Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

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Self portrait in a café in Buenos Aires, Argentina, February 2016

Self portrait in a café in Buenos Aires, Argentina, February 2016

In North America, we are all little special snowflakes quick to (over)share what makes us unique, exotic, different. Sometime, your cultural background is worth mentioning—”I’m like, 5% Irish, 2% Cherokee, 1% Indian…”. Maybe you have an interesting “slash career” as waitress/actress, accountant/musician or writer/CEO. Some folks are passionate about their current diet—paleo, gluten-free, vegan—or a sport that defines their lifestyle. Formal or informal memberships to a community or even religious beliefs can also come up in the conversation. The message is simple: you are your own person.

At the most basic level, some believe you are defined by a personality type—type A, type B or whatever 4-letter type formula according to Briggs Myers’ typology.

Maybe I should take the test, because I have no idea whether I’m an introvert or an extrovert, which is after all a central dimension of human personality theories.

I like people. I find us, human, interesting—this is why I enjoy writing about cultural differences and snapping pictures of everyday life around the world. I like to be surrounded by people, ideally strangers, because their presence makes me feel like I’m part of something yet I don’t have to interact with anyone. For instance, I like lively places, busy streets, markets, public transportation, walkable cities and street events. I find Canada way too quiet. I’m not comfortable in this culture where people drive their own car and stay within the boundaries of their homes, backyards and patios. I don’t mind sharing fairly intimate moments of my life with strangers—I lived in hostels and I slept in these infamous 16-bed dorms, cooked in these humongous hectic communal kitchens, showered with women I had never met before. I’m not shy: I can chat with pretty much anyone and even though I don’t enjoy it, I can speak in front of an audience and look confident enough.

Yet, I spend most of my time alone. I find most social gatherings absolutely terrifying and dealing with such a high volume of humans who showed up supposedly to have fun together scares me. I have never “entertained” at home, whatever that means. Every time new neighbours move in on either side of the house, I pray that they are the kind who greet with a friendly nod when we meet on the driveway instead of the “let’s have a drink together” kind. I don’t mind grabbing a coffee or sharing a meal with a friend, but I’m more comfortable if we are two or three people maximum. I have never enjoyed disco, I don’t understand what people do at parties, I can’t dance, I don’t have an elevator pitch and oh… I don’t drink.

Yeah, maybe that’s why I don’t find social gatherings fun, come to think of it.

For me, there are four categories of people: friends, family, acquaintances and strangers. I’m comfortable with the first two groups and I enjoy spending time with them. I can deal with strangers as well because somehow, I know how to talk to people. It’s a skill I acquired in my professional life, first as a teacher then as a linguistic resource in communication teams. As a traveler, occasionally I have to trust perfect strangers, deal with various cultural barriers and reach out as a foreigner. So I know how to engage people and deliver a message when the interaction has a purpose.

However, I’m not sure how to deal with acquaintances—you know, people part of your past or your distant social circle who are in and out of your life. Events full of acquaintances are my idea of hell. Are you supposed to just resort to small talk, like you do with perfect strangers? Are you supposed to “catch up”, whatever that means?

Worse are events where you play a role as a guest. Weddings, baby showers, schmooze fests, ceremonies, etc. are social events that divide people: half of them love going and the other half hold onto the RSVP until a credible excuse not to show up comes to mind. Yes, I’m part of the latter group. No, I really can’t be described as “the life and soul of the party”.

I’m a behind-the-scene person. I’d rather hide behind a camera, busy myself with a notepad or be locked in a war room than being at the centre of the stage. I never dreamed of becoming a princess, a model, an actress or a social butterfly.

That said, I’m the “social” half of the couple. I had to excuse Feng, my +1, countless of times. I’m sure some acquaintances think I made him up.

When I drop off Mark at daycare, I see myself in him, in the way he stands in the hallway, clinging to his lunch box and water bottle, pausing before walking in. Even though he has been part of the same group of kids for months, I’ve never seen him running to his friends and greeting everyone the way some children too. I know he has friends, he apparently developed a bromance with a little blond Callum. And other kids seem to appreciate him as well, once in a while he gets a spontaneous hug from Molly. But he stands there, fidgeting, until the teacher tells him what to do.

