No country for introverts

As an expat I sometimes feel a cultural distance from the “locals”. When it happens, I try to put that feeling into perspective by reminding myself the many times I felt a cultural distance from my own countrymen back in Italy.

There are many ways in which I never felt completely fitting in back home. Recently, I have realised that most of them can be connected to one reason: personality clash.

Italy is not a country for introverts, that’s the problem. And neither is any other Southern European country, I suspect. The reason has not (just) to do with the fact that Italians tend to be more social and expansive than Northern Europeans: that wouldn’t be a big deal. The problem is that the Italian society is designed to make life easier for extroverts.

In Italy, building relationships is crucial to getting things done. From finding a job to getting your car fixed, you’re guaranteed to be treated fairly if you know the right people. If you don’t, you risk ending up in a sub-optimal position: the mechanic may overcharge you, the job you’re a good fit for will be given to someone less qualified, your bureaucratic request at the council will take forever, and so on.

To be clear, this is not a law of nature: I know plenty of Italians who still got hired because of their skills and whose cars got fixed at a fair price even when they didn’t know the mechanic. It’s just noticeably less likely than in other cultures such as Northern European’s, where rules, laws and procedures play a bigger role at informing interactions between citizens (and between citizens and institutions).

This cultural difference is often analysed in terms of its effect on corruption and meritocracy. But it should be also viewed through the lens of unfair personality bias. In Southern Europe (and in other, similar cultures) extroverts have a clear advantage over introverts, because they’re naturally inclined to build bigger networks, which will open them more doors. In countries with a less “relation-centric” culture, bigger networks – while still advantageous – only take you so far.

I have been living in the UK for 8 years and what extroverts get here is mostly more friends, which we introverts don’t mind at all.

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