In this advanced English lesson you’ll learn how to make friends with native English speakers. There’s simply no better way to improve your spoken English! You’ll get specific tips and strategies on how to meet people. New friends = new learning! And as always, there’s a free download of the transcript available: http://bit.ly/REP_16
YouTube blocked? Click here to see the video.
Today we’re going to talk about making friends in America.
This is something a lot of you guys have asked me about.
David, I got an email today from a Rachel’s English Academy student named Clarence who was saying he goes to school in the US but all of his friends that he’s making are other international students.
And he says they’re great people, they’re wonderful friends, but he wants more opportunity to practice his English and to engage with Americans while he’s here.
And he was asking for some advice about making friends in America.
And it reminded me of the podcast that we made, which I’ll play at the end of this video, so you won’t have to click anywhere to find it, but I also thought it’s worth revisiting.
It’s a big topic. It’s a really big topic, yeah. So I thought we could start a little bit by talking about our best friends, how we’ve made them, and then also now at this stage in life how it’s harder to make friends, I think we’re both finding, and we can sort of talk about ways to connect with Americans.
So out of your very best friends, you have different sets of people, wouldn’t you say? Yeah, I think that that’s right.
And where did you make your best friends?
They come from a couple different areas and stages of life, I guess. From high school and college, there’s a couple of people that are even to this day very close friends, actually, my closest friends, I would say.
And then I also have some very good friends who I’ve met through work, so, later in life. And then, just meeting people who are friends of friends, so some kind of connection through a shared friend. And again, that one was later in life. That’s a good point.
You brought up two potential ways to make friends. First of all, you mentioned school, which I think a lot of us have made a lot of friends in school. The reason is you’re seeing the same people over and over every day, that helps build friendships, but you also mentioned work, and I think a lot of people watching this video might be people who live in the United States, work in the United States, but have a hard time taking the co-worker level to a friendship level.
What would you say about that? Would you have any advice about how to approach somebody in a more formal situation to turn it into something that has a casual side as well? Yeah, I think it is challenging. I think it’s challenging for Americans too. One of the things that I’ve been thinking about, as we’ve been preparing, is that it’s tempting sometimes to say no to an invitation if you’re not feeling the whole way comfortable.
Invitations tend to come out of the blue. And a non-native speaker might especially if they’re not feeling really confident in their English might especially have a hesitation there.
Right, so I think an important thing is to say to yourself right now the next time that I’m approached by somebody at work who says, “Hey, do you want to go to a movie?”, “Hey, do you want to get a drink after work?”, “Hey, some of us are gonna go to happy hour on Friday after work, do you wanna come along?”
It might not be somebody that you know very well or again, you might have that instantaneous sort of, “Oh my god, they’re all gonna be speaking really quickly, I’m not gonna feel comfortable.”
But I think it’s really important in those spots to push yourself to say, “Yep, sure, that sounds great, I’d love to.”
Knowing that at worst, it’s gonna be an opportunity to really practice your English with native speakers, and at best, it’s gonna be a chance to really connect with people in a way that’s beyond work.
And if a co-worker has invited you to do something, then I think that’s a sign that that’s somebody you can feel comfortable with, if you don’t understand, saying, “I’m sorry, you’re speaking a little too fast.”, What did you say?” or something like that.
They’ve invited you into a more intimate relationship, a less formal relationship, so I think you can feel free to take advantage of that and ask for clarification.
Maybe they use an idiom or a phrasal verb you don’t know, great opportunity for you to ask. Now, let’s flip this around and say no one’s asking you at work to do something.
What about starting it yourself? I think a great thing that you can look for as you’re wanting to connect with more people, whether it’s at work or maybe you go to church or you have some sort of religious group that you participate with, if you’re looking, any group of people that you’re seeing regularly, if you’re looking to take it a step further, I think always look for some common interest that you might have.
So for example, if at the office you come to realize that your co-worker is really into the Marvel action movies or whatever and you are too, discuss it, talk about it, and then maybe at some point say, “Hey, let’s go see the new one”, or whatever. Find something that you already have in common and then use that as a way to invite somebody to do something. And also, don’t be afraid to ask somebody.
It’s not unusual in a work environment to see if a co-worker wants to do something outside of work. So, definitely, in America, that’s a pretty common thing to happen. So definitely feel free, or even if you’re just having a good conversation to just say, “Oh, do you want to meet up after work “for a little bit? “Do you have time?”
Or something like that. I think also realizing that somebody has a common interest even at just during that conversation, that means that the person is gonna be really interested in what you have to say. That I think means it’s a good time to say to yourself, okay, this person is probably gonna be fine with me saying, “Hey, I didn’t quite catch that, can you say that again?” Or even after you’ve said something that you’re not sure is quite right, that kind of a person is a good person to say, “Hey, did I say that right? “I wasn’t sure if I said that right.”
