Meeting People is Easy
25 April 2002
It's never easy moving into a new town. Which bars do you go to, where's not safe to walk at night, when's the time you really should be turning your music down - all questions that need to be resolved by trial and error, by experience. Think of the upheaval when you first moved house, as a child. Think of when you started a new school. Think of moving out of home for the first time and into halls at eighteen, a world of opportunities for sure, but full of uncertainty.
But in all of these moves you've got some security in your circumstances, a cocoon of people in the same situation. You move house as a family, you quickly establish a network through the job your parents moved for, through the relations you wanted to be closer to, through new schools and scout groups. When you started university, there were thousands of others in your exact same situation, equally lost, turning to each other for help.
Now try transposing seven work mates from London to Amsterdam overnight. Change nothing else in their daily existence: they all still work together, live together, play squash together. How long before the group implodes?
Maybe that's a bit melodramatic. But it's certainly a little tricky expanding your social circle when your entire waking life is spent in the company of the same six other people. You find yourself in a zone somewhere between comfort in the security of your seven-man cocoon, and boredom with the same locations, same conversations, same jokes.
Not speaking the native tongue doesn't help, of course. Take now, for instance. Sat on a tram opposite a pretty, friendly-looking local, I'd ideally like to strike up a conversation. But let's face it, this kind of thing's hard enough back home, where you share a common language, hang out in the same places, even know some of the same people if you're lucky. In our situation, the 'friend of a friend' option isn't even on the table. We know everyone out here that each other knows. A vicious Circle of Friends, if you will.
So, after a while, you decide that enough's enough. That we have to get off our arses of respective fatness and do something about it.
First up were some girls from The Student's university on their placement year. This looked promising on paper. Out here for six months already, working for a large multinational company, and surely with a lifestyle we could all still understand. Plus, the addition of three girls (and whatever friends they might bring into the equation) could only be good for our boy/girl ratios.
But as with all things in this life, expectations can be cruelly dashed. Not too much disappointment in the general appearance of the three - years of conditioning do their work here - but the realisation that one of them is actually the beast known throughout her uni as 'The Wall' could be seen as a bit of a blow. More galling is the fact that, after six months in the city, they have failed to expand their social circle to include exciting young Dutch people. A body blow to our social plans, and a sad portent for our own chances, perhaps?
So, we decided that recruiting new blood for our office would be the best option. A brave one at that, considering we're not making money yet. And so the rigours of interviews begin. A former air hostess who looks nowhere near the part, and cites her two main ambitions as 'buying a car out here in the next couple of years' and 'finding somewhere out here for my dog to stay'. All set for the cut and thrust of the business world, then. Locals whose main concern is whether we operate a 32-hour week option. Wide boys who just fancy moving out to Amsterdam to abuse themselves and some women on the cheap. In short, people who make us look good.
As is normally the case in these situations, it falls to me to find a solution. It seemed simple enough to me after a while. Seven people - that sounded familiar. I sensed a creative collective coming on...
The process I decided on is simple enough. Twice a week (probably on Mondays and Thursdays, one of the group (we work on a rotational basis) introduces a new person to the others. It doesn't matter where they come from, or what they do. They can be as short as you like, they can be creative, they can be fictional, they can even be pretty much incomprehensible. They should be nicely presented though, and grammatically correct, as we're not going to pick up on any of their mistakes. The main thing is that you bring one to the rest of us when it's your turn, to date (otherwise we'll get out of sync).
So far, it's going pretty well. Baffers introduced us to a pretty straightforward, direct type - no messing, you pretty much got where they were going immediately. The Big Guy's was more mature, more measured; perhaps a little dull in some ways, but nice enough. The Student hasn't made another effort since The Wall, but we can expect someone pretty haphazard and all over the place, but very entertaining. Salam's candidate will undoubtedly be a lying, devious type, who will big themselves up no end - full of hot air. And as for Jackie's - well, they'll probably be nicely presented, if nothing else.
And mine? You never know what to expect. Hopefully they'll turn up on time, but whether they're worth the wait or not is a tricky question. I'd say about half of them will be reasonably entertaining, some will confuse the hell out of us, and one of them will probably offend one of us at some point. But it'll all be good, clean fun; and hopefully by the end of it we'll be able to communicate properly with the outside world...