Tuesday, April 8, 2014

How to make friends in a new town

A few years ago I met a lovely couple who had moved to the Huon Valley with their (almost) adult kids. We met when I popped in to collect a rooster advertised 'free to good home' on Gumtree. They mentioned how hard they had found it to make friends here. I was really surprised by the comment, because we've been amazed at just how easy it was to meet people and get involved in our local community. Your kids' school and the neighbour's kids can be a great starting point for making connections when you move into a new town. But we don't have kids, so we've found other ways. Here are just a few:

Step outside your comfort zone. Try things you might not otherwise do, even things you don't think you'll enjoy. I don't like old movies. No interest in film or film stars at all. Before I moved here, I had hardly seen any pre-70s movies. Since moving here, on the first Sunday of almost every month I have seen a classic movie at the local Palais Theatre. The bar is open, everyone takes a plate of food to share, we have a laugh at the overacting and dodgy plots, conversations are started and friendships formed, some folk even dress up in theme for the occasion. I've tried rowing, joined a local history group, gone to see  folk music... none of which I would have ever even considered doing in Sydney. But it's fun to try something new and it's a good way to meet people with common interests and values.

Social media. Follow people and businesses in your local area on Twitter or Facebook. Read and follow local bloggers. Then if you get the opportunity to meet them in real life and introduce yourself at a function, do it. In a wonderful yet sad example of this, David made friends with Bruce because he had mentioned on Twitter that he rode a Ducati motorbike. David went out on a limb and rode his bike over to say hi in person. No agenda, just to say hi. Bruce suddenly passed away 18 months ago now, but I know David will always treasure that friendship formed over good coffee and a joint interest in Ducatis.

Accept invitations. All of them. Sounds obvious, but if someone is kind enough to invite you...

Get out of the house. Anywhere. Apart from one neighbour who showed up on our doorstep with a whole salmon, and our friends who we met when they dropped in to look at our new ride-on lawnmower on the recommendation of the guy who sold it to us, no one has ever come to our door to meet us. We met our neighbours down at the local pub through that simple social question "where do you live?" Would we have spent Friday evenings in a pub in Sydney? Probably not, but it opened conversations and connections that have made living here a whole lot more special. There are of course healthier options like exercise classes, the local business group, choir or theatre group.

Get a dog. Kids may be the best way to meet other people (parents), but dogs must come very close. Lots of people approach us to pat our dogs when we take them out. We also joined a local dog walking group to socialise our dogs - and ourselves.

People tell me they would like to move to 'the country', but they're afraid of leaving their friends and worried they might not make new ones. It's a valid concern. Community connections are so important. I can imagine that it's harder to meet people and make friends in some towns than others.

If you meet a new arrival in your town, say hello, get their email address or mobile number so you can forward invitations to events, remember their name and introduce them to others. That's what the kind people of Franklin did for us when we arrived, and we're very very grateful for it.

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