I think making people your conversation partner, it often just takes a little bit of courage in saying, “Hey, did I say that right? “Hey, would you mind just saying that again? “I wasn’t quite sure I caught it.” Almost always people are really willing to jump in and say,
“Oh, actually, yeah, you almost had it right, but there was this one little part, let me tell you about it.”
People love to help.
– And they might not correct you if not prompted.
– I would say that even stronger, they’re likely to not correct you.
I think Americans are, I think some cultures would be much more free to jump in and say, “Oh, you said that a little bit off.” Thinking back to being in Italy, I feel like Italian culture, it’s more kind of out there, and people might say, “Oh you said that a little bit wrong.”
I think Americans are very reticent to initiate that, but very ready to give you that feedback if you ask for it. That would be my take on it.
– And this is reminding me, as we’re talking about work, I’m thinking, okay, one of my other students in Rachel’s English Academy, Sam, works in Silicon Valley, and he was saying so many of his co-workers, the vast majority were non-native speakers.
And so, even though he was interacting with people all throughout the day, and he lives in America, he still felt like he was not immersed in American English, which he really wanted to be because he wanted to get better at it.
So this is the same issue that Clarence was having. All of his friends were international students. Where are other places? How can you start relationships with people, start friendships with people?
I had a couple of ideas. One of them is, when I was studying in Europe, the place where I was studying, the Goethe-Institute, had a program where it matched people who wanted to learn languages, so I was matched with somebody who lived there in Germany that wanted to learn English.
That became a great way for me to practice German and also to have a friend. And so I would say look for programs where maybe there’s a language school, let’s say you speak Arabic, find a language school, if they’re giving Arabic classes and especially intermediate or advanced classes, contact them and say, “I’m a native Arabic speaker.
“Do you have any program
“where you connect your native speakers with Americans?
“‘Cause I’d love a language exchange.”
It’s a possibility. And then it’s really a win-win ’cause you’re both invested, you’re both wanting the same thing. And when you’re meeting someone regularly, it’s very possible that a real friendship can develop, I think.
– Another thing that I’ve talked about before is, how can you create a space where you’re seeing the same people regularly? If it’s not work, if it’s not school, and there are various clubs, there’s a running club in Philadelphia.
In our neighborhood, there’s like a mom’s meetup group. Look for that kind of thing. What’s your interest?
Search for it online, see if there’s a local group where people are meeting up.
There’s the dad’s meetup once a month, that you’ve been to before. That’s a great way to maybe connect with people more than once. And I really think when it comes to friendship, in the podcast, I was talking about my friend Cara who will chat up anybody on the subway, in the line at the grocery store, it doesn’t matter, and she sometimes exchanges numbers and makes friends with people.
Most people aren’t like that.
Most people need a time or two of meeting somebody in sort of a more structured environment to let friendship develop.
– I think that’s right. Another thing I was thinking about is, I’ve played co-ed soccer in an intramural league, and in that league you can sign up as an individual person, you don’t have to be part of a team already, and I think this is a pretty big trend in a lot of cities in the US where all kinds of sports from kickball and really informal sorts of sports, all the way up to obviously competitive intramural sports are happening, I think it’s a trend not just in Philadelphia but people are using the internet to easily sign up for those kinds of leagues.
– Great point.
– And you sign up for something like that, especially if you sign up as an individual, you’re just gonna get plunked on a team, and of course that’s incredibly terrifying to show up for the first game, but it forces you to meet native speakers, it forces you to use some conversation. And also, I think that, again, there’s sort of a happy hour, let’s grab a drink after the game culture, in a lot of those leagues and organizations, and so be ready to say, “Yeah, yeah, I’m in, let’s go.” And then, even if it’s 10 people, you don’t have to make friends with all of them, but maybe there’s one person who you kind of have a connection with and you can say, “Hey, I’ll see you next week, it was great to meet you.”
Any kind of club or anything that’s interesting to you. And if sports isn’t your thing, I think there is a lot of gaming, a lot of stuff set up around gaming, both traditional games like board games, card games, and then of course video games, which we know nothing about, but we know that they’re very huge at this point in time.
And that people are going and watching other people play and stuff. So, whatever, however you
like to spend your time, try to find a group of people doing the same thing.
So let’s get into some things that are a little bit more American specific.
How do you feel, do you feel that Americans are approachable?
And if someone approached you, how would you want them to approach you?
I guess is my question. Some people, there can be a big cultural unknown, and someone might say, “Well, I would never do that in my own country,” that would be interpreted as this. “I’m afraid to do that here.” If someone at work, say, wanted to be your friend, and how would they approach you in a way that would make you feel open to that, do you think?
– Yeah, that’s actually a really difficult question to answer, I think. For me, the default should be to be pretty direct.
You can be as direct as “I am new to the culture of making friends in America. And it was great talking with you about the movie over lunch, would you be
open to hanging out sometime?”
I do think that Americans, compared to a lot of other cultures can come off as a little bit chilly or standoffish.
