I took some time off because, Allume! Which was amazing! I hope to share more with you all, but first, a HUGE, HUGE, THANK YOU to those of you who bought “Shalom in the City” shirts, those will be shipped out in the coming week. I’m easing back into mom-life so I asked my good internet friend, Sarah Quezada to share with on her own friendship project this year. Sarah’s New Year’s Resolution was to take social risks! How fun is that?!?! This funny and inspiring story makes me want to pick up strangers (with the very best intentions) and keep taking social risks this October.
My daughter zipped down the slides and dug in the mulch. I sat on a park bench, enjoying the sunny weather and the short reprieve from addressing the frenzied demands of a toddler. Another woman sat next to me, her stroller occupied by a sleeping infant.
We began chatting, and I quickly learned she was kind, interesting, and smart. I also discovered this snoring baby was her only child. Her presence at the park and her words told me how lonely she was as a new mother. Her isolation was compounded by the fact that she was a newcomer to the United States.
My heart went out to her. My husband Billy immigrated to the US from Guatemala in his late 20’s. He has often recounted to me those early, achingly lonely days. His Central American sensibilities were completely thrown off as his experiences with Americans felt cold and unwelcoming.
When I told Billy about the woman at the park, his first question was, “Did you get her phone number?” My response involved a lot of stuttering and gasping before finally admitting that no, I had not gotten the woman’s digits. He looked at me and basically said, “What’s your deal? She was nice, she clearly wanted friends. Why didn’t you ask?”
“I don’t know,” I stammered. “I’m not really that experienced with picking up other women at the playground. It felt weird.”
Billy is convinced (using me as a one-person sample) that Americans are weird about making new friends with strangers. He has often found that when he meets folks from other countries they are much quicker to act like old friends, swap numbers, and get together with former strangers.
I can’t really argue with him. I wandered away from him in the Target check-out line once, returning only minutes later to find him and the Canadian girl in front of us chatting like long-lost cousins. They shared their confusion over the U.S.’s prolific use of credit cards and why it’s so complicated to see a doctor. They laughed like BFFs while the American boyfriend and I stood by in silence.
But Billy got inside my head. When we sat down to eat at Chick-fil-A, a young girl approached our table and asked my daughter, “Are you finished yet?” A few more rounds, and we abandoned eating altogether. The fast friends scurried into the indoor play area.
The girl’s mother welcomed my kids to the playground. While the girls climbed to the top hideouts, the mom hoisted her own young son and mine up the giant steps they couldn’t climb. We talked, and I learned she was from Lebanon. Our kids laughed and played like longtime friends, and I wondered if I should try to connect with this mom. But how do I pick up strangers?
We were preparing to leave, and I rushed out to Billy. “Oh no,” I whispered in a fast panic. “It’s that moment. I feel like I should get her number. But it’s so awkward!”
“Do it,” he instructed while wrestling our toddler into his coat. “The kids had a great time. And she’s from another country. She won’t think it’s weird.”
“BUT I THINK IT’S WEIRD!” I whisper-shout.
“Well,” he said, “I absolutely cannot be the one to go back in there and ask for her number. That really will be awkward. You must do this.”
One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year was to “take social risks.” I was working to try something new at least once a month. Well, here goes nothing, I thought.
If my life had a soundtrack, which I so wish it did, this would have been the moment to cue the inspirational music as I slow-motioned walked back to the play place. I literally said to her, “So do you all come here a lot?”
“Yes!” she told me with great enthusiasm.
So I went for it. “Well, let me get your number, and maybe we can get together again next we come.” And so, with zero trace of discomfort, she rattled off her number and told me to text her right away so she’d have mine, too.
Interacting with strangers and making new friends has been a surprising area of cultural difference between me and my husband. I mean, it could be that I am just a complete weirdo about picking up strangers. But as I’ve paid more attention over the years, there does seem to be a distinct openness we experience with others from different places. I think this is both cultural for some parts of the world, as well as a result of being newcomers and taking risks to adjust in a new country.
But I am getting the hang of it. And I did even text my Chick-fil-A mom BFF! What about you? Is picking up strangers easy or a challenge? Do you notice cultural differences in the ways we approach and include new people?
Sarah Quezada lives in Atlanta, Georgia in a talkative, Spanglish household with her Guatemalan husband and two amusing kiddos. She writes about culture, family, and immigration on her blog, A Life with Subtitles. Sarah is a big fan of travel, basketball, and peppermint patties. You can connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.