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Making Friends and Meeting People
In Canada and the United States


Special hints for international students and others new to Canada and the U.S

Here you learn techniques for meeting people and expanding your circle of friends.

These suggestions are from the prospective of people new to North America, but can be easily used by anyone who needs help making friends.

Follow these, and you won't be lonely.


Pick the right venue

When making new friends, do not be afraid to approach others

However, choose appropriate venues where strangers are most likely to be responsive. Surely, you will be rejected at times, but some situations maximize your chances for success.

For example, on most days, a person commuting to work or school on a bus in a large city like New York or Toronto will not welcome interaction with strangers.

Is the person talking to her deranged? Is there going to be a negative scene? Is she going to be asked for money? When among so many people, she just wants to be left alone.

On the other hand, if an erratic vehicle nearly hits the bus and the passengers nearly fall out of their seats when the operator slams on the brakes, you have a situation that promotes conversation.

"Wow, that was close! How do you feel?" "I am okay, thank God! Do you ride this bus often?" "I am afraid that I will have to. I just enrolled at the graduate film school at NYU and need to take this bus to classes." "Oh, I graduated from NYU last year. How do you like it?"

Instead of waiting for near accidents to happen, seek venues where people may welcome conversation.

A classic locale of this type is the art gallery, especially when not too crowded. Here people are more relaxed.

"This is so much more moving when seen in person, don't you think? I am just amazed." "Yes, you are so right. Have you seen her exhibit over at the National Gallery?"


Be informal and not threatening

After more conversation (if the other person continues to be receptive) and more bonding, it is time to move to the next step.

In most cases, this should be informal and thus not threatening to the other person.

"Saturday afternoon I am going to see the visiting Monet exhibit at the Getty Museum. Would you like to meet and enjoy it together? . . . Great. Here's my mobile number in case you cannot make it."

By not asking for her contact number, this approach preserves the privacy of the other person—who does not know you—and gives that person a way to contact you, in case he or she cannot make your date but still would like to see you at another time. The afternoon time permits an invitation to be extended on Saturday to an early evening meal—a more formal date—after you meet at the museum.

On the other hand, if someone you meet says something such as "You willl have to come for coffee sometime," you have not received a genuine invitation.

If he or she really means it, you will be given a specific date and time or a choice of these. If so, arrive on time or nearly so.


Enjoy group dates

More and more in North America, people go on group dates. A group of friends decides it wants to see a film and perhaps meets at a pizza parlour prior to attending.

Once you make a new friend, you will get invited along with this person's friends and your network of friends expands. Your new friends from this group introduce you to their friends in other groups and on and on.

At some point you may become closer to one person in a group of friends and pair off for some activity involving just the two of you.

As you can tell, asking for this more formal date is much easier because you already know each other from your "informal" group activities.


Know when to stop

The standard convention is not to ask someone for a date more than two or in a few cases perhaps three times. If the other person declines that many times, give it up and go on to someone else, unless the other person finally takes the initiative and asks you at another time.

Otherwise, you become a bit of a stalker and demean yourself.


Step outside of your group

Beware that your group does not work against you.

If you want to meet people outside of your circle, you may have to step outside of your current friends.

For example, a group of Japanese students travelling on a train in Canada or the United States talking among themselves in Japanese creates a barrier to intrusion, whereas one or two Japanese speaking in English (or French in parts of Canada) invites friendly comments and questions from others.

Having just friends from your home country or culture while studying or travelling in Canada or the U.S. is a wasted opportunity to grow as a person.


Focus on the other person

This is really important.

When getting to know someone, focus first on the other person's interests.

Does your new friend enjoy reggaeton music? Then talk about reggaeton music. Lacrosse? Then talk about lacrosse.

You get the idea.

You know nearly nothing about lacrosse? Well, this is your chance to learn.

For example, "Say, is it true that lacrosse was adopted from a game played by native Canadians? Is it played the same way today? . . . The way you explain it, lacrosse seems like a really awesome and rugged game. I'd like to see it played sometime. . . . Yes, I'd love to join you and your friends next Saturday—if you don't mind that I've never played before! Back home in South Africa, my favourite sport was rugby, which seems as rough and intense as you describe lacrosse, but no one plays it at this school. . . . Oh, you know several dudes who have been trying to get you to drive with them to UBC for informal Sunday afternoon games? Awesome! I can give you some pointers before rugby on Sunday and you can teach me a few lacrosse moves before Saturday."

You remain very lonely by being interested solely in yourself.


Join organizations

A great way to make new friends—perhaps the best way of all—is to join an organization, club, or a place of worship.

Are you concerned about the environment? Become involved in a student chapter of the Sierra Club in Canada or the U.S. Have you a love of chamber music? Mix with a group of like minded people. Clubs and associations abound on campus and in surrounding communities. You'll have absolutely no trouble finding a group that you will enjoy.

Once a member, join in group activities and volunteer to help.

Does the Sierra Club need several people to contact members about an upcoming city council meeting regarding a proposed new forest preserve at the edge of the city? Volunteer. You will become known to others while doing good.

Club activities easily spill over into purely social activities. "After the meeting, we're going to see the new Bond film. Would you like to come with us?"

People who serve others gain far more than they give, and nothing illustrates this better than volunteering for a good cause. And, with so many good causes available, you'll no excuse to be lonely.

By the way, the Sierra Club has a new member special for U.S. $15, which gives full membership, its excellent magazine, access to day and overnight group hikes, and much more.


Avoid projecting the negative

This is important: People are turned off by negative people. Most don't want to be around them.

If you refuse to project a cheerful demeanor and you complain all the time, then resign yourself to having few real friends.

Overwhelmingly, people dislike a constant barrage of problems and complaints.

Real friends will console you and attempt to help you when you have an occasional setback, but they may not wish to continue a close relationship if you cannot make the best of situations, especially if they perceive that you are making these situations worse with a negative outlook.

In other words, if you become gravely ill, friends will stand by you. However, If you are reasonably physically healthy, yet you do not project happiness and concern for others, what few friends you have may drift away.

We all face difficulties at times, but except in the most serious situations we should not burden our friends with our problems.

There is an old saying, "What you put your attention on grows in your mind." If you wear rose-coloured glasses, you see a rose-coloured world. If you look at the world through a shroud of negativity, you'll see a negative world.

If you focus on what is going right in your life, you have a happier life.


Know basic cultural differences

If from another culture, you need to know and to avoid behaviours that easily irritate people in Canada and the States.

To help in this area, Dr. Voyageur offers two free on-line lessons:

1. Interacting with Americans and Canadians, and

2. Dining with Americans and Canadians.

Both are worth your time.


Go for it!

Please remember that the people you want to meet are likely to be just as desirous of making new friends as you. They may be just as sly as you.

The constant flux of American and Canadian society cuts people off from childhood friends and family and means entire neighbourhoods and universities may be composed of relative strangers, who seek interaction with other people.

They may find it hard to initiate conversations with people they do not know and welcome your attempt to create a dialogue.

Go for it and good luck! And, please don't mind the occasional setbacks.

For more discussion about interacting with Americans and Canadians

Go to >> Interacting with Americans and Canadians

Go to >> Handling complaints

Go to >> Dealing with prejudice

Go to >> Avoiding sexism

Go to >> Settling into North American life

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