7 Tips to Make Friends…without being creepy.

A few weeks ago, Cécile, from the always fabulous Trying to be Conscious, passed on the “One Lovely Blog Award” to me (http://tryingtobeconscious.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/a-little-sugar-in-my-bowl/).  Thanks so much Cécile!!  If you haven’t already, you should all check out her blog, always funny and always spot on!

As with most awards, this one comes with a few rules.  First of all, I need to link back to the blog which awarded me, then pass on the award to up to 15 other blogs, and finally share 7 things about myself.   Per usual, I’m going to change it up slightly and instead of sharing 7 things about me, I’m going to share a bit of advice by listing what I believe to be the 7 best ways to make friends at bars.

Okay, so don’t get the wrong idea.  I’m not talking about creepily trying to hit on people but rather tips on how to approach a group of people or start a conversation with someone who looks like they could be fun.  When you move to a new country, city, etc. it can be difficult to figure out how to meet people to hang out with.  I mean, sure if you are into kickball leagues and book clubs you will be just fine, but what about the slackers like me (and MB…sorry honey: truth gun)?  We don’t “do” organized activities.  We like to talk about them and say how great they sound and say “totally send us the info and we will join up” but yeah…we don’t do that.  Instead, we either sit on the couch and watch TV or we go to bars.  So, how do we find like-minded slackers?  Well, here ya go…

Top 7 ways to meet strangers out at bars:

  • Sit at the bar!  Really, I can’t stress this enough; it should be number 1 on this list.  You are never going to meet anyone sitting at a table; in fact, I would go so far as to say that nothing even remotely interesting is going to happen to you there.  It makes me crazy when I come into a bar and my friends all want to sit in some back corner.  Bar going is like a sport to me, a sport in which I try to see how many interesting people I can talk to in a night.  I feel as though this is the true spirit of the bar and thus cannot understand those who besmirch this spirit by being table dwellers.  It is such an easy way to start a conversation because you are naturally forced into periods of waiting with complete strangers.  You can turn to the person next to you and whine about how long the bartender is taking or talk about how awesome the bartender is or make fun of someone in the bar who has just done something ridiculous.  While in this unique waiting period it is completely acceptable to speak to anyone without it being creepy and it is a great way to make new friends.
  • Offer to take pictures.  First of all, it’s a nice thing to do, but second of all, another great ice-breaker.  You see a group of people who look like they are a lot of fun and have a camera out, just offer!  Once in Bologna, I did this for a table next to us and within about 15 minutes we had pulled our tables together, enjoyed a meal, and ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the evening.  With just a “click” we managed to form our own clique!  “That joke was so lame.  I can’t believe I’m even going to keep reading after that.  I mean, cameras don’t even “click” anymore.  Do you remember those “Le Clic”* cameras from the 80’s.  Those were awesome.” 
  • Talk loudly.  Okay, every American does this anyway so to my American readers you can skip this one; BUT for the rest of you, pay attention.  Granted, talking loudly can be really annoying so you have to gauge it just right, however, if you can figure out the correct balance it can be an excellent way to meet people…especially if you are funny or interesting (boring people should also skip this step).  For instance, basically every single time my best friend and I leave the house we end up having funny exchanges with strangers who have overheard our absurd (and yes, hilarious – high five, friend) chatter.

“Sorry,” says the sales lady to us.  “I’m just laughing because everything you are saying is so true!”

“Right?”  My friend responds.  “Fifity Shades of Grey is so weird and over-rated but it really does make you want to have sex.”

We talked with this sales lady for almost 40 minutes after already purchasing our clothes.

