My neighbor took me totally off guard. All I wanted to do was to drop off a plate of cake for her kids at the door. My afternoon tea guests had just left, and I was thinking about cleaning up the kitchen, getting chores done and cooking dinner. What WAS I going to cook for dinner?
But Ayla said, “Meltem and I are going to Kahve Diyari for Turkish coffee in ten minutes. Why don’t you come?” I looked at my watch. Almost 5 o’clock. No way could I have dinner on the table at 7. I was too tired. Too peopled out already.
Then I thought, “Why not? Haven’t I been looking for the opportunity to spend time with my neighbors? The world won’t end if dinner is late.”
Our one hour coffee date ended up being a serendipitous ending to my day. I laughed to learn that Ayla and Meltem had already had coffee at the same café at 11 a.m. that very day. We sipped our coffee in the 5 o’clock shade, enjoying the breeze and talking about our summer plans.
That cup of Turkish coffee started me thinking about friendships. Ayla and Meltem have been neighbors for 10 years. They drink coffee together every morning at 11 a.m., usually at home. They shop together, go to the doctor together, and eat breakfast every Thursday with a group of women they’ve known for 20 years.
Maybe that would be too much togetherness for an American woman like me, but Ayla and Meltem can teach me a lot about community and friendships. Turks live in tight knit communities, and it’s easy for a foreigner to feel like an outsider once the initial show of Turkish hospitality is over. Cultivating friendships across cultures is challenging and takes time. Here are some keys that have helped me.
Take the First Step
Don’t wait for people to approach you. If you want to develop friendships, be willing to pick up the phone, and make the first call. Step out and knock on someone’s door, or speak to a stranger at the checkout line in the supermarket. Call someone you haven’t seen in a long time, instead of waiting for them because “it’s their turn” to call you.
This sounds obvious, but sometimes it takes a bit of courage. Living in Costa Rica, El Salvador, and now Turkey, I’ve often had to force myself to be bold and take the first step, but I’ve been rewarded with many friendships as a result.
Be approachable and available
Whenever possible, I try to be open to people approaching me spontaneously. This means being flexible and ready to set aside my agenda for interruptions, even if it’s not always convenient. I hope this communicates to my friends that I value them.
I look for common interests: hobbies, children, jobs, cooking, books, and vacation spots. If I’m lost for conversation, I just ask people questions and listen!
Give Relationships Time to Grow
We moved to a new apartment building a year ago, and although I knocked on a few doors to invite neighbors to my house, they rarely came. I thought they didn’t like me! Slowly people have gotten to know us, and they’re more open to us. I’ve realized that not everyone opens their hearts as quickly as I do to new friends. Growing friendships takes time.
How do friendships and community develop where you live? Do you have any advice for me about growing friendships?