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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The hanger-on

Iphigenie came to this country because of the music. This is of course perfectly understandable, many of her friends have done or are doing the same, and it is the music of some of the bands that "has helped tremendously with my English." Iphigenie is after integration. She wants to be a part of it, wants to belong but not so she can fit in but rather so that she can meet the musicians whose music she has "always admired." That this is hard to do in a country where friends are carefully chosen (and I might add for good reason) quickly becomes evident, when after a year of being here, she has only met some of the locals by attaching herself to a more outgoing personality from abroad. Iphigenie's tactic to achieve integration is to sit and wait and follow the more outgoing personality around, so as to get a foot in the door as it were, then snapping up the other person's friends. Should someone introduce her to a new person, she will however not share the favor and do anything to keep that person for herself, not granting her outgoing friend(s) any access.

Iphigenie now has a boyfriend, a pompous ass, the outgoing friend has named Thoas. He is the kind of person who will post photos of concentration camps on his social network page among holiday pictures and consider it part of the general landscape. The kind of person who knows that all foreigners are of course rich and that life abroad is so much better than here. But he is local, and for Iphigenie that is all that matters. That he is a huge fan and admirer of her home country, merely constitutes an added bonus.

They met, the same way that Iphigenie meets all her friends that are not from her country, through her outgoing friend or rather acquaintance, waiting for the latter to strike up a conversation with them, engage in general banter and then move in by standing quietly at her friend's side so as to be included in the conversation. This usually works especially at gatherings of other expats, in which mutual inclusion is practically a fait-accompli. Thoas is much the same, and being half a generation her senior, has taken it upon himself to guide her.

Iphigenie knows that she is young and has much to learn and rather than rely solely on her boyfriend, she looks to her outgoing acquaintance for guidance, following her around the room when they happen to run into each other at parties, to see who her acquaintance is talking to and to position herself next to them within five seconds of her acquaintance striking up a conversation. Her boyfriend is quick to follow this act and so an interesting game of tag ensues at a birthday party held in a popular venue. When a film crew filming a documentary for a national channel shows up, both are quick to position themselves at an angle that is sure to capture them frequently, so that later they can brag to the people in their immediate vicinity about how they have been captured on film.

Both Iphigenie and Thoas know that their outgoing acquaintance has interesting contacts and they are keen to get them. There are hints to "meet up for drinks" and requests of "can I have that photo you guys were taking because I want to surprise a friend" as well as liking status updates no matter how mundane they might be, yet these only occur right after they have heard of said acquaintance being in what to them is an interesting environment and invitations to their events are never extended. Their own circle of friends consists of people from Iphigenie's home country, met at a social networking event, again, having waited for someone else to make the introduction. When one of them, on a visit to Helsinki after having returned to his home country, mentions to their acquaintance that it would be nice to meet up, they do everything in their power to make sure this meeting doesn't happen. It is a life style that seems to work for them even though they are often at home alone or only go out when specifically invited by someone or other. They are easy to spot at all types of parties, the ones standing in the background, wearing a style slightly similar to what they think is the local fashion and yet, never quite the same. And yet, despite all that, they have their advantages. They are primarily there to make those in their vicinity truly appreciative of their real friends, the ones who will call you in good times and bad and will stand by you, whether you're happy or sad.

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