My job involves encouraging people to make friends and communicating the value of great small talk. Practise what I preach, right? Wrong! We’ve just been on a great Christian holiday abroad. My husband and kids were exemplary socialites, but I was a loner! Only one person approached me to chat, and that was to say, ‘I’d just like to tell you that your flies are undone!’ Having already weaved in and out of hundreds of seat-savers who were at eye-level with my crotch, this didn’t work wonders for my confidence on that first day! (It also meant a few death stares in my husband’s direction for failing to notice my wardrobe malfunction on the walk from the caravan.)
I could take advice previously dished out by myself and use this self-deprecating story in my nervous attempts to strike up a conversation later in the week – everything has a silver lining. However, it was hard to communicate such triviality if I found myself speaking to a French or Dutch person, and substituting actions for words proved inappropriate!
Being July 2023, the rain didn’t help. There wasn’t much alfresco dining or leisurely strolling for the first part of the week. Admittedly, I often go to these places aiming to keep a low profile, but on some occasions, when it was only me and the whistling kettle producing the hot air, I felt a little lonely.
So, for my future self and any readers about to embark on such a getaway, here are my five (as yet, untried and untested) tips for a more friendly next holiday.
1. Look around
With 900 people on site last week, one of us had to go 20 minutes early to meetings to save seats. People tended to play on their phones or just sit there. The problem with this behaviour is we all give off an air of ‘I’m enjoying my alone time, don’t bother me!’ If you want to talk, I think the unspoken rule is to look around. If you can’t be bothered to talk, at least be sacrificial on the first day and see if anyone else is looking around!
2. Delete Instagram
I never really left my friends at home. Instead of engaging with my surroundings, I kept up with their activities by checking social media daily. This virtual connection is a massive distraction from the real-life conversation that could be taking place!
3. Be sporty
I’m not good at throwing and catching. My outfits and shoes aren’t conducive to running. I’m pretty scared on a bike. I need to make a few tweaks to facilitate jogging out of my comfort zone to join in with the many organised activities. (In fairness, I sweated it out at a voice awareness session, which forced me to stare at the lips and chest of a young man other than my husband, so please don’t write me off as a complete recluse!)
4. Improve openers
I like giving compliments as a way of starting conversations. It wasn’t easy to do this on a damp campsite when we all looked like we’d been dragged through a hedge backwards. I was fully expecting the ‘your flies are undone’ lady to compliment me on my coral pink platform Crocs, so I was undoubtedly brought down-to-earth by her actual reason for being compelled to approach me. On a holiday like this, I need more appropriate conversation starters and to be open to sharing deep and meaningful thoughts and prayers with strangers.
5. Chill out!
Like many mums, I tend to go into up-tight control freak mode when things are meant to be chilled out and carefree. Is it time to do some washing? Can I help you pack your bag for the beach? What time shall I have dinner ready? Pausing and scrapping usual routines gives more space for happy encounters and reduces the need for the ‘feel sorry for mum’ scenario. Throw them the dishcloth and get down to the bar! Play a family game so Potential Friendship Barbie can see you as Carefree Fun Barbie instead of Mope-in-the-Caravan Barbie.
Other solutions (perhaps more personal to me): get your kids to introduce you to their friends’ parents at the start of the week instead of the last day; don’t switch off when your husband tells you about another great person he met on the afternoon cycle ride; learn other languages…
And if all this seems impossible, bring friends with you (or a great book)!