I’m not worried because at the end of the day, when I pick him up, I see him playing with other kids and later in the evening, he will detail the events of the day—who got the big chair, who shared the train but didn’t share the truck, who ran after him and who threw a stick at the tree.

I wish I could give him tips to make his life easier. “Just walk in and say ‘Hi everyone!'” “You can speak like a big boy now, answer people when they ask you how old you are!” “If you want to play with a kid, just go and say ‘Can I play?'”

Yeah, easy for me to say. At social events, I’m as awkward as Mark. I’m just hiding behind my camera instead of behind a lunch box.

How about you? Are you an introvert? An extrovert?

 

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

31 Comments

  1. To me, and from how you’re describing yourself, you’re definitely an introvert. Maybe a kind of introvert that doesn’t mind life in community but still an introvert!
    I’m definitely an introvert, too, there’s NO doubt about that. I find being labelled awkward, but for once, it really helped me get who I was, and why I was feeling so socially inadequate.
    Now I know who I am, and it’s easier for me to deal with it: I don’t try to hard to belong anymore, I just let it go without trying to force myself too much. At the end of the summer, I’m having a family vacation (mind: the family in law, not mine ARG). I’ll be spending an entire week with 5 other people in a small apartment with only one bathroom, and I won’t have any other choice than to spend every minute with them. It’s been making sick for about 2 months. Urgh. So yeah, definitely introvert!

    • Mind that’s I’m not shy neither and that I really like to see my friends (a lot!) but the gathering has to be under 5 people. I don’t dance, I don’t enjoy parties, etc… Well, actually, I feel a bit like your description!

    • I think my confusion comes from the fact that I’ve never been labelled a “shy kid”. Which I good, I mean, labels are dumb. But I’m often seen as outgoing, until people realize my social life is… ahem, limited 😆

      Good luck with your family vacation. Are you sure it should be called a “vacation”??? 😆

  2. The thing is, the introvert/extrovert divide isn’t about whether you’re a people-person or not. You can be in the company of plenty of people often, nevertheless you can still be an introvert.

    According to the Myers-Briggs Typology (the personality typology I am most familiar with), the introvert/extrovert dimension has more to do with what people do to us. Do we spend energy when we’re around people, or do we gain energy when we’re around people? After a stressful day, irrespective of what the stressor was, do you go alone and recharge by yourself, or do you go call your friends or family or anyone else and chat rewinding the day in the process? The former would be an introvert, the latter an extrovert.

    I am an introvert. I can deal with people, whether it’s in a classroom setting, or at the lab. I am not shy at all. I am professional, and I have a professional facade I portray when I am in these situations. Yet these situations use up my energy, and at the end of the day, I want to be alone and be by myself, either by plonking away on my laptop reading random Wikipedia articles, or just reading a book.

    Just a side anecdote, but sometimes it is useful to realize what personality type your partner is. For the longest time, my husband wasn’t aware that I was an introvert, so upon coming home from work, he would be so clingy and huggy, and I would just be grumpy, telling him to leave me alone! Of course that was awkward. Later on, he figured out that I need some minutes of me-time upon getting home from work, because after all, dealing with him is also dealing with a person, which means I am using my energy.

    • I’d say Feng is definitely an introvert. Like I said, I’m actually the social person of the family, which speaks volume about our social skills 😆

      Nowadays, I tend to recharge best by myself, being alone. But this is also the consequence of becoming a mum. Mark was very clingy when he was younger and now he still drains my energy, plus he is still young so when he is around, there is no escaping the constant chatter and drama. Sometime, it feels great to meet up with people, I feel awesome after a good chat, a moment spent together. But these moments are less spontaneous now that we are all busy and it feels draining just to set something up… it’s easier to escape by myself.

