On making friends with strangers
Somethingyousaid.com’s Addy Fong attended the second birthday of The Ritz in Marrickville…
To be honest, I’ve never really liked attending parties or social gatherings. Perhaps this is because I tend to feel uncomfortable in social situations where I don’t know anyone and need to hold the illusion of being able to hold a conversation with another human being. Whenever I arrive early to a venue, which is quite often, somehow I find myself becoming acquainted with the soap dispenser or appreciating the aesthetics of a venue’s bathroom tiles.
The promise however, of a free feed compelled me to attend the The Ritz in Marrickville’s second birthday. I mean, let’s face it, who doesn’t like food?
Upon arrival, I found the venue to be wonderfully ambient, with music playing at a volume subtle enough to serve as a backdrop to the conversations people around me were having. I had decided there and then that I would spend the night people-watching. Yes.
Interwoven between the music playing at the venue was a live act, Two Minds, an acoustic duo playing covers of quintessentially Aussie songs, which catapulted many guests, myself included, into fits of nostalgia. Everyone sang along in hushed tones, mouthing the words to the familiar tunes, as if participants in a game of silent karaoke.
The food was lovely and the wait staff wonderful, as an array of bite sized flavours, including spring rolls, chicken skewers, rice paper rolls and a spoonful of Tim Tam tiramisu, quickly made their way onto my palate. With each mouthful I consumed I shared an intimate moment with food, possibly because I was hungry (I don’t know about you, but when you’re hungry a good meal is definitely something worth celebrating).
Not long after the room became quickly overcrowded with couples sharing drinks sprinkled with conversation. I had arrived alone, unable to taste the sweet familiarity of friendship in a place that seemed so foreign to me. As the night wore on, I soon found myself having a one-sided conversation with a plant whose response was indifferent.
’Think I should leave?’
‘I am leaves.’
‘Everyone’s looking at me sitting here by myself. Cover me.’
‘Look mate, I’m just a plant.’
Okay, so I’ll admit that it’s a little odd when you start envisioning yourself spilling your life secrets to a plant because you feel too introverted to talk to someone. Needless to say, plants are wonderful listeners but unfortunately they don’t respond well to your questions.
Despite having succeeded many times by distracting strangers with compliments or really badly composed humour, initiating conversations with strangers has got to be one of the most terrifying things I keep doing. Even today, I still get nervous.
Risking social humiliation, your body’s classic flight or fight response comes into play when approaching a stranger. Thankfully, most people are friendly and receptive if you greet them with a smile. That night, I decided to fight, approaching a group of strangers at the party despite my anxieties.
‘Hi, I’m Addy. Mind if I join you? I don’t know anyone here.’
‘Yeah