October 9, 2011 § Leave a comment
Watching Meeting People is Easy is easier than meeting people. Moving to a new city is difficult; moving to a new country and attempting to make friends is more difficult. Moving around a lot has forced me to be more outgoing, more independent, more resourceful, and more content with myself. I spend most of my free time alone; sometimes it gets to me, but I like the freedom.
But I’m not kidding anyone or myself, I much prefer to be meeting, talking, sharing, and dancing with people. In Istanbul I met a great friend and her wide circle through an open discussion night on Jezebel. Here in Vienna I had a great Thursday night drinking with a friend of a friend of a friend from France (we met by e-mail introduction). But the easiest way, for me, to meet people in foreign countries is through Couchsurfing, generally a website for free travel accommodations but also a way for all sorts of people to connect and explore new cities and countries together—natives included. I had some great experiences last week with folks from Spain, Greece, Romania, and Austria. I go to the weekly German conversation hour, and last week some new friends up and carried me off to another bar for an Austrian version of Quizzo. I played ping-pong on a public table with some Austrian students.
I even found my roommate on Couchsurfing.
This is Georg. He’s one of the tallest people I’ve ever met and he makes a mean palatschinken (crepes or pancakes filled, in his version, with chestnut cream and baked with a topping of sweetened marscapone cheese.) He’s also a top-notch meteorologist and was on the team which modeled weather systems for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver! Unfortunately he’s traveling for the next month (in Mallorca and Nepal—jealous?), so in the apartment is just me and FM4, a really great alternative radio station which broadcasts in German and English and plays the best Euro indie and electronica.
For various reasons I don’t have internet at home so last Sunday I hoofed it over to Museumsquartier, probably my favorite spot in Vienna right now. It’s a huge trapezoid-like space enclosed by a bunch of museums and bars, and the center is full of funky colorful benches where people hang out, drink, laugh, love, and who knows what else. On weekend nights it’s full of young people drinking cheap booze. They also have free wireless. I was making some Skype calls and catching up on e-mail when a Spanish guy at the next bench started talking to me. Most people in Museumsquartier are in groups so as two people riding solo, we hit it off, and I could relax in a foreign language I actually understood. But what guts this guy had! This is what I need to do, I told myself. I will be this person! I have been this person before. I will be this person again! Without the mediating influence of the Internet.
The past week was Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, some heavy-hitting holidays on the Jewish calendar. Everyone ever comes out of the woodwork to go to synagogue and I was happy to be one of them. After Yom Kippur services last night everyone poured out into the street, whipping out containers of breads and desserts, sharing and shaking hands. I had spoken with a few people during services but nothing much came of the conversations, just pleasantries. I spotted some people my age, including one guy who was pretty easy on the eyes. “Go talk to him, Sherri, just do it, just go talk. Go,” I said to myself (I really do talk to myself like this). “Go. Go. Go now, his friend just walked away.” Hesitate 10 seconds, a new one walks up to him, “Ah, it’s too late, I’ll go when he’s free next.” He’s free. “Go, go go, go now!” Nope. More friends. The last one walks away, he pauses 20 seconds, then heads back into the synagogue and disappears. My feet remained planted on the ground the entire time. It felt like this:
The street cleared. I left alone and inhaled, within the next hour, a bratwurst, a box of lo mein, a pistachio ice cream cone, and a Turkish coffee.
I don’t know why it can be so tough to approach people sometimes. You’ve got nothing to lose in doing so; either they’re open and you’ve made a new acquaintance, or they’re not interested and at least you’ve given it a shot and know. It’s better than mental games. And Garth ultimately got his dream girl.
Language is, of course, an issue. Everyone speaks English here, but all their group conversations take place in German. It feels strange to approach a new person in English and my German, while improving, only goes so far. I think also the nature of a tight-knit community like Vienna’s Jewish one exacerbates the situation. Everyone has known each other for years. Those people my age, they’ve grown up together in some pretty unique circumstances. How can I just insert myself into their lives? If I were in the States at my family’s congregation, how would I feel about some random foreigner sticking her hand in my face?
Actually, I’d probably really like it. I’ve never been disappointed with the random folks I’ve met in the US and abroad through spontaneous conversation; either they become friends or hilarious memories. Even the painfully awkward dates I had in Turkey were worth it for the anecdotes.
I ended the night on a high note, meeting up with Centropa’s Czech intern Martina and her American boyfriend, Clayton. We drank wine and talked about everything in the world. And it made me feel better, that I wasn’t a total social misfit and that there is hope. It had also been the most I’d spoken to anyone in a while.
It’s a new year and a new week and I have no idea what it’ll bring. It’s exciting. And I hope to be a little more active in shaping where and how it goes.