But I think that right behind that is a desire to connect, and I would say being
direct is the way to go. You could sit back and try to figure out, “Well maybe if I did it this way or this way or this way”, put yourself out there and take on this sort of, even if you have to fake it, take on the spirit of courage and directness and just say, “Hey, would you be up for going to lunch sometime? Or what about coffee some afternoon?”
You just gotta go for it.
– What do you think about this idea? I think a lot of people are interested in things they don’t know much about, and a lot of people love having a hook-up, someone that knows a lot about something.
What if someone approached you and said, like let’s say a Japanese co-worker, and said, “Hey, there’s this great Japanese restaurant, and I can show you all the best foods.” A way to invite them into your own culture in a way within America or to be able to share something unique about yourself could also be a really great way to pique someone’s interest in you and what you have to offer.
– Yeah, I think that’s a great point.
And related, no matter what kind of activity, if you know that you’re interested in going to something or planning to go to something, you can say, “Hey, on Friday right after work, I’m going to a show that just opened that the museum. Any chance you’d like to join me for that?”
Because that gives the person a lot of space to say, “Oh no, I can’t, thanks anyway.” That’s a little bit easier than saying, “Hey, can you and I do something sometime? I have a plan, would you like to come with me on it?”
It implies, “I’m going either way.” It makes it more casual.
– And it’s also a really good point, if you find something that’s happening locally that’s really interesting, then that can be part of what’s happening.
I personally think a lot of Americans like doing things. And so the idea of just sitting down to a conversation with somebody with no purpose might seem a little bit strange, but if it’s the idea of going and doing something interesting with someone that that might be more appealing.
Invite them to, like you said, a museum opening, or a concert, or in Philadelphia, there’s all sorts of interesting events going on in the summer outside, this kind of thing. So that could also be a great way to make that first ask of somebody, taking them from a co-worker to hanging out once could be, invite them into your own culture in some way, or invite them to go do something really cool within the city or the place where you live.
So to wrap this up, making friends in America can be hard, and one thing we didn’t get to is that for both you and me, after college, we’ve had a hard time making friends, like where do you meet people?
And this is something I’ve discussed with other friends too when they move somewhere new.
So if you’re a non-native speaker living in the US and you’re feeling this, you’re not alone.
I also feel that it’s hard to make friends. But a couple of ways to try to do that, find places where you’ll be seeing the same people more than once in a structured environment. And say yes if you get asked to do something, try to be outgoing, and maybe even be the person to make the ask.
And this is something that we’ve talked about, as I said, in the podcast and I thought, I mean, that’s been really well received, I think that’s been really helpful for people, so you don’t have to go anywhere to find that, I don’t want to make you click, we’re gonna play it right now.
Keep in mind it’s just audio, but we’ll play it here, and if you want a transcript of that podcast, all of the transcripts from my podcasts are free and I’ll put the link on the screen and also in the video description, or you can go download a free transcript of the podcast.
So do you have any other words or ideas of advice for people who were not born in America, living in America,trying to connect with Americans?
– Yeah well, no I think, as you were talking, it just, it brought up for me how much Americans are looking for connection too.
It might feel one-sided, like, “Ah, I have to put myself out there, and it’s not my native language”, but I think as you practice that and maybe get shot down a couple times, who cares?
I think you’ll find that a lot of Americans are really seeking that kind of more real connection too.
So just kind of trust that and go for it.
– Yes, I think that’s a great point, even though it might not seem like it, if you’re willing to break the ice, I think you might find that there’s a lot of willingness to connect and to be friends.
– Okay, well David, thanks for joining me for this conversation about friendships in America.
That’s it guys, thanks so much for using Rachel’s English, and stay tuned to listen to that podcast.
Rachel: You’re listening to the Rachel’s English podcast. I’m so glad to have you here. In this podcast, we discuss topics in American conversation, pronunciation, and culture. And today’s episode focuses on culture. If you would like a free transcript for this podcast, just visit rachelsenglish.com/podcast and look for this episode. Today, I’m here with my husband, David. Hey, David.
David: Hey, everybody.
Rachel: And we’re going to talk about friendships in America. David, you have lots of friends.
David: I do.
Rachel: So, I think you’re probably going to have a lot to add to this one.
David: All right.
Rachel: So, I want to—the thing that made me think about this podcast is two different emails that I got. Actually, one was a comment on YouTube, and this person whose username is management courses said, you’re so lucky to have friends who are supportive, both males and females. David, this was on a video that I made with Dave at, uh, the 4th of July when we were in Clark Park talking about 4th of July traditions.
David: Right, okay.
Rachel: Do you remember that video?
David: Yeah, I do.