  • Be a smoker.  “Oh my god!  Did she just write that?  So SO inappropriate.”  Yeah, yeah, I know but I’m convinced that somewhere there must be a statistic about smokers making friends more easily than non-smokers.  I mean, let’s think about this for a second, we they are forced outside in small groups often without any music or bar, so no distractions, in which conversations with strangers can be easily induced.  I mean, good grief, all you have to do is ask for a lighter and BAM! CONVERSATION.  But okay, if you don’t want to risk your life and your health than you can always find the people who are left behind by their smoking friends and bond over the fact that they are all idiots.
  • Be polite.  You Mother was right, you will catch more bees with honey; and if you are interested in bee-catching or friend-making then be sweet!  Many times, I have started a conversation by using a simple “excuse me” or by picking up someone’s jacket or catching a purse that is falling off a chair.  People appreciate it and it can easily serve as your “in”.  Talk about how annoying it is that the backs of the chairs are round so things won’t stay on them or show them the hooks underneath the bar (I assume that of course you are AT THE BAR) where they can hang things.  Everyone likes a helping hand and it is a good way to make a great first impression.
  • Find the loners.  Often in my travels I have found myself sitting alone at a bar and I would have been thrilled to have a group of strangers come and ask me to join their party.  “What?  Doesn’t she know about stranger danger?  This is bad advice.”  If you are in the mood to make some new friends this can be a great way to do it.  Since you and your friends are obviously standing at the bar (and if the loner is smart then they are as well) then you can easily ask if this person feels like joining.  Maybe they will think you are crazy, maybe they will turn out to be crazy themselves, or maybe you will end up meeting someone really cool who ends up being a long-term friend…believe me, it happens.
  • Find something in common.  This is the most important of all of these little tips and is really the whole point of the exercise anyway, isn’t it?  To meet someone who you find interesting or shares an interest that you have.  Having something in common is what puts people at ease.  So use any one of these methods or a combination and maybe you will stumble across someone who just moved to your town, who is from a different country, who speaks a different native language, and who also thinks that Back to the Future III was completely under-rated and actually an amazing film.  Hey, it could happen!

Good hunting!  (sorry, just finished Battlestar Galactica)

Now for the fun part – getting to pass this award on!

* In case you have no idea what I am talking about: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Le-Clic-110-Point-and-Shoot-Camera-with-built-in-flash-/221050012094?pt=Film_Cameras&hash=item33779b81be  This is the exact model of the one I had; I am sure that shortly it will be sported by some 20-something hipster as opposed to a rockin’ 8 year old with leggings, a puff-paint t-shirt, and wicked big-bow headband.  That’s right, I was rad.

Expat Entertainment

In her most recent post, Chickster from Up, Up, and Awayz (http://www.upupandawayz.com/2012/05/its-awards-season.html)  awarded me with the Liebster Award.  Thanks so much, Chickster!

The Liebster Award is for blogs with under 200 followers and has no standing rules; but she has asked that I follow the guidelines from the Versatile Blogger Award and post 7 things about myself.  So, I’m going to post the 7 things that I find most entertaining about being an expat.

7.  Bon Voyage!  Over the last four years I’ve spent a lot of time on airplanes and in airports.  While this certainly has its disadvantages (see #4) there are also certain benefits to being a constant international traveler.  For one thing, I do it really well, I know exactly what to expect on long flights and I am always prepared; my on board carry-on bag has been perfected, I know exactly what I will need to be wearing in order to be comfortable on a plane for 12+ hours (don’t wear jeans, NEVER wear jeans),  I am aware of what my entertainment options are on board…sometimes I plan it.  Okay, so I will watch Dirty Dancing and then Pretty Woman.  Second of all, I know airports.  For instance, I know that if I have a really long layover at the Amsterdam airport that they have spas that I can use (seriously, this is one of the best things ever, what better way to spend a five hour layover than getting a massage and facial).  I know that if I am flying internationally out of Los Angeles that I will want to eat ahead of time because the international terminal is tiny – there are like three places to buy food and last time I paid 12 (that’s right, 12) dollars for a turkey sandwich that was totally average.  This may sound silly, but seriously, knowing what lies ahead on long journeys can go a long way in making them more comfortable.

