I’ve been asked a lot of strange things in my time, but, “Are you going meat shopping with us later?” is surely one of the strangest questions I’ve ever received.
The answer was, of course, “yes.” Because who could pass up something so…odd?
A few hours later I was traipsing around somewhere in downtown Chicago with my boss, who was hell-bent on making it to the grand opening of a new butcher shop-slash-lunch joint at which one of his good friends is head chef (and butcher). I had no idea where the hell I was, though my boss did his best to insert some Chicago knowledge into my fuddled head.
And then we crossed a bridge, and he stopped.
“That’s one of my favorite views of the city,” he said.
It was gorgeous indeed. An old drawbridge was cranked up to one side, permanently leaning out over the river. On the other side, a set of rooftops almost (but not quite) paralleled it. Half a mile down the river, the lights of downtown bounced off the dusky twilight water. It was almost quaint, which seemed laughable here in the heart of Chicago.
And then we were off again, through the West Loop and the restaurant district, while Brian told me about the industry that was formerly here, how this part of town smelled strongly of chocolate in the mornings because there was a factory here, that butchery was central to Chicago’s history.
We squeaked into the butcher shop fifteen minutes before closing time. Never have I seen meat treated with so much love. A sampling of something resembling prosciutto was handed to me on a piece of white paper. Sliced thin enough to see through, it was delicate and smoky. I bought a loop of chorizo, which I plan to make into something delicious this weekend.
My boss asked how I was getting home. I rattled off a bus number and made my way to the stop. I thought on the ride home how different I am from the girl who moved from Fresno to Phoenix three years ago. That girl didn’t even visit the farmers market three blocks away from her for about nine months. She wouldn’t have felt comfortable going on such an adventure, and as a result she would have missed out on a lot. Part of that was due to the pressures of grad school, but part of it, too, was learning how to not let my introverted self get in the way of having new experiences and meeting people. After moving so many times in the last few years, I feel like I’ve finally started to develop a bag of tricks for making a new place feel like home. I share them now with you (and welcome your suggestions):
- Be okay with being awkward. This has got to be your ground rule. Eventually, it will get less awkward — but trying to pretend it isn’t will only make things worse.
- Go places. Just go. Just go and do. Ride the train to nowhere (just make sure it’s safe first). Go see a play. Go to the museum. Yes, it will be awkward by yourself (see point #1). Some of my favorites are craft fairs and farmer’s markets. The vendors at these are often only too happy to talk about their work, and sometimes you’ll end up pulling other shoppers into the conversation, too.
- Go to social events. Meetup groups are great for this. Church is great for this. There are often other new folk, and if there aren’t, the regulars are often more than happy to see a new person interested in what they’re doing.
- Get there early. If it’s an event (for me, church) with a set start time, get there fifteen minutes early. Grab a cup of coffee. I often just end up standing awkwardly in the corner, but sometimes I have a good conversation out of it. Offer to bring snacks, if it’s that kind of group. If it’s the sort of recurring event that needs set up (chairs, A/V equipment), help. That is the single best way I’ve found to meet people. Speaking of which…
- Volunteer. I’m biased toward the Scouts in low-income areas, where leaders will welcome the extra help and you can often make a difference to kids who need it, without the kind of commitment that programs like Big Brother, Big Sister require. This is also my trick for making a new church feel like home. Because I’m an introvert, I do NOT enjoy approaching people and introducing myself just for idle chatter. But if I have a job, I can introduce myself because I need someone to pass me a cable or show me where the kitchen is. And it gives me something else to focus on besides how awkward I am.
- Show your personality. I wear cowboy boots a lot, just out of habit. It’s ridiculous how often people comment on them out here. Or on my “OMG PWNIES” ThinkGeek bag. Or my favorite brightly colored, fair trade shawl. Or my pink houndstooth sneakers. Have flair, look interesting, and it will give someone else a reason to strike up a conversation with you.
- Don’t turn down opportunities to go new places, even if it sounds odd. Even if you don’t meet someone new there, your life will be richer for it. I’ve been to pastors conferences, codeathons, horse shows, rodeos, Ethiopian restaurants, diners, dive bars, cupcake trucks, and, yes, butcher shops with beautiful meat.