Rachel: I’ll link to that video in the show notes, everybody. But it was me with a friend who’s a man, discussing what we like to do on the 4th of July. So, this person says, can you make a video on how to build more supportive friendships? What do you do to be a better friend? In my culture, after marriage, the wife’s friendships suffer, and you can’t keep close friendships with the opposite sex. I had the misconception that Americans don’t value friendship, or their friendships are not long-lasting or shallow. Your videos showed me the opposite. So, that’s great. I’m so glad that my videos showed that Americans do value friendship, and that friendships are not just shallow, um, or short-lived.
Rachel: But, so, let’s try to talk a little bit about friendships. Let’s focus in on some of the specific questions. How to build more supportive friendships. Now, part of what’s so great about having David on this podcast is, not only does he have a ton of friends, but he’s also a therapist. And so, he talks to a lot of other people about their friendships and their relationships in general, and, you know, has a lot of things to say about this kind of thing, I think. David, what would you say makes a better friend? Makes someone a good friend?
David: Sure. Well, I, I, first of all, I guess, while I’m thinking of it, I think part of what’s interesting is that, from a non-native speaker’s perspective, or someone who’s new to American culture, I think it, it, because of advertising and sort of just the way things look from the outside, I think it’s easy to assume that for all of us, really, that for other people making friends is really easy. I think it’s, um, something that we feel like we should be able to do, you know, that, um, everybody else is out there having a good time. Look at everybody on TV. What in reality, I think the opposite it true. I think the majority of people, uh, you know, are either wishing they had more friendships or, uh, wishing that, you know, things about the friendships that they do have, um, might be a little bit different. Like, they, they often wish that they were more close with more people. So, I think that’s the first thing that popped to mind, is that, you know, a lot of people, um, non-native speakers and native speakers alike, struggle with this. Even though, I, I don’t think, I mean, I, I really appreciate the courage in the question, because I don’t think a lot of people bring this up.
Rachel: Yeah. No, it’s a good point. I mean, as I’m sitting here listening to you talk about this, I’m thinking, you know, I could definitely say that this is true of me living in Philadelphia. I’ve been here for three years now, and I’m definitely starting to make some friends that feel like really, really quality friendships. But I can’t say that I’ve made any of those by myself. They’re all friends that I made through David, that David already had established some sort of a relationship with. Like, I haven’t met somebody that I’ve turned into a friend, really, on my own.
David: You’ve been connected to some friends of friends.
Rachel: I mean, that’s, that’s always the in, right? When you move somewhere new, you look for connections you have to people that are there already.
Rachel: But, as far as, you know, if you were moving to America to go to school or for a job or something where you didn’t already have anyone established in that town or in that city, that would make it really hard to know where to start. And I think, you know, for me, I could definitely say as an adult, three years, three years into that experience, I don’t really have people that I have met because I have been introduced to them in a way other than through someone I already knew.
David: Yeah, I follow. Right? It’s not easy.
Rachel: No, it’s really not. But having said that, we do have good friends here, and it is true that Americans do value friendship, even though probably a lot of people might like to have more friends or more closer friendships than they have.
David: Yeah. I think to answer that part of her question, absolutely. I think Americans very much value friendships. Uh, of course, it looks different in, in all cultures, but I, I think also, something, uh, in the, in the comment is also true that it can, um, it can be difficult when it is, um, across gender. I mean, that, yes, your video with Dave at the park, it’s a great video and you guys are good friends, and it is not a big deal at all.
David: But I also think, it’s not uncommon for that to be, you know, something that causes tension in relationships—
Rachel: Yeah. Complications.
David: In this country, too. Yeah.
Rachel: Yeah. I thought it—
David: Well, not even complication, but tension. You know, or like, sort of, there’s a, there’s a, um, a temptation to be distrustful of your partner.
Rachel: Yes, but I’m talking for single, for single people. There’s complication there. I mean, you’re talking if you’re married.
Rachel: Then, like, this person said, after marriage, then friendship suffers and you can’t keep close friends. Keep a close friendship with the opposite sex.
David: Yeah. Well, I was commenting on that part.
Rachel: So, yes. You’re right. It can be complicated if David had—although you do have really close friends that are women, and it’s not weird for me yet, but I suppose it could be, depending on if, if one friendship just really set out from the rest, stood out from the rest as being just extra super important to you. That, that could be hard for me.
David: Well, I’m not saying it should cause tension. I think it should be the opposite. I think it should be, the assumption should be that it’s healthy and good and fine. Um, but I’m, I’m just, you know, to her point, it’s not just in the culture that she’s coming from, but I think you’re also, um, people make undue tension out of that situation here as well.
Rachel: Yes, in America, it’s definitely allowed. It’s definitely not strange to have friends of the opposite sex after you’ve become married, and it sounds like she might be saying it’s really frowned upon in her culture.
Rachel: Um, but I do, I do value, you know, like, we have a friend who was one of my friends. Now, you’ve become really close with her, Renee.
Rachel: And I love that you’re so close with her, because you know, I love her, too.
