Maria, having come from Portugal only a year ago, went to visit Joaõ and Débora in the North of Luxembourg. The easiest way to get there is by train.
Maria: when I got on the train, I saw that everybody seemed to occupy two seats, one for sitting and another for a coat or a bag. I walked through the train but couldn’t find an empty seat and nobody offered to clear the seat next to them. They didn’t even look at me, reading a book, a paper or listening to music. I felt very uneasy and insecure.
A passenger in the train: finally, I am in the train. Hope it leaves on time. Last thing I need after a stressful meeting is somebody who wants to talk to me. If I pretend to be busy, nobody will try to sit next to me.
What is happening?
Maria is looking for some sort of contact to feel invited to sit next to somebody. Everybody in the train is only minding their own business, actually hoping that nobody will sit next to them, because they enjoy their privacy. So in many trains or buses, everybody sits alone and nobody speaks (except on the phone or with someone already known).
Maria is used to the group to guarantee some sort of protection. As nobody looks at her, that effect seems absent. She feels alone and vulnerable.
What are possible solutions?
When no-one offers Maria a space, she could step forward and ask somebody if a seat is free: “Excuse me, can I sit here?” This way, she would have initial interaction and feel safer. People will readily make a seat available and even respect her for posing the question. Speaking up is appreciated in Luxembourg. It’s also possible for other passengers to recognize the vulnerability of Maria and invite her over.
In individualistic cultures (IDV +), privacy is considered important. People tend to interact only if there is a need or a purpose. So often, they just keep to themselves and even avoid interaction with other people (so they don’t look up if someone walks by).
In collectivistic societies (IDV -), such as Portugal, the relationship you have with others defines your place in the world. So collectivist people always search for interaction, in any way or form. If that is missing, the collectivists feel lost, possibly even excluded.
Besides providing a social network, the groups also provides security for the collectivists. In this story, a woman on her own might not only be looking for social interaction, but also for the safety of the group.