Thursday, October 14, 2010

How to meet strangers in a strange land

The first Friday night in Ulsan, I had a choice.

A) I could stay in and start a routine of possibly not meeting people who may eventually become friends because of my theory. That theory is this: I would like to hang out with people like myself, but I have no idea how I would go about trying to meet myself.

Or B) I could go out to the foreigner bars alone in the hopes of meeting people and even if I didn’t make the best of friends, at least be social and adventuresome.

After a small debate I decided on B. The pros far outweighed the cons. I knew what bars I should hit up. I knew how to get there. I wanted to go out, just not alone, and I’m independent, awesome, gorgeous … Oh, sorry, that last part was purely self-motivational talk. It takes a lot of self-motivational talk to decide you are going to go meet new people in a strange land where you don’t know the language of the majority of the people, and you don’t really know a soul ... AND you aren’t on vacation but rather trying to start your life in this land, so you don't have that much anonymity.

After all this talk, I got myself on the bus, ready to meet the world, got downtown and wandered around trying to decide which bar I should try out. But when I finally landed at the first bar, my nerves began to kick in …

"How the hell am I supposed to meet people? This was a stupid idea. Maybe I'll just have a drink and go home."

Ok, so I’ve traveled to several countries alone. You think I should be tough. This should be no problem. A breeze. Heck, I’ve introduced myself to a bunch of new people before. But there’s a catch, on the inside, I am still the same, shy, socially awkward Kim that used to hide behind her mother when relatives visited. I’m still the girl that used to cry before my school pictures because I couldn’t stand the spotlight and pressure of meeting an absolute stranger, that’s admittedly kind of creepy, and having to smile on command …

Anyway, my nerves kicked in, so being an adult, I did the adult thing. I sat down at the bar by myself and ordered up a Black Russian. I'll give myself some liquid courage and a time limit. If I don't meet anyone by the time I need a second drink, I'll call it a night.

As I sat at the bar, drinking my Black Russian, I started to feel a little strange. For starters, this bar seemed basically empty. On a Friday night. True, there were a few people. To my right a couple foreign men about 40 or 50 years old having a beer and chatting away. To my left an older Korean man had just sat down and seemed to be boring holes through me with his eyes. I really have no idea if that’s what he was doing. I did everything I could to keep my body language from suggesting that he come talk to me. So, I didn’t look at him once. Basically, I came to the conclusion that somehow I had gotten a crumby tip. This wasn’t a good bar for foreigners, at least not ones my age, and there were no girls, which is actually who I wanted to meet.

Finally, I noticed a group of four younger guys walk in the bar and up the stairs behind me. No one really looked my way, so I couldn’t just follow them. That would have been creepy and weird, making me even more socially awkward, but deep down that’s really, really what I wanted to do.

Run after them.

Despite my urge, I continued to sit downstairs at the bar, being shy in a very unshy way. By which I mean, I had gotten myself out to the bar on a Friday night, which is not shy, but I wasn’t sure I could follow through with actually meeting people, which is definitely shy. I knew that in order to meet people I needed to be approachable, and in order to be approachable, I needed to wear a smile and keep my inner cool, but because of the situation around me … awkward 40-50 year old, trolling men, I couldn’t let myself be approachable. It would have been asking for something I really didn’t want. I’m sure this inner debate was showing on my face because after about five more minutes, the bar tended came to talk to me. She had sensed my painfully obvious discomfort. Very politely, she said, “There’s another bar upstairs. With younger people. Maybe you want to go up there?”

On her suggestion, perhaps too hastily, I took my drink and walked up stairs.

“What’s the game plan?” I asked myself.

I had no idea.

So I took the stairs slowly.

When I saw the bar, I walked up to it and set my drink down. I was about to sit on a stool and cling to it like a life preserver, but instead, I looked around. There were several groups of younger people, and I made eye contact with the first foreigner who looked at me.

“Jump in, Kim!”

Like getting into cold water, meeting new people is way easier if you jump quickly, without over thinking it. In fact, without thinking at all. So, I grabbed my drink, which I had sat down on the bar for 2 seconds, walked over and said hello.

My self introduction started a series of introductions, which lead to a series of questions verging on conversation but interrupted by the game of darts that these for guys were playing. And yes, they are the same four guys I had seen walk into the bar not ten minutes prior. Basically, the conversations when something like this.

Guy 1, “What’s your name, again?”

Me, “Kim, what’s yours?”

“Where are you from?”

blah, blah

“What are you doing in Ulsan?”

“Teaching English, before this I was in Moscow for two years.”

It’s Guy 1’s turn at darts, and Guy 2 strikes up conversation, “What’s your name, again?”

Me, “Kim, what’s yours?”

“Where are you from?”

… blah blah I was in Moscow for two years.

Guy 2 is up at darts and Guy 3 starts in. At this point Guy 1 and 2 are having their own conversation as they are hanging out. Basically, I’ve interrupted guys’ night.

Guy 3 is up at darts and Guy 4 starts the conversation over.

I ended up having 3 or 4 conversations and repeating myself a lot. After the game ended, we regrouped, grabbed another drink, and eventually headed over to another bar where one of the guys was meeting up with friends. Surprisingly this has been the smoothest, least awkward introduction to date.

Two thumbs up for embracing social awkwardness and kicking shyness to the curb.

1 comment:

  1. I feel you! I have done this many times in Germany too and for some damn reason, it never gets easier! Kudos Kim! You are amazing.