Rachel: But yeah, I think, um, I think that can be really special. I do think when you’re single and you’re friends with someone of the opposite sex who’s also single, if that friendship gets really close, it can start to be complicated. People might be asking you a lot if there’s something going on, and I just know from personal experience that, at one point, at some point, you, you may need to have a conversation, like, are we just friends or are we more than friends?
David: Yeah. I see where you’re going with this. Yeah. That’s over more into—right. What’s, what’s romantic and what’s not.
Rachel: Actually, there was a Seinfeld episode. Do you remember, David, where they were talking about, can men and women be friends?
Rachel: And I think it was Seinfeld was saying, no, they can’t be. They can’t be real friends. They can’t be friends where there’s not any thought of romantic or physical attraction happening.
Rachel: That was Seinfeld’s take. I would disagree. I think you can have a friendship that exists totally outside of the romantic and the physical.
David: I agree.
Rachel: Okay, but, let’s, let’s go back to the question. How to build more supportive friendships. I mean, I guess I would say, if it’s an issue of finding the people who you want to be friends with in the first place, I mean, I know that this has been an issue for me. How do I meet people?
Rachel: When I think back on times when it was easy to meet people, it’s like, college where there was this set place and time where you were seeing people on a regular basis. How do you recreate that as an adult, no longer in school, outside of work? I mean, you could take a class. That’s always a, a popular thing. Take a class, something where you’re going to be seeing the same people over and over that you have a common interest with.
David: Mm-hmm. Right, I think one of the things that I suggest to people is, you know, spend some time thinking about what are you most interested in? What are you most passionate about? What are you, you know, what brings out the best side of you? Your curious, engaged self? And then, go find that out in the world somewhere, where there are going to be other people who are also interested in that. So, in other words, sometimes people think they should, um, take up a whole interest in, um, a class. Like, I’ve never drawn before. So, there’s this part of my brain that goes, I should go take a drawing class. Well, actually, you know, maybe that’s not the best idea. Go find something that you know is going to have you really, really energized and, and curious, because I think then, you’re going to be, um, meeting other people who are passionate about what you are. And it can, it can make an easy bridge into some opening conversations.
Rachel: That’s a good idea, a good point. Go with something you know you love already. Another thing is, I have a friend, Cara, who just has the personality for meeting people. She’ll be on the subway and strike up a conversation. She’ll be checking out at a grocery store and she’ll, like, make friends with people in line waiting to check out as well. And that’s not my personality, but, I mean, there’s definitely something to be said for being outgoing and just saying, oh, hey. Isn’t this funny how, whatever? Starting a conversation.
David: Right. Mm-hmm. Right. The temptation is to think, well, I need to make some friends. I have to go find some big, deep, meaningful friendships. When in reality, the only way to do that is to be always aware that you’re sort of currently looking for friends, and to strike up conversations, because you know, we don ’t know who’s going to be actually be someone that we have a good connection with unless we actually are out there talking to lots of different people.
Rachel: Yeah. Start small.
Rachel: And I think in the U.S., it is very appropriate to strike up conversations. Strike up means to start.
Rachel: And they can be sort of out of the blue. Now, we recently recorded a podcast where I was talking about how that’s my pet peeve.
Rachel: As an introvert, I just don’t like having these kinds of conversations, but, you know, don’t let that stop you. If you’re an extrovert or you’re trying to make friends, just go ahead and start up conversations with people. You know, you can comment on anything. Something that’s happening around you or, man, it’s so hot today, isn’t it? Or something like that. You know, or you could say to someone, oh, I love your jacket. You know, compliment in some way, engage them in conversation. Um, yeah, and, and just, you know, for me, that would be really pushing myself, but for some people, it’s not. But, okay, so, we’ve talked about ways where you can try to start friendships, and we’ve established that we think Americans are open to people striking up conversation with them.
David: Yeah, for the most part. I mean, I think also, for better or for worse, you know, for people like yourself who are an introvert, it’s also very appropriate in this country to—the phrase is to blow people off or to be just pretty disinterested if someone tries to strike up a conversation with you. So, you know, you have to kind of know that half or maybe even more than that of the conversations that you try to strike up with people, people are going to be kind of disinterested, maybe not make eye contact with you, and quickly wrap up the conversation. And that’s totally appropriate socially as well. That’s called, you know, giving a subtle social cue that, you know, actually, I don’t really want to talk right now. Thanks, but no thanks on your offer of a conversation. Um, you know, people aren’t going to come out and say, please stop talking to me, but—
Rachel: Right. They’ll just drop hints.
David: Drop hints. Yeah.
Rachel: And don’t let that discourage you. That just means that person wasn’t in the mood that day, but you can definitely keep trying and you may find that you find someone who’s also in the mood to strike up a conversation or make a friend. Another thing is, where you’re living, try to explore the places around there. You know, if you find a local restaurant or coffee shop or park, go there to try to strike up these conversations, because then, you’re very likely going to be talking to people who live around you or have the same interests as you.
