favor of equal or greater importance down the road.

Furthermore, the EE guy would readily admit the reason for his bizarre choice for a base (Lithuania is cold and miserable most of the year) – a cute girlfriend — something that the American only eventually admitted on the third meeting, and only with my endless prying.

American (and Western European, etc) friendships are very different, and such difference is there for specific reasons.

American friendships are relationships based on a specific aspect of life.  That aspect could be business, personal, sports, or family matters.  The relationship rarely crosses boundaries, instead staying well inside the brackets of its original purpose.

On a recent post, “Why America Is Great”, commentator, “SmartDuck” said it best:

“Americans befriend people because of interest all the time. What can this guy do for me ? This is my company buddy, this is my golf buddy, this is my school buddy. Networking.”

On the other hand, Eastern European friendships are friendships that encompass all aspects of life.  It’s not uncommon to meet someone for the first time and talk to them about everything: your background, job, marriage, and kids.  There’s no invisible boundaries, and no fake, politically correct behavior.  Things that are deemed inappropriate in the States are normal topics of discussion in the East.  The easiest way to make an Eastern European uncomfortable is behaving as though he’s an American: resistance to move from a one bracket to another, whether from business to personal or vice-versa.

Asking and receiving favors is important as well.  Americans have grown up in a fairly well functioning, minimally corrupt society.  The same cannot be said of Eastern European countries which were ruled (or still being ruled) by autocratic dictators.  Thus, a system of favors has evolved over time.  In Romania, for example, you might not get a job through hotjobs.com but instead via someone’s friend’s friend.  In Ukraine, renting an apartment is easier done via friends than the overpriced listings on the internet.

On his recent trip to Ukraine, Roosh talked a bit about his experiences in befriending locals in Ukraine in an effort to build a social circle.  His impression was that “my ‘friends’ in Ukraine saw me as a resource that can be extracted like a mineral in the ground”.  As an Eastern European guy (whose life has been equally split between EE and US), I completely understand and sympathize with such an observation.

Sure, the locals were expecting favors, but they were also willing to reciprocate as well.

Maybe you need to rent a cheap apartment for a year in the center of town but the listings on the internet are too inflated.  Maybe you want to get into a top VIP club but can’t
get pass face control.

Or maybe imagine for a moment that you’re enjoying a great summer in Odessa, Ukraine and after a great night in the Arcadia part of the city, you are decide to drunkily stumble home.  Few blocks from your apartment, you get stopped by a police patrol car.  Sensing you do not speak a word of Ukrainian or Russian, they decide to extort you.  As an honest American fighting worldwide corruption, you refuse to budge.  They apprehend you and bring you to a precinct while they decide what to do with you.  Without a local contact to get you out, youe situation is that much bleaker.  Feel free to replace “corrupt cops arresting you for no reason” with any similar situation where the rule of law simply doesn’t apply.

In those countries it’s not only nice to have friends, but essential.  Not just any friends but local ones who know the customs, speak the language, and can bail you out of most situations at a moment’s notice.  In America, where everything is much more predictable, and your rights are (somewhat) guaranteed, chances are you won’t be calling your friend at 3AM in the morning from a police station for a petty offense.  But in Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova or Russia where basic predictability is all but guaranteed, it never hurts to know and be good friends with a reliable local or two.

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3 Comments

  1. Maverick, it is good to see you read the comments !

    I don’t know about Eastern Europe, but the difference between Brazil and the US regarding friendships is that Americans think opening up to a stranger makes them somewhat vulnerable.
    Americans are trained to compete. To be tough. The difference is specially remarkable when one compares women from both countries. Some American women think smiling and just being kind is a sign of weakness. It is like an armor they put to defend themselves.
    Any country with more attachement to family life (any Latin country) has less competition and more openness, because people have befriended and related with many cousins, extended family, friends, etc. all their lives. Not necessarily because of favors, but just because they are in the group. I find interesting that in high school here everybody was friends with each other, no bullying at all. Nothing like what we see in US schools.
    I have met many open, nice and truly generous Americans. Almost without any exceptions, they were either old people, who don;t need to compete with anyone anymore, or religious people, who also abdicated the need to prove themselves at all costs.
    Another interesting thing I noticed when living in the US is that some people are just surprised when you approach them and respond with kindness. It is like they are just not used to being close to anyone, so they keep it to themselves. One just have to take the initiative to start the friendship.
    Unfortunately, in large cities such as São Paulo, where competition for jobs is high and people have no time for anything, people are getting much like Americans.

    • Hey Smartduck,

      I think your observations are spot on. I think competition is partly the answer though. I’m sure you can have a decent friendship with someone from São Paulo in comparison with someone from New York.

      It’s the same as with girls: you’ll never find a nice, down to earth girl in New York. Most of them are running around like headless chickens trying to “make it” as a career woman.

      I’m sure São Paulo women have retained their feminine characteristics though.

  2. Quite the contrary, US people love small talk, while in Europe people are cold and angry. They hate outsiders.

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