Connect with people, and try to understand them.
Oh – interesting. How do you ‘connect’ with people in general – and with people who live in a different place and speak a different language in particular.
This is a pretty important question – I have issues meeting my next door neighbors – how do I start up a conversation with someone in Bali? Berlin? St. Petersburg?
Well – in my case – it’s actually easier to meet people when travelling then it is when I’m at home. This is particularly true when I make itinerary decisions that put me out into the public eye – staying in youth hostels for example.
When you stay in a youth hostel – you might not qet quality time with locals – other than the hosts of the hostel – but you can be sure to get quality time with travellers who come from radically different backgrounds and parts of the world. I’ve meet and become friends with families from Polynesia while in Korea, chatted with people from Australia when in Rome, and memorably spent time avoiding Americans in almost every hostel I’ve been in! So – youth hostels, home stays, temple stays, Air BnB – staying anywhere other than a name brand hotel is going to put you in a position of getting to know other people. There is nothing quite like sharing a toilet and a kitchen to force conversation!
Another idea – do a group tour with a company that doesn’t cater to your kinda of folks. I know – it’s hard to break away from just booking with someone based in your country of origin – but the rewards can be huge. We have friends – really really good friends – in Germany and Switzerland because we booked our Botswana Safari thru a tour group based in Europe.
But neither of these ideas will net you local connections. The best way I’ve found to met locals is to smile. Ask Questions. Be interested in what they are doing. My travel partners sometimes get annoyed at me because this slows me down – but the net results are sometimes so amazing! I had dance lessons in Bali because I asked how to bend my fingers just so. I met a bride and groom on their wedding day (and have the pictures to prove it) because I wanted to know why there were fancy decorations outside of their home.
I wandered into a wedding in Vietnam in similar circumstances. Just color me curious – but if I see something interesting – I don’t rush by because I’m on a mission to get somewhere else – I slow down, look, watch, listen, admire, act interested. Language barriers amazingly drop away when your actions say – I’m curious!
Companion advice – don’t be judgmental. This is their world – admire it!
Another – well, let’s call it a trick – I photo-bomb. Seriously. If I see someone taking a picture of someone in their group – I’ll either offer to help – or I’ll join the photo. This is a huge ice breaker for most folks! They laugh – and then we do a group shot – and then logically start sharing our experiences – where are you from, where are you going. I’ve bonded with all kinds of people this way – and had people do the same with me. One memorable experience – in Japan on top of Mt Fuju. We saw people eating eggs with black shells – and were curious. We bought some too – and sat down to figure out what next. And here’s the fun part – people around us noticed our attempts – and immediately came over to offer advice, to give help – and to have their picture taken. I don’t speak Japanese – in those days few people in Japan spoke English – but we had a blast. Made our day!
Similar experience in Bali – we offered to help 3 gals get a group shot – and ended up learning that they were friends from Java – celebrating their 50th birthdays by taking a trip to Bali! We chatted for a few minutes – exchanged email addresses – and moved on. Surprise – a day later – a photo of us, taken by them – just to say hi.
And my last, but not least, piece of advice. Talk to the kids. Smile at them, chat with them, pick easy words and see if anyone knows them. Often there will be one kid in the group that is a bit braver than the rest – and they will at least try to speak to you! Kids are the best hosts in a new (to you) country – and they don’t worry so much about what you are thinking of them. Just a smile works wonders. Hand bumps, high 5’s, even low 5’s all act as ice breakers with kids. They are generally thrilled to know they can relate to someone so foreign – so strange – and yet willing to smile with them.
So – Connect with people – new people – when you travel. Your travel experiences will be richer for the time spent seeing what it like in their shoes. And often the fit is surprisingly great.
Attached is my favorite group hug from Bali – the boys and I spent a good 5 minutes trying to chat – and ended up only knowing each other’s names. But that was enough to ensure that these young men will always have a place in my heart!
Signing off to go smile at someone – The Soup Lady