Below I arranged a combination of rules, guidelines, and recommendations on how to make friends. These skills were learned in a local market in a city of 100,000 in northern Ecuador. They are results of trial and error, embarrassment, laughs, and smiles.
Most steps were learned while making friends with food vendors in a market. For example, a 17-year-old who sells onions and stopped studying when she was 14, or a 50-year-old indigenous woman who sells underpants and shoelaces.
On the surface American and Ecuadorian lives are strikingly different. But, when one digs a bit more, puts themselves out of their comfort zone, talks to the people, refrains from judgment, and offers a smile to everyone, the cultural layers start to peel away. They want the same we do: happiness in the home, a stable income, good food, and love. What else do we really want?
Enjoy and I challenge you to apply what you read to your life.
How To Make Friends
1. Start from rock bottom. I had a pretty constant stream of kids come visit me every day to learn and do homework together. Then I went to the beach for a week with Global Citizen Year. When I returned I had lost 100% of my following. I would show up to teach and not a single one of my regulars was there to meet me with their eager smiles. I had no one. Which turned into a blessing.
2. Get your Gringo butt out there. I moped for a day, feeling bad for myself. But the next day I went to the papeleria and got 25 copies of flyers to advertise my classes. From there I walked around the market with my Global Citizen Year comrade, Lauren, and began to talk.
3. Walk up to a random person. First stop, herb lady. I got dragged into a long lecture on the uselessness of the president, but left with a friend. Now when I need basil or a nice discussion about political corruption, I know where to go.
4. Walk up to another random person. Smile. Then I walked to the corn on the cob diva who was so excited about the classes for her 7-year-old that she ignored other customers.
5. Accept juice offers. Even if that means risking your health for the questionable water that is being used for the Maracuya jugo. Yolo.
6. Praise the grandpa on his guinea pigs. Wow, those are some chunky piggers! Oh but, no thanks, I think I’ll pass on the guinea pig, but send your grandson to my English classes!
7. Respect all. Always use “usted” with anyone over the age of 15. Always shake hands to greet and say goodbye. If they drop a dollar coin, pick it up.
8. Compliment. Maybe they have a really organized fruit stand. Maybe their baby has beautiful eyes. Maybe their daughter is really good at concentrating on her homework. Compliment people unabashedly. It makes everyone feel good.
9. Mess up Kichwa words. If you know any indigenous languages, get to work! The indigenous love it when the gringa shows interest in their language and culture. Even if it means accidentally saying “boob” instead of “father” in front of a group of 9 Kichwa speakers (teta vs taita oops). Demonstrating respect and true interest in the culture of someone generates major friendship opportunities.
10. Make a fool of yourself! People like to laugh.
11. Carry lollypops around. Self-explanatory.
12. Come back. It is very important is to return. The next day after a very successful tutoring session with 11 new students, I went around and chatted with the parents whom I met the day before. They remembered me and I them. I sat at the vegetable post with my new friend, Mari, and showed her funny ways to high-five.
With these steps, I went from dreading going to work, to counting down the hours until I could go back to the market.
Maybe there isn’t a guinea pig vendor at Whole Foods, but there is that same barista at Starbucks. Tell them they are lookin’ good. Chicago doesn’t have an indigenous language, but there are plenty of Spanish speakers to whom you can crack a funky spanish pun. Learn how to say “hello” in Arabic and say that to your Arabic classmate the next time you sit next to each other in the Language Lab.
Make a joke, look stupid, give a smile, laugh a bit. Make a friend. It makes everything more fun.