Before I moved to Addis I asked another expat who lived here who she socialized with from her office. Her reply was shocking: "Nobody. I hang out with other expats. I tried, but nobody would accept or return my invitations." I didn't say much, and chalked it up to her US-centric nature. Besides, she knew she was only there for a while so probably didn't try, right?
Then it happened to me. When I asked Ethiopians to lunch they looked at me quizzically, as if to ask why. I got excuses like "Um. No. I, um, have something else to do." The two people who I cornered into lunch never reciprocated an invitation and had an excuse ready the next time I asked. I've invited Ethiopians to my house several times and had one person accept, one time, and it's never been reciprocated. I do have two Ethiopian friends I socialize with, but only two. It would be easy to chalk this scarcity of socialibility up to my personality, to say "Geeze, Marc, you're just a dork; get a clue and move on."
So I asked around expats I talked to. I got the same story from every single person. Every single one. While making me feel personally better, it made me wonder about the reasons. Language? Most Ferenges don't speak Amharic very well if at all. (The two Ethiopians with whom I socialize speak English exceptionally well, which lends credence to this theory.) Maybe it's the short-term nature of expat assignments? Why make friends with someone who's just going to leave in a year or two. Culture? Maybe Europeans and Americans miss subtleties that cause us to give unknown and unintended offense. Prejudice? Of course there's a small contingent of "Ferenge go home" types here (see some of the comments on this blog) but most Ethiopians are accepting and kind, just not sociable.
Next post: Socializing Part II: the expat network, the mommy mafia, and the language-centricity.