The Written Word

Strangers NO MÁS – On Being Social

High School Cliques

By the time most folks get past school and/or college, they have their friendship circles pretty much in place. Maybe they add some individuals after they create children, when new families come together around that activity. Maybe even a work buddy becomes more and gets included in the festivities. But generally, that’s pretty much it. Circles are formed early and feel closed off to others as an adult. So what happens if a person decides to move away from their circles? And how does one find others to fill the void?

This was a serious question for me when I decided back in 2014 to move from Virginia to Florida. A state in which I knew exactly zero people. There I was, newly separated and a thousand miles away from anyone who knew my name. And I craved company. So I took a page out of the book of what to do to find potential suitors in the 21st century … I went online.

There is a site called meetup.com that does exactly what I wanted. Basically, folks create “groups” and post “events” that the group is going to do. You simply find an event that meets your fancy and you attend. If you like the group, you go to more. It’s just that easy.

To put this into the real world … there I was, exactly one week into my new Florida Life, when I decided to see if I could make new friends in a new city. And so I selected a group called “Miami Fun Inexpensive” who was going to see a Beatles tribute band not too far from where I lived. And in that short evening, I actually found more. I found what became family. Seriously. I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s what they became. I tried several other groups with some success, but “MFI” stuck. There was something about the group that just felt welcoming, and having them in my life made the scary re-build of my life completely not so scary. And it couldn’t have been a more straight forward connection. I just opened myself to the possibility, and that possibility became reality.

Skip ahead to 2017. Nikki and I are heading to Barcelona where … we know exactly no one. Sound familiar? So we did what worked for me in Florida, we again used meetup.com. Now it’s a little different over there. It feels more like a “business generator”. In Miami, groups are run by people for people. In Barcelona, it feels like they are run to drive folks to bars and restaurants. But the end result is the same. We went to our first “BCN Meetup” shortly after we arrived, and somehow made incredible friends almost immediately. Several of us, from many different cultures, found ourselves staying until the end of the event and then wandering together all throughout the city until the wee hours. And those people stayed our friends. Just incredible. Add in a pinch of opportunity to your life and viola.

I need to perhaps take a moment here and admit some things, since some of you are shaking your heads and saying how easy it is for someone like me to do that, but you never could. I am what you would call a “Shy Extrovert”. I welcome and love meeting new people, true. And when stressed, being around crowds of humans relaxes me. But I am also very shy and more than a little hesitant to initiate first contact. It’s a conundrum to say the least. So I get it when introverts and others like me say that it’s so hard, especially in places far away from your comfort zone. But believe me, it’s not only possible, it’s actually quite easy.

Expat Life

We also discovered another online group called InterNations. Like meetup, it’s geared towards groups and events, but with a slight twist. It’s purposed towards the expat community.

Now that doesn’t mean you have to be an expat. Not even close. We weren’t and still enjoyed the experience. Again, you have groups within a specific city and those groups host events. And for us, InterNations felt more like what we were accustomed to back in Miami. Most of the activity was generated by people for people. And again, we went to events and met some incredible folks.

InterNations is also a little different in that it’s more than just “groups”. The entirety of the city that is represented also has its own umbrella group. Complete with events, forums, and whatnot. They have what are known as Ambassadors to help people new to the city to ease into life there. So it’s not just a way to make friends, it’s a way to make a life. And when we return to Barcelona in May, I am planning on becoming an Ambassador to help others as I have been helped.

The Old Fashioned Way

Nikki and I were in Cologne, Germany. Only for ten days, as it was the end of that trip. On our last day, we had decided to go to a “Hippy Party” and there we unexpectedly made some new friends the old-school way. Let me explain.

The place was crowded. We had arrived early (unusual for a Cuban, by the way) and had staked out this large circular chaise lounge. There were two German women wandering around, looking for a place to sit. With no success. So they asked if they could perch on the end of our lounge. Well it didn’t take much time before they and we took up the whole thing together and were chatting like old pals. In fact, scroll up and look again at the top photo in this post, that’s them.

Anyway … somehow that meeting turned into us hopping into their car, driving an hour to their town, and spending most of the evening with them. Remember that I did say this was our last day in Europe and that the next morning we would be flying back to the states. LOL! But still, that friendship became permanent.

When we arrived again in Europe in 2019, we had to go “meet” them in person again. One problem … one of them (Andrea) was planning on going to the states for a holiday shortly after we arrived in Europe.  So we timed it so that we could get to Germany and see them off.  Be their token experts at all things Americana during their going-away party. 

So … the day before their soirée, we landed in their hometown and invaded one of their homes.  It was amazing to me how you can find people, talk for a few hours, and then feel like you have friends for life. And seeing them again was just that.

Anyway, the next day dawned early.  The day of the party.  Nikki and I killed some time wandering around the town of Düsseldorf.  It’s a really nice little pace.  Definitely worth a few days, despite the fact that it always seems to rain on us in Germany.  But it was the fiesta that we were there for.  And at 17:00 (5pm to you), we made it to the party.  And only an hour late.  Seems I can’t read subway directions anywhere.  🙂 

Skipping ahead to the next morning, I looked at my phone where I had scribbled notes.  Apparently I had written: “Privl8dg3d.  Tanflgine in bathroom”. Any idea what that might mean?  Yea, me either. 

