Below me Dundee sprawled. Its shops and tenements coursed down the hill to the waterfront like a stagnant lava flow. The bustling noise of over 147,800 residents wafted across the city—a symphony of lively urban sounds. I tried to pick out familiar sounds, like a music fan trying to pinpoint their favourite cellist or violinist in the parade of melodies. Was there a soccer match over the hill? A cultural dance through the alley? The chatter of a book club in the corner of this cafe? Where could I squeeze in, in this city?
The Good Times.
Time and time again I’ve felt this social distance after arriving in a new place. I’m a relatively shy person and do my best friendship-building through shared activities. When you’re busy learning how to sculpt there’s little room for internal judgement, for example, so it’s easier to act natural.
In my early years of adult life this kind of social-learning was fostered by my universities. Events were practically thrown at me. There were email notifications, videos, Facebook pages, posters and even people running around announcing events.
Then when I was studying in Thailand I was assisted by the bond easily struck up between fellow expats. We shared travel interests, home-country recipes (because nothings is more special than being homesick together), political misgivings and stories of cultural mistakes. There was also a student-abroad support program with events to keep us busy.
Then I graduated. The social safety net dropped away.
That’s when it hit me. Hard.
What should I do now? Institutions had been shoving me into new friendships my whole life up till this point.
Should I strike up a conversation with someone at the grocery store then dig for friendship? Is that a reasonable thing to discuss after comparing toilet paper brands? Two ply or three? She likes me, she doesn’t?
I had these anxious thoughts in Cambridge and I’m having them now in Dundee.
Just before J and I left Cambridge I had a dream about trying to meet my neighbor in the tenement building we were moving into. In the dream I baked cupcakes and set them by my neighbor’s door as a peace-offering and bid for friendship.
The next day I found the cupcakes plastered all over my entry. She’d thrown them one-by-one at my door.
A day later I bumped into an opportunity for revenge. A pizza boy was climbing the shared stairwell as I was heading down. Somehow I discovered that the pizza was for my neighbor, paid off the pizza boy and immediately bound back up the stairs. At my neighbor’s door I calmly lifted out the pizza, stared at the door for two seconds in reconsideration, shrugged, leaned back and swung it as hard as I could.
It made a spectacular splat.
Moments later I was giggling safely behind my door when it began to vibrate from a forceful series of knocks. Uh oh.
I opened the door. A girl in bright bubblegum-pink hair glared back at me. In my terror I referenced some obscure anime, telling her she looks like so and so (dreams are vague).
Her anger melted into delight. She brought up another anime. I added another. We fell deep into a discussion of our favourite movies right there at the frontlines of a barely avoided verbal battle. With that we shared the floor happily ever after…
In reality my neighbor turned out to be a gruff, middle-aged man with two big dogs.
I haven’t baked any cupcakes.
Thankfully I’m not doomed to involuntary hermit-hood.
There’s an app for that (well a website).
Meetup is awesome. It’s not a watered down dating website, it’s a database of social groups.
When I found the website I discovered tons of groups in Cambridge. They were oriented around many things: books, sports, running, arts, tech, science, biking, hiking, partying, gaming and even meditation and astral travel.
I ended up attending quite a lot of events and made a few friends in the process.
Dundee is not as much of a social butterfly, but it still hosts six very diverse groups. There’s a social group, a walking group (I’m told walking or “rambling” is a national past-time here), a mountaineering group, a gay singles group, a digital rights discussion group and a database development group.
I’m looking forward to finding out what kind of people I’ll meet.
No Luck With Meetup?
Tip 1: Try Facebook.
If you happen to be in Dundee, or somewhere similarly lacking in Meetup groups, try Facebook. My partner and I have noticed that there are a number of groups in the city who prefer using FB as their announcement board.
Places that might use Meetup in one city may prefer FB, or their own website only, in other cities.
For example, Cambridge’s MakeSpace (a social workspace) had a Meetup group and its own website, whereas Dundee’s MakerSpace prefers sticking to its own website only.
Tip 2: Ask at the shops.
Scoping out shops that sell items related to your interests will help you find out about local events too.
Gaming shops (and by this I mean board and card games) are a great example. They usually host game nights themselves and if not will be able to direct you to local groups that do.
Tip 3: Voice an observation.
Do you like that person’s style? Work up some nerve and tell them.
Did that guy pick up your favourite book at the library? Recommend it.
Is that chick about to select the worst toilet paper in the shop? Rescue her.
You just might be saving a future friend.