David: Mm-hmm, and that’s happened to you and I a couple times, um, during the last year and a half since Stoney’s been born. You know, going to the play space and other areas around our house. When you see the same person three or four times in a row, even without having said anything, you then kind of have an idea that, oh, this person is going to be here on a regular basis, and it makes it easy, then, to go up and say hello, uh, because it gives you a way to say, hey, you know, I noticed you guys have been here a couple, the same times I have. It’s sort of a bridge into starting a conversation.
Rachel: Now, let’s talk about going up and saying hello. If, you know, English isn’t your native language and you sometimes have a hard time understanding Americans, that could really stop somebody from doing that. That could really be a mental block.
David: Yeah. I think that that’s right.
Rachel: And I guess what I would say there is, don’t assume that the person isn’t willing to try to help you figure out conversation. Some people may not be interested in trying to help you understand them, trying to say things a couple different ways. But other people may be very interested. Oh, who is this person who’s from somewhere else, who’s chosen to come here? So, yeah. Just keep trying, and not, not every person you talk to is going to be open to who you are, but you’ll probably find somebody eventually who is.
David: And I think another tip, too, is, when you initiate the conversation, it gives you the opportunity to go first. And what I mean by that is, you can say something along the lines of, hi, my name is David. I’ve noticed that you guys, um, hang out here as well. And so, I thought I would come over and introduce myself. I live in the neighborhood. In other words, you can be prepared to talk for 30 seconds or a minute about yourself in a way that you kind of have a chance to rehearse versus going up to someone and saying, you know, like, as a native speaker, I can go up to someone and just say, hi, I’m David. So, what are you guys, you know, what are you guys up to today? Without worrying at all about comprehending the long answer that might come back. But I think if you’re a non-native speaker and you want to sort of avoid that, you can kind of talk for a little bit versus opening with a quick question.
Rachel: Yeah, you can sort of prepare your little introduction.
Rachel: So, once you’ve started making, like, let’s call them light friendships.
Rachel: People that you know, you’re friendly with you know their name, how do you build them into more supportive friendships?
David: That’s the big question, right? [Laughs] Um–
Rachel: Actually, that brings me to another question that came in, that I’d love to read now, because I think that will become part of this conversation.
Rachel: So, this is a question that came from one of my students in Rachel’s English Academy and she’s from Germany and now she lives in the U.S. And, she has said to me, you know, I find that American’s are really open to talking with me if I’m in a really mood and all I’m just–all I’m saying are positive things, you know, like is good, life is great. Everything’s good. Let’s have fun and talk about funny things. Then people are really willing to engage with her. But, she said, but if I bring up something difficult in my life, something that I’m having a problem with, maybe financial difficulties, or looking for a job, having a hard time finding a job, or just a struggle in general. When I bring that up, she said that she finds that people don’t really seem to want to talk about it. She said, of course there are a few times where she’s found people who are willing to discuss this with her, but in general, people seem to kind of turn away from that kind of conversation about the harder things in life. But, the things that are present for everybody. Um, what, were you going to say something?
David: Well yeah. Right. I think that when we take a risk or we’re vulnerable and share a little bit of something that’s real or something that’s deep. You know, that she gives great examples there about things that are hard. When we are with someone who has been a casual friend and we take a risk and share something that is really, you know, deep for us, that’s a real struggle, I think that’s sort of how you figure out which of your casual friends are the relationships to really invest in and go for more depth with. I mean, you know, just to put some numbers on it, I think if you have ten casual friends, and with each of those ten people at some point you take a risk and really share something about yourself, I would expect that probably two out of those ten conversations would then go into a deeper, uh, fuller conversation. You know, it’s sort of like with the initial conversation with someone at line at the grocery store. You strike up ten of those conversations, probably only two of those conversations are going to be more than just a quick, casual, hey how’s it going.
So, it’s, I think it’s difficult because when we’re being vulnerable and sharing things that are difficult, we’re really, you know, we’re putting ourselves out there. So, it’s hard to be rejected or–well maybe that’s too strong of a word, but maybe not. You know, it’s a feeling of rejection that comes up when the other person doesn’t want to engage. Well, that’s tough when eight out of ten times people aren’t really interested in the fact that you just shared something that you’re really struggling with. The other side is, if you can think about it as from the positive side, you’ve found two people with whom you can now really invest deeply with. And, I think that’s a pretty compelling reason to say that the eight shut downs–shoot–what’s it called? Being shot down, are worth it.
Rachel: Yeah, so, okay, a couple of things there. One, one thing is how to build more supportive, deeper friendships. One way is to simply open up more and tell more things about yourself, including things that are hard.
Rachel: More vulnerable. Um, then David’s talking about, you know, when you try to deepen a friendship by doing that, there’s a maybe very good chance that that person is not ready to have that kind of friendship with you and is just going to kind of find a way to change the subject of the conversation.
Rachel: But a couple will likely be willing to be more receptive to that.