Obviously I partook of a few German beers that night.  And maybe some sort of red liquor.  And maybe even some rum.  According to the party critique the next day, I had a grand old time.  But what I do remember clearly is that even in the midst of an event where very little English was spoken, there was a tremendous sense of togetherness.   

I was at one point introspective about how a man (me) who lives in the United States could find himself at a backyard party in Germany, mostly surrounded by complete strangers, yet not feeling like it was unusual at all.  Then again, that might have been the drink.  🙂

I do remember the “Privl8dg3d” part.  I was speaking with a man there about this very thing.  Telling him that one must allow themselves to be in situations that eventually lead to others.  He said those people were privileged.  Not in the sense that they are somehow more special than others.  Rather it was in the truest sense of the word.  It is indeed a privilege to get to experience new things and new people, just because you open yourself to them. 

Now as far as the bathroom reference, I know at the time that it seemed even more important, but honestly, I’ve got nothing now.  Just a complete blank.  

The Italian Soccer Team

One night, I think in was in mid-June, we had been on the go for what seemed like forever.  So we decided to have a quick bite to eat and just call it an early evening.  Just that, nothing more.  So we walked around the corner to a nearby seafood place with an outdoor patio.  Dinner was exactly what we expected.  We ordered, we ate, we prepared to go home and chill.   

Then the Italian football team walked in. 

OK, I need to go back a few minutes first.  We were sitting on the outside edge of the patio, in the corner nearest the restaurant.  Next to us was a single table, with a girl dining by herself.  And then several empty seats and tables beside her, out towards the street.   

She finished just before us and was in the process of leaving.  Actually got up and was fiddling with her things when she decides she wants one more drink.  Only problem is the restaurant staff had already cleaned her table and pushed it together with the other empty ones for the Italian football team that had just walked in.  Nowhere for her to go. 

Well, I’ve never seen so much chivalry and instant problem solving in my life.  The team was comprised of twenty-something males, plus their coaches who were older.  Well, the girl’s space was re-carved out, one of the older guys went and bought her flowers, and it was then somehow decided that all of the tables in that row, including ours!, was going to be a communal thing that evening.   

So much for a quiet night, right? 

The team members spoke Italian, German, and English.  The girl spoke Russian and German.  Nikki had her Spanish and she and I our English.  Three dozen people piled together, with flowers, and all those languages just worked.  Somehow we spent hours with them, and never once did conversation lag.  We laughed until we cried.  We discussed things like I had never discussed before.  At some point, the restaurant came out and started giving us free shots of liquor. 

It’s funny, because the evening was two-fold.  On one hand, there was the group.  Sitting there with a group of 20-year-old dudes discussing politics.  Oh shit, I thought, this won’t be good.  Until after just a few minutes when I realized they should have thought that way about me instead.  They were absolutely knowledgeable, eloquent, and a joy to talk to.  About one of those subjects that is never supposed to be discussed with strangers.  I was amazed at the depth at what they knew, and how they interpreted world events. 

On the other hand, there was our original plan to chill.  I think, in a way, we did get our “early night in” rest and relaxation.  Instead of walking for miles and taking in new sights, we stayed in a single place.  Talked and laughed and ate.  Just with a few more people than the two of us.  It was indeed relaxing, and to use a word I wouldn’t normally use, pretty damn magical.  That evening sticks with us. 

I think what I found most incredible about that night is that what we experienced really isn’t that unusual.  People are open to conversation, regardless of age, nationality, or any other label.  Throughout all of our travels in Spain (and in places like Morocco as well!), it’s not something we even think about.  It’s just the way it is. So I suppose the bottom line is that if one opens themselves to opportunity, meeting new people just happens.

Communications and Language

As I alluded to above, languages can feel like barriers, but they don’t have to be. I’ve been to meetups where I found myself laughing at jokes being told by the group, and then suddenly noticing that I had no idea what language was being spoken. I knew it wasn’t one I knew, but I was still involved and laughing. Not knowing the vocabulary of a language isn’t a wall. Because we all also “speak” with our bodies and our mannerisms. People do not shun others for not being able to use common syntax and words. Most folks just try whatever else is at hand to make communication possible.

But Wait, There’s More

There are so many ways to become part of a community. Volunteerism is a great way. Online groups like meetup.com and InterNations are others. Just chatting with strangers when you have the opportunity. I think personally that the most important aspect is to just go with the flow. I never expected to go somewhere and find a BFF, I just wanted to make company and have conversations. Enjoy the moment. Sometimes we found absolutely nothing, most times we found an enjoyable evening, and every now and again we discovered people who became lasting friends. So yes, not only is it possible, it’s inevitable. As long as you get the hell out of the way and let it happen. 🙂

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Captain Rick
Our dear Cap’n has been sailing the seas of life for 50-some years. Somewhere between impulsive and a stick-in-the-mud, he finds himself embarking on journeys that will either solidify his wandering ways, or give him a nervous breakdown. Come join him on his new adventures in moving pictures on YouTube at https://youtube.com/ThePirateWanderer.

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