I learned the hard way making friends isn’t as simple as asking, “Hey, wanna be my friend?” Apparently, that’s just downright awkward and makes you sound like a creep. So when I moved to a foreign city and it came time for me to search for new pals, I realized that forming bonds wasn’t as simple as television shows make it out to be. And especially when you don’t know the language, those cliched and supposedly fail-proof lady topics like “shoes” and “boys” don’t always translate.
I’ve been aware of the concept of “actively” making friends (and actually thought I wasn’t half bad at it), but realized that previously in my life, it was a gradual building based on existing relationships. When I got to Paris in September, I was a player in a whole new ballgame. To make comparisons, you could even say I didn’t even know what baseball was. In my vision of what life across the Atlantic would be like, I always pictured myself with friends, assuming that it would just happen. But after three days of being alone, I realized, Oh merde, you are completely alone. It wasn’t that I didn’t know anyone in Paris, but that they weren’t potential girlfriend candidates (moms with big families, older friends of my parents). So I got to work and found that some methods were surprisingly effective, while other interactions fell flat. Here’s what I did; I hope it might provide some insight for you …
- Having a personal blog myself, I tapped into a network of local blogs. Finding bloggers was easy enough—once I found a few, I realized that many of these people were connected to each other either online or in real life. I began by emailing one woman, saying I loved her website, and extended the offer to get a drink sometime. She accepted, and the conversation was easy—I already knew about many of her interests, and she knew some of my story after seeing my blog.
My one failure in this area was the time I reached out to some bloggers without having read their blogs or figured out an agenda. I made a quick judgment about this duo with a joint style blog, clicking through a few pages, and automatically thinking, These people just look nice, I thought, and I shot off an email. Their reply was nice enough but very short—they would be happy to go out sometime and gave me one of their cell phone numbers. Something felt weird about the idea of texting a girl I’d exchanged only 100 words with. I wrote back to try to get the dialogue going, but it just wasn’t rolling. Looking back, I would have written a more detailed letter, and waited until I had something to invite them to with a common interest—a gallery opening or fashion party.
- I forced people to set me up. I sent an email to a few friends back in the States, asking them (nicely) if they could put me in touch with anyone they knew in Paris. Blind friend-dating, I found, is just as nerve-wracking as regular dating, and employs similar rules of courtship. The first step: a few one-on-one meetings, all within a pretty short period of time. When I knew I liked someone, I always extended the second invitation first, and alluded to a third. Signs that we were moving past being acquaintances to real friends came with one girl when she introduced other friends, and when I felt comfortable enough to flirt with guys in front of her or with her (if in a bar).
- I realized that I actually did have access to networks, even in a city where I knew no one. My college’s alum club turned out to be pretty active, and from Facebook I learned that a few random contacts were in fact living here—people from high school or college. Sure, maybe we weren’t friends to begin with, or we hadn’t talked in years, but reaching out sometimes provided even better opportunities, like invites to concerts and parties where I ended up meeting new people (some I liked even more).
- I tried the business card tactic, which I found, like with guys, had little return. I thought giving my info was an easy way to encourage contact, but more often, I got the impression that giving out my card confused people and muddled the lines between friendship and work. To my complete amazement, I once got an email from a French girl I randomly and drunkenly talked to in a bar—yet I think the concept of being so direct in French culture was more of a curiosity and amusement. My response to her letter went unanswered.
- I know it sounds creepy, but I also did a bit of stalking. For women whom I somehow didn’t feel comfortable about asking out on a friend date, I noted their extracurriculars—for example, yoga or language classes—that I would consider going to myself. All it took was, “Oh you do yoga? Where?” “Yes, I go to so-and-so’s class at 11 am — it’s great, you should try it.” Done. All you have to do is show up, you hang out without having to talk to each other, and then you have an experience in common to discuss after.