Rachel: Um, so, maybe what this woman who submitted this comment, maybe the culture where she is in, it’s more normal to talk about struggles with friendships that are a little bit less deep. I mean, for me, if I have a casual acquaintance with someone and they start talking about something that they’re struggling with, this is awful, but part of me starts to wonder, what do they, what are they trying to get out of me? What do they want me to do for them? Isn’t that horrible? Whereas, if it’s a good friend, then I’m all ears. I’m listening, I’m engaged, I want to help that person. You know, I want to be there for that person, I want to help him or her fix whatever is wrong. But if it’s someone that I don’t really know, and they start talking about what’s difficult in their life, I find that I really don’t know what to do with that and I start to think, why are they telling me this? Do you ever feel that? I mean, how do you–I guess it depends on how you’re defining an acquaintance. But David’s looking at me like he maybe doesn’t agree.
David: I think–no, no, not that I don’t agree. I think that what’s coming up for you in those moments is your discomfort and your disinterest in taking that relationship to a deeper place. I mean, again, I would focus on the two out of ten times when it does feel right. You know?
David: I don’t think–we can spend a ton of time examining the eight out of ten, but I think your energy is much better spent on those two out of ten times when somebody that is a casual friend to you, opens up and starts sharing with you. And, you’re kind of like, oh, wow, we’re going there? Okay. That kind of–I wasn’t expecting this, but all right, this–okay, I’m listening.
Rachel: So, one of the things that she had said was, she feels like Americans only want to talk about positive things. And, I guess what we are saying here, is that that is probably true of acquaintances and people of a certain level of friendship. But, once you are, you know, spending more time with somebody and sharing more personal things with somebody, and it’s reciprocated, then that person will, I think, definitely be willing to talk about your struggles. I mean, Americans don’t shy away from that, they just, I think, save that kind of conversation for someone that they have a very particular kind of relationship with. And, so that conversation happening outside of a friendship that they feel is very deep, probably feels awkward and that, I think might be where that person is feeling shutdown.
David: Yeah and I think that you’re right, that that is–I’m sure it’s lodged in cultural norms and is different from place to place from culture to culture. But, I–yeah, I think that that’s exactly right. And, probably what’s hard is that there’s no way to know where you are, sort of, with another person without testing it out. Like–
Rachel: Right. And then you either get shut down or the person’s interested.
David:Yeah, you can try to, um, assess and assess and assess in your mind. Like, well, you know they said this last time and I almost said something, but then I didn’t, and I wonder if–you can go around and around for circles for hours and hours about whether or not this person is someone who you should take a risk with. Or, you can just go for it and, and, sort of, that takes major courage. But, if you can get yourself to know, hey you know what, eight out of ten times it may not go well, but it’s worth it because those two out of ten times where it does go well, are really, really worth it to me, so I’m going to, I’m going to go for it.
Rachel: Yeah. That’s where you start building the real friendships. And, actually, one way that you can test the waters, that is try, try something out with, with somebody. Let’s say you’ve met them a couple of times, they’re an acquaintance, you maybe consider them a friend. Rather than opening up about yourself and saying something that you’re struggling with or something that’s hard for you to deal with, you can ask that person a question.
Rachel: And then see how they respond. Do they go deep with their answer or do they just sort of just give a light, surface-y answer? Then that’s a clue, okay, this person isn’t ready to talk about these more important things with me. Or, this person is ready.
David: Yeah, that’s a really good point. That thought had crossed my mind earlier and I’m glad you brought it up. Yeah, absolutely.
Rachel: So, what would be an example of a kind of question that someone could ask an acquaintance/light new friend, in order to see, oh, like how can I try to take this friendship deeper?
David: Yeah, I think a couple things. I mean, one of the things is to say something that you noticed and ask about it.
David: Um, I noticed last time we were hanging out that you didn’t mention how your husband’s doing, is everything going okay with you guys?
Rachel: Mm-hmm. Or, even just how is (blank) going? Even if you have no idea if it is going to involve a good answer or a bad answer. Just asking, oh how are things going with the kids? Or, how are things going at work?
David: Yeah. Anything that anybody says you can follow up with, and how is that for you? How’s that going for you?
Rachel: Mm-hmm. And then from there, depending on their answer you might be able to draw them out more, see if they’re interested in being drawn out more. And if they are, then that conversation will grow and probably that friendship with grow.
Rachel: I read an article, several months ago now about a bunch of high schools that were accepting one year–or, one to two-year International students, like from China. The article was focusing on Chinese students studying in American high schools. And the article was talking about how hard it is for these Chinese students to make friends in American. And I was like, gosh, of course. And part of it is, in a high school situation, kids are using so much slang that these students are coming, who studied English formally, and they don’t understand the, the general idea of conversation. Like, they just can’t keep up.
Rachel: And I think that would be incredibly hard. And I think if you’re in that situation, your only hope is to ask what people mean and probably be doing that a lot. And, for a lot of people that might be annoying and that might turn them off. But, for a few people, they’ll be willing to answer you and then those are the people with whom, I think, you’re going to start to develop a more real friendship. What do you think David?