6.  The Timbuktu Clause.  Another thing that entertains me about being an expat is that a lot of your friends and family back home don’t really know where you live.  For instance, when I lived in New Zealand, if any natural disaster happened anywhere in the ring of fire, I would immediately get emails from people asking if I was okay.  There could be a typhoon in Fiji and people would want to make sure we still had electricity.  Here in France, everyone just assumes that I live in Paris.

“So, you live in Paris, that is so cool!”

“What? No, I just told you, I live in Grenoble.”

“So tell me about your life…in Paris.”

It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I explain that I live in Grenoble, people still ask me about my fabulous life in Paris.

5.  This is not real.  You remember that night five years ago when you got completely wasted with all your friends and your boss and you decided to streak through the neighborhood?  Great if you do, but no one else will because they weren’t there.  One of the great things about being an expat is that embarrassing stories from your past don’t haunt you in your current life.  This also means that you can convince yourself that your new embarrassing stories won’t haunt you in your future life (this is particularly helpful if you do not know how long you will be staying in the country).  Did you embarrass yourself in front of someone you were interested in?  Did you mess up and get a horrible reprimand at work?  Did you split your pants open at a restaurant?  None of this matters because as an expat you can just shrug and tell yourself that it isn’t real life, this isn’t really where you live, right?  It is one of the most brilliant (and untrue) expat rationalizations.

4. Travel Traumas.  Now you may be wondering why I would find traumatic traveling situations entertaining, and while they are happening they are not.  However, afterwards, they usually make for hilarious stories and you get to wear your survival like a badge of honor.  When MB had to bribe a security officer to be allowed to leave Chad it was scary but afterwards it made for a great story and totally upped his street cred (that’s right, my fiancé how to bribe corrupt government officials, what can your fiancé do?).   When I left my passport on a bus bench and missed my flight to the Philippines it was decidedly un-funny, as crying at the airport usually is (https://breadispain.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/jamais-deux-sans-trois/).  How does someone forget their passport on a bus bench, you ask?  A valid question.  I was using it to fan myself because it was hot outside and I didn’t want my makeup to melt off.  That’s right, I ended up losing the single most important travel document that any person in the world has for the sake of my vanity.  Proud moment?  Not really…but damn funny story later.

3.  Party favor.  Another great thing about living the expat life is that you always have plenty of interesting small talk.  An expat never has to have that awkward conversation at dinner parties when you get stuck talking to someone with whom you have nothing in common.

“So, you work in HR?  That’s cool.  I actually know someone who…um…also works in HR.”

“Oh really, what are the chances?”

“Right?”

“Right.”

“So um, how do you know Tom and Sally?”

“Tom works with me…you know, in HR.”

DEAR GOD.  We have all been there and it is awful.  As an expat, you never have to endure this.  If you are at a party overseas, people will be curious to know how your experience has been in their country and how you are liking it; and if you are back in your home country people will be curious to know what it was like living overseas.  Never again will you have to feign interest in a golfing story.

2.  Sweet Little Lies.  Because I am evil, I also think one of the funniest things about living the expat life is that you can make up all sorts of stuff and no one will ever be able to call you on it (unless they have lived in the country that you are spreading lies about – awkward).  For example, just last night two Scottish expats spent ten minutes trying to convince me that haggis was an animal with three legs.  Anyone from Scotland would think this was hilarious but there are probably a few foreigners out there who would totally believe it.  This is, without a doubt, one of the things that amuses me most about being an expat because…well, because it is fun to mess with people (there, I said it).  By the way, have I told you about Drop Bears? (http://australianmuseum.net.au/Drop-Bear)

1. Cool looking passport.  There is really not much else to say.  It is a vain, self-congratulatory sort of thing but it is true.  I LOVE having a full passport, I love flipping through it and seeing all the stamps of the places I’ve been to; it drums up a lot of great memories and stories but it also makes me feel unbelievably cool, I shamefacedly admit it.

And there you have it, the top 7 things that I find entertaining about being an expat!

