As some of you know, I moved last year; and had to tackle the challenge of finding my feet in a town where I knew no one. Time after time I had to be the ‘new girl’.
I travel. I’m used to meeting new people - fellow travellers take little encouragement to talk about the places they’ve visited and where they might go next. There’s even a standard introductory phrase: ‘Where are you from?’ It’s a phrase that invites someone to talk about him or herself, and it’s easy to develop a conversation from there.
There is no such standard introduction when meeting new people who are already established in their own social groups. I’ve tried: ‘How long have you lived in ...’ and received polite answers but it’s hard to move on from there, even when I try to pick up on something in their reply that I can ask about. It’s a salutary lesson.
For most people already have established friendship groups. Unlike travellers, they aren’t looking for new people to chat to. And so I have needed to be, if you like, pushier. I’ve made a point of giving people my phone number, asking for their’s, ringing and inviting them for coffee. I’ve knocked on doors of the flats where I live and offered tea. I’ve joined - what haven’t I joined! And it has paid off.
It’s not been easy - and it will take time to develop the sort of friendships that sustained me over the years I lived in my old house.
But ... or maybe that should be ‘and’ ... it takes effort, and sometimes more than a little bravado. I don’t always enjoy it, but I can do it. What is it like for someone with less confidence than I have? Someone with a disability who can’t get out there and edge into conversations? Working parents who have no time to chatter at the school gates? Working parents who spend ridiculous hours commuting and barely have energy for the children, let alone getting to know their neighbours?
I can do this - but many people find it difficult. Maybe that’s the lesson for us all - to make more space to welcome strangers, wherever they come from.