  3. Like everything else, there is a spectrum, and not every introvert is holed up in his house at all times, and not every extrovert is the life and soul of the party. For instance the Scotsman is an extrovert, after a long day he likes to go to the bar and meet his buddies. But when it comes to meeting new people he gets a little shy. He doesn’t even really know a lot of my girlfriends!
    I’m an introvert, at the end of the day I need time alone to recharge my batteries. I like nothing more than to workout or curl up with a book at home. But I’m not afraid of public speaking, I’m ok working with others and I’m not shy at all.
    It is really interesting to get to know yourself though. We live in a very extrovert society in a way, valuing people who can get in the room and socialize with everyone. Knowing what I was helped me come to term with it and stop feeling like a weirdo.
    I do think (paradoxalement) that a lot of bloggers are introvert. We like our alone time but we also like to échange ideas and go deeper when discussing ideas / meeting people

    • It’s funny because of all the bloggers I regularly interact with, I would have labelled you as an extrovert. I’m not sure why actually, maybe because you’re straightforward and seem to know how to speak to people…? Come to think of it, you are living in what I see as a quite “remote” place and you rarely mention social events, so I can see it now.

      • That’s funny 🙂 My boss was telling me today that I’m really lively and sociable. I guess I can hide it well 😉
        My other half gets annoyed though bcse I don’t want to hang out with people as much as he does. We had to discuss introversion vs extroversion
        Regarding your previous comments though I can see how having to tend to the need of a little human might change your perspective…

        • Are you two okay hanging out separately, though? This is one of my personal pet peeves, people who always want to hang out “as couples”, i.e. couple A meets couple B for drinks. I have to excuse Feng all the time and frankly, I enjoy spending time with friends alone, it’s not because I’m married that being Mrs. is my entire identity. Feng and I are both completely okay with that but I can tell some acquaintances are uncomfortable meeting me alone.

          • We habg out seperatly a lot haha I don’t know if it’s a good thing but he enjoys talking sports with his buddy while I like going for coffee with my GF. Even when we hang out with “couples” we’re not always together.
            It’s so important to us to be, well, ourselves. And not Mr and Mrs all the time 😉
            That said, we also do a lot together and I’ll often be the only girl with all his mates haha

          • I think it’s very healthy to hang out separately and have your own interests. Great if you share activities and interests too, but I find it sad when a man or a woman completely loses touch with friends and former interests just to do “everything together”.

  4. I don’t think I am shy person, I- easily- have a ice breaker conversation with a total stranger. When I went to Europe last year, my sister kind of surprise that I talked with any people I met, in train, during our run, while waiting for her do the shopping, etc. Early last year, I “made a friend” with a white old man, which happened to sit next to me on a swimming pool. He’s from Europe and had been live in Jakarta for over 20 years. We did chit chat and ended up…7 months later, his son who lives in Austria took us for a short walking tour when I was in Wien.

    However, as I reached this age…I compare my life with others. I know, It’s not good. Now I hate to see people, I hate to see how my old friends (seem) changed, I hate to see their achievements. They seem manage well between love, work, and what ever! I even reduced number of my acquaintances in Facebook, so I don’t need to know their life, their birthday, their opinions and vice versa. It annoys me! You do notice how big our population is, thus having 1000++ friends in Facebook s normal! Giving you a picture, I had 47 classmates during the 12 school years and I have 30 cousins(! ), bla bla..

    During Ramadhan like this, It is a common thing in big city to have reunion with your old friends (school, colleges, works, bla bla bla) for breakfasting (or we called it Ifthor in arabic). Ten years ago, I attended those reunion, almost every single invitation. I attend none for the past 3 years. Just like you, I only enjoy small accompany now. 4 people max.

    Oh em gee, such a long comment!