The Beau Reve

People say that when you begin to dream in another language that you are really starting to get it.   I suppose this shows that the new language has finally made enough of an impact on your brain to be able to seep into your subconscious.  Recently, I had just such a dream.  However, in my dream my subconscious and brain concocted a special little treat for me.

I can just imagine them strategizing:

Brain:  Okay, so what do we want to do tonight?

Subconscious:  Man…I don’t know, tidal wave?

Brain:  I’m so over the tidal-wave-coming-at-you-dream.  It symbolizes stress, duh.  I mean, if she hasn’t gotten the message by now then she never will.  I want something fresh, something different.

Subconscious:  Naked in public?

Brain:  Nah, it’s so lame, totally 1980’s sitcom.  Anyway, that one doesn’t seem to unnerve her that much.  I’m looking for something more entertaining.  It’s been slow lately.

Subconscious:  …sex dream?

Brain:  What?!  No way, dude.  You always end up putting some weird element in there.  It makes me uncomfortable.  I mean, Kevin Arnold from The Wonder Years!  What was that about?”

Subconscious:  Whatever, we loved that show.

Brain:  All I know is that I ended up having to work out some serious guilt issues about Winnie Cooper.

My Subconscious shrugs.

Brain:  Hmmm…we could always do a dream with mean friends from the past.

Subconscious:  Ugh.  Please no, those are the worst.  They are always so painfully obvious and allegorical.  Vomit.

Brain:  Well, we have to come up with something.  We can’t keep her awake forever.

A moment passes.

Brain:  Haha, actually we totally could.  I could start coming up with lists right now.  She’ll never sleep!

Subconscious:  Ha, right?!  But seriously, it is so much easier when she just takes a Lunesta.  I could use some time off.

Brain:  Wait a minute…something new is coming in…something interesting, is that…no way, is that French?!

Subconscious:  You’re kidding?  It’s finally crossed over?  We can use it?

Brain:  Yeah dude, we got it if we want it.  What what! (my Brain sometimes masquerades as a character from Cougar Town) 

Subconscious:  Do people even say that anymore?  …Okay.  So, what are we gonna do with this?

Brain:  Oh, it’s gonna be so good.  This is what we do:  she’ll be in her dream, somewhere totally normal and commonplace in France.  Everyone will be speaking in perfect French but she won’t be able to come up with the right sentences.  She’ll respond to the perfect French that you and I are creating, – so in essence she is creating – , with the broken French that she uses in everyday life.

Subconscious:  Woah, what a mindf*ck.

Brain:  Right?

Subconscious:  So like, when she wakes up she will realize that she dreamed in correct French but that she still isn’t able to use it when she is awake.  Just wait until Conscious hears about this.  You are an evil genius.

My Brain lets out a malevolent laugh a-la Count Dracula. 

And Scene.

Yes, this dream did actually happen.

I actually dreamed in French, which was correct.  Everyone else in my dream could speak fluently and effortlessly except for moi; I was still speaking in my current level of French.  At first, I found this hugely unnerving but now I have decided that it should give me hope for the future.  Clearly, I’ve got the right components rolling around in my head, I just haven’t quite figured out how to put them all together.  I just hope that at the next strategy meeting my Conscious decides to show up.

Life and Foie Gras

“So what do you think?”

MB and I are whispering in the kitchen.

“I mean, I guess we could,” he says.

“Is it too much?  Maybe it is too much.”  I am feeling doubtful as I look over at my guests.

“Well, it is probably too much but who cares?”

This seems like a good point and I grab the jar of foie gras out of the cupboard.  A friend of mine from the U.S. is staying with is for one night with two of his ski buddies that I have just met.  Even though they are not hungry and we are going to fondue later that evening, I cannot resist the urge to ply them with French goodies.  I have already put out a cheese plate and now I am pulling out a bottle of sauterne and onion confit for the foie gras.

“Wait!  We don’t have baguette!”  MB says.

“That’s okay,” I say, throwing on my coat.  “I will go and buy some!”

MB looks at me incredulously.

“Really?”

“Yeah, it’s totally fine, you stay here and drink wine.  I’ll be right back.”

