It’s a curious thing, at age 42, blessed with partner and children and family and friends, to be wondering how to go about making friends, how to go about meeting people of like mind. This is what engages me at present – just how do I find my way as a stranger in this strange land? The day to day routines of living in Australia are largely like those of living in New Zealand, breakfast, school, chores, free time, school, evening rush, bed, with small variations between the days; if today is Friday (which it is not, I know), I must be heading down to the Central Markets, and then to the supermarket. The simple routines of everyday life, more-or-less the same all over the developed world.
It’s the connections with other people that I find difficult. My e-friends, of course, have come with me to Adelaide, just as I have stayed with them in the old country, and met up with them all over the world. Other real life friends who live in Australia, friends who I would actually recognise down the street, have come to stay, and just spent time here, talking, cooking, drinking, passing the day away in a pleasant haze of conversation and company. But as yet, I know no one like that who lives here in Adelaide. Of course, it can take time for such friendships to develop, but how to meet such people in the first place?
I am an introvert. I enjoy people, but I find it hard to approach them, hard to connect with them, hard to simply find what to say. Once the connection is established, then it’s just not an issue, but until then, it takes an effort. And even then, after the connection, the time together, I need some down time, to process, to think, to restore my centre after the effort of being out there. Jonathan Rauch said it best, in his iconic piece about introverts – I urge you to read it.
There is one obvious place for me to meet new people – at my daughters’ school. Parents gather there everyday, to drop their children off and collect them. Mostly women, and a few dads. Each day, groups of women gather, greeting each other, chattering, gossiping and passing on news. A fertile source of people, surely? My beloved aunty is full of admiration for her daughter-in-law, my cousin’s wife, who on moving to Melbourne where she knew no-one, promptly got involved in the local school, setting up a craft group, and working on fundraising committees, and connecting, connecting, connecting. But the thought fills me with horror. I see the clattering claques of after-school mums, and am minded of nothing so much as a yard full of hens, scratching and pecking and clucking together, with very little space for newcomers, and certainly not for strange-feathered chooks who would rather speculate on the evolutionary pressures that led to the particular markings on a tasty beetle’s back, or gaze at the pattern that twigs make against the sky, or make an obscure reference to the fate of corn fed chickens in the Roman Republic. Of course, for the most part the women I speak to are very pleasant, and welcoming, but not being a sociable bird anyway, I’m not sure that I actually want to join the flock.
I have however, taken steps to entertain myself, and perhaps, in the longer term, even join something. I have long hoped that I might be able to sing – I can sing in tune, reasonably strongly, and my speaking voice is well trained, so there seems to be no reason for me not to be able to sing well too. Good voices run in my family; one of my cousins has an operatic quality voice, though for reasons, she was not able to train it, and another plays and sings with the epitome of hip, the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra. There’s hope for my voice yet. So I have been going to a singing class at the WEA, and it might lead to something more. You won’t next hear of me coming from the Sydney Opera House, but with a bit more training, I might be able to audition successfully for a choir. It seems to me, aside from enjoying singing in any case, that I am more likely to meet kindred spirits in a choir that I am in the school playground.
This all sounds maudlin, I know. A young man approached me at the bus stop today, to ask about the Adelaide free bus service. He had been in the country for ten days, a migrant from mainland China. His spoken English was superb, but it was obvious that he was living in translation, a true stranger making his way in a new country. What a courageous venture on his part, and how much more difficult the barriers for him. I think I am, however, entitled to at least say out loud I find this whole process of uprooting myself and starting again, difficult in its own way.
As for influencing people – I am doing a tiny bit of lecturing at one of the universities here. Twice a week I have a captive audience of students, who come to hear my words of wisdom. They sit and listen, take notes, ask questions and even debate with each other, and generally treat me with something approaching respect. Now that’s influence!