    • No, I love long comment, it’s fascinating to get a glimpse of another culture! 🙂 I can’t imagine having so many family members and acquaintances around. So would you say the social pressure is intense? I hate it when people compare their lives and achievements, I mean, there is stuff you brag about on Facebook but this is not the full picture and certainly not a measurement of happiness. People show what they like to show…

  5. I’m both an introvert and a shy person, but I also the kind of person who wish she had been something else 🙂 I don’t really know how to deal with people, especially with… friends. lol! I’m pretty intuitive and I used to understand a lot how the others work, I can predict how they are going to react, but I don’t know how to act myself to take a fair part in their lives without being too annoying or too distant… My +1 is an introvert too but he’s able to manage perfectly with people he doesnt know, especially my girlfriends. He’s just perfect : not too curious, but he’s sort of the perfect listener. I recognize myself in your son too 😉 And Billie is juste exactly the same. I wish I had gave her the ability to be comfortable with the others no matter what

    • I thought of you as well when writing this, especially you mentioned a few times that Billie looked shy, you sounded a bit concerned. Ok, maybe the word is too strong, but you noticed.

      You say you used to understand how people work–could it be the cultural difference if this is no longer the case, i.e. Québécois being different than French in friendship?

        • I agree, people here are so friendly on the surface but it’s hard to get deeper friendships.
          I found that every time the context was right and I erred on the side of being honest and shared a little more than a talk about the weather it went over well. I’ve had some really deep and interesting conversations with people at book club or parents of kids I babysit.
          Funny enough though, I have difficulties being friends with people closer to my age. A lot of them here come to ski and party. Not my thing 😉

        • Yes, I have the same feeling. People you barely know can be super intense and overshare, but then it’s hard to make real friends.

  6. Martin Penwald on

    I guess it is not useful to mention that I am an introvert.
    I noticed that in the North American culture, it is often considered as a handicap to be corrected, especially for men. Real men brag about the size of their car, their earnings, their penis, their boat, etc all the time.

    • Introvert united! Wait, we can’t unite. We are introverts. Shit.

      Real women should brag about being the best wife, mother and independent successful person who also has time to stay fit and stay tuned to current event.

      I am a fake woman.

      • Martin Penwald on

        A side effect of an continual appearance show. Competitiveness is not in my genes.
        If you want to lose time on a game, try something like “Pandemic” (which exists as a board game or an Android game) or “Space Alert” (I think only a board game) with 3 or 4 friends. They are cooperative games where either everybody win or everybody lose. I only play when I go back in vacation, and I like them rather than competitive games (but still, “Small World is cool, “King of Tokyo” is fast, and so on).

        • Oh cool, thank you! I have an Android, will download them.

          Like you, I’m not competitive at all. Just not in my genes. Was it ever an issue for you at school in France?

          • Martin Penwald on

            I don’t know if Space Alert exists on Android, but it is probably funnier around a table with a few friends.

            No, I’ve never really been in a competitve environnement. Beside I was good at school without working, so it was not an issue up to the Bac. After, there was no competition in the prépa where I was (I know it exists in other prépas and in Médecine too). And in école d’ingénieur, it’s vacation time.

          • I’m surprised to hear that, I’ve always thought these schools were competitive. Depends on the school and on your mindset, I guess. Plus, if you had the skills, the pressure was different. Many students try so hard because, you know, good schools, but they don’t have the skills…

          • Martin Penwald on

            The point is that Classes Prépas could be competitve, because the ones with the best scores go to the school, so if you can screw the competition, it is a bonus, but not everybody is an asshole, so where I was it was cool.
            And once you are in a école d’ingénieur, there is often a “esprit de corps” which appears.
            Think of something like the ENA (a lot of French politicians went through it, and they know each other). It works the same with the écoles d’ingénieur.

          • This is a world I’ve only only heard about, and of course people love to brag about “getting in” in hindsight. I guess it’s like med school, you can be a complete asshole or you can just study hard and make it just fine.

  7. My work life of last 10 years (I guess), which has involved a lot of speaking in front of people has helped me find this switch; flick it on and I am an extrovert who is fascinated by discovering oration and loves to engage people with humor and ideas.

    In a perfect world, I am happily a comfortable introvert.

    • An interesting mix! I found you both more introverted than extroverted, in a good kind of way: you seemed to plan and reflect about your immigration plan rather than jump in head first 😉

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