My friend, Carol, lives in Amsterdam, a bit more than two hours from Groningen, where I live. She used to live in Assen, which is only 20 minutes away. Yet I see her much more often now than I did then.
Cities have status. I didn’t realize this until Carol moved away. When she lived in Assen, I’m not sure you could even have called us friends. We saw each other from time to time, but generally only at various group events or dinner parties. I only visited her in Assen once; otherwise, she came here.
When she moved, the relationship between our two cities shifted. While Groningen has higher status than Assen, Amsterdam has much higher status than Groningen.
So now she never comes here. I go see her.
Because of this city status shift, our relationship has shifted.
I love to spend a day or two in Amsterdam from time to time. So each time I go there, I contact her and we go to lunch together or go shopping or take a walk, and we talk and talk and talk.
And I’ve learned, since she moved, that Carol is a great listener. She’s someone who sees through what you’re saying and cuts through to what’s really happening underneath the words. She’s become a real friend. (And a great photographer as well; here’s a link to her website, if you’re interested!)
Assen isn’t bad. It’s a small town and not very exciting, I would say. But, to tell the truth, I’ve never spent any significant amount of time there, so I don’t really know.
Groningen isn’t a bad place either, by any means. It’s a small city, about 200,000 people. The population is young, on average, because of the excellent university that’s the city’s biggest employer. It has everything a city needs in terms of shopping, culture, and so on. There’s a world-class modern art museum, some lovely older districts, and a bicycle-friendly traffic-free center.
But Amsterdam … that’s in a whole different league. People come from all over the world to see that incredibly special city. People from Groningen go to Amsterdam for shows, shopping, sightseeing, events … everything.
When Carol lived in Assen, Groningen was the higher-status city. So our contact, such as it was, took place in Groningen. Now that she lives in Amsterdam, our contact only happens there. The higher-status city wins.
This extends to other friends as well. I’ve lived in Groningen for 17 years but only had a handful of visits from overseas friends. They do come here to Europe – some live here in Europe – but expecting them to travel this far off-the-beaten-tourist-track is just too much to ask.
It used to bother me that people would visit, say, Brussels, or Paris, or Berlin, and not come here to visit me. But since Carol moved to Amsterdam, I’ve come to understand: I live in a low-status city, and I have to be the one to travel.
So when friends travel anywhere nearby, I go meet them there, if my schedule allows. Yesterday I took the train to Rotterdam to meet a childhood friend and his wife who were there for a conference (Thanks for a lovely day, Jeff and Dana!).
I’ve never explored Rotterdam before. I enjoyed their company, along with a pleasant stroll around an old section of the city called Delfshaven, which I’d never seen before.
So what’s not to like? Living in a low-status city has its perks.
Do you live in a low-status city? Do you travel to see friends in higher-status cities? Does it bother you that they don’t come visit you at home? Leave a comment below, and please share this post!