David: Right. Exactly. Yup. I think that’s exactly right.
Rachel: So really, making friends and turning acquaintances into deeper friends is hugely an issue of putting yourself out there. That means taking a risk.
Rachel: Being vulnerable.
Rachel: David, talk to me about some of your best friends, about how you met those people, where that friendship was nurtured.
David: Sure. So, one of my closest friends I met in high school, so in 9th grade. And, we had class together and we just–I think the first time that we spoke was during an assignment in the Spanish class and we hit it off. We ended up, you know, both playing basketball and that was the start of a friendship that’s still really close to this day.
Rachel: So, a friendship that carried through from childhood?
David: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
David: Yeah, we would have been–what’s– how old are you in 9th grade? Fifteen, I guess.
Rachel: Fourteen, maybe. Okay.
David: So, that’s one extreme. That’s an example of a childhood friend. And then, I guess sort of on the other end would be someone that I met about seven years ago at work. Who, you know, just from being at work together and having conversations there, realizing that, oh, you know what, we really get along well. And so, them he and I started to hang out outside of work sometimes and, you know, that ended up becoming a very close friendship. Um, I was the officiant at their wedding and we are, you know, extremely close now and see each other a lot even though we no longer work together. So, that’s someone who I met later in life, who, who has become a very close friend as well.
Rachel: And then what about Adrian? You have a really interesting story about how you met him, don’t you?
David: Yeah. So, we were, we had a mutual friend. And when Adrian and I met, we started to do some of the typical questions back and forth about, so what do you do? And we realized that we had both done restorative justice work, which is a particular type of intervention with people in conflict. Then we realized that we had both done work around domestic violence and we were both, um, politically engaged in sort of really similar ways and, um, just sort of had this story that kept mirroring each other at every turn. And, um, it’s another example of how you can really quickly become close with someone when you realize you have a bunch of overlapping life experiences and just can hit it off right away because of that.
Rachel: I had, I had heard the story that you guys were at a bar and you just randomly met. But you actually were there because you had a friend in common?
David: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
Rachel: Oh, okay, okay. But still, you strike up this conversation and you find you have all these things in common and then–
David: Right. Right. Mm-hmm.
Rachel: He’s moved away now, but he just visited us last week. It was great to see him.
David: It was great.
Rachel: Let me see if I can talk about some of my friendships that I have. Um, one of them–well I definitely have friends from college, that’s just where I met–You know, actually my mom has made this comment – throughout my life, I tend to have entered into or built around me these groups of like six to eight woman that have become really close and supportive communities. I had that in high school and growing up. I had the same thing in college and then living in New York. I had developed this awesome group of women too. Um, and so that’s been lucky. And, you know, the growing up and the college, that’s obvious because you’re together all the time in school. In New York, we all met because we were connected through various people and, you know, I think New York is the kind of place where there are so many people, that it’s actually easy to feel lost.
And so, I think when you’re going there, you often reach out. Who do you know? Who do you know? Who knows people in New York? And, very often there are people who know people in New York and so that can kind of build a web for you when you go somewhere and that definitely happened for me. And one of my other really close friends, who has been in a bunch of Rachel’s English videos, her name is Lynn, but we all call her Beads. I met her from a singing gig and I think when you’re in the Arts and Theatre at the Performing Arts, you can make really, really amazing friends because obviously you have the same passion. And then, when you’re in a production, you are just hanging out together all the time.
David: I would also say that when you’re performing, you’re constantly in a state of vulnerability alongside people too.
Rachel: Mm, that’s interesting. Yeah, and people know what you’re going through. Like if you get sick, you know, as a singer, if you get a cold, you know, your other friends are like, oh it’s fine, it’s a cold, you’ll be okay. Whereas, another singer knows, oh my gosh, that’s going to have to–yeah, going to have to figure out how to work through that, that’s going to be tough.
Rachel: Yeah. Well, David it’s been really interesting discussing friendships with you. And, just thinking about how many times you might kind of reach out to somebody and have them not be interested before you find someone where you can develop something more. And, I, I’m really curious, is this very different from what people out there experience in their own home culture, or is it, is it pretty similar? Um, I, I wish that I had the chance to talk with other people from other cultures about this. But thank you guys so much for listening, and thank you David for being here and sharing some about your life, your background and your perspective on friendships.
David: Yeah, you’re welcome. That was really fun.
Rachel: And, thanks for the questions that got written in. Guys, if you would like to subscribe to this podcast, I hope you do, you can visit the iTunes Store or Stitcher to subscribe. I would also love it if you would take the time to leave a review there. You know what? Go do it right now. I read all of the reviews and I really love to hear what you think about the podcast. That’s it for this week, we’ll be back again next week. Can’t wait to talk to you guys. See you soon.
David: Bye guys.