MB can’t believe his luck; this never happens.

Normally, to get me to leave the house at night time when it is about -10˚C (7˚F) there would need to be some sort of disaster, maybe there is a burglar or a fire…even then, it is possible I would choose death over being cold (depending on how much wine I have consumed).  However, the mere notion of being able to serve foie gras for the first time to two people I’ve never met has me shooting out of the house like some sort of weird food-oriented super hero (maybe with an “FG” logo on my unitard…and a slight pot belly).

Upon return from the bakery, I crack open the foie gras and pour the wine.  I watch, expectantly as our two guests try their first ever bit of foie gras.  Casually I take a sip of my wine, acting as though I don’t care at all whether or not they think it is totally amazing.

Slowly, one of them begins to speak.  “It’s-,” he breaks off and takes another bite.  “It’s not what I expected.”

“Not what you expected good or not what you expected bad?”  My voice sounds tense as I desperately try to keep my cool disinterest.

“Definitely, definitely not what I expected in a good way.”

MUHAHAHAHA!  SUCCESS!

I’m thrilled.

Throughout my entire life, I have cherished the moments when I’ve been able to watch someone else enjoy something that I, too, have enjoyed.  It’s like sharing a wonderful secret.  Once, in a book store a lady exclaimed loudly at me in excited terms about a book that I was considering buying, her family looked at her aghast at her show of enthusiasm towards a completely random individual; but I totally got it.  One of the most wonderful gifts of our existence is to share the things that give us joy.  It’s the reason your neighbor comes to make you fondue, or why you take your parents to your favorite spot in a new town, it’s why you sit through a movie you’ve seen a million times just so someone else can see it for the first, and it’s why, with a migraine headache in -10˚ weather, you will run out to buy baguette for two brand new acquaintances.

Bonjour!

France. 

A country that is, by many, considered the most romantic place in the world.  A country hailed for their culinary tradition, a country that conjures up images of sunny vineyards sloping down into luscious green valleys, a country of castles and art, of literature and music.  A place where everyone is chic and people are effortlessly cool.     

It is also a country with a complicated and tumultuous history, a place with a reputation for sulky women, lecherous men, and a less-than-friendly population.  A country riddled with stereotypes about cleanliness, hygiene, and what sorts of bizarre things they happily consume. 

But what is the reality?  I come here as a foreigner but I live with a native.  I have one foot on the inside and one foot on the outside, an observer who must also be an adapt.  I’m not here as a tourist; this is my life. 

(An excerpt from an early conversation my boyfriend and I had while still living in Australia)

“So, I hear that bread is very important in France, yeah?” 

My boyfriend’s face takes on a look of complete seriousness.  “Ah, mais oui, baby.  So, you know how to say ‘bread’?”

“Bien sur!”  I’m so proud of my beginner’s French. 

(disclaimer: the following will be spelled phonetically)

“Do P-ah,” I say with flourish.

“Deu paihrn,” he corrects. 

“What?  That’s what I said, do P-ah.”

“No, no deu paaaaiiiiihhhhrrrnnnn.”   

Do Paaaaaaaaaaaah-un.”  I say with dramatic flair and not a little irritation. 

“Deu paihrn,” he says again, quickly, as though perhaps if he says it matter-of-factly I will simply be able to change the way my mouth has been trained to make shapes and get it immediately. 

“It’s not like you don’t know what I mean.  What does it matter as long as I can be understood?  Ugh.  How is it spelled?”

deh ouu-“

Ahhh, English alphabet, please,” I’m whiny now in my defeat at the hands of French pronunciation.

“I’m trying to help you learn.”

“I know!  So please spell it for me so that I can understand.”  I have fully reverted to a foot-stomping child.

“d-e for deu and p-a-i-n for bread.”

“Bread is pain?”

“What?”

“Bread is pain?  It is spelled like pain?”

“Oh yes, I never thought of it that way but yes, bread is pain.”

A metaphor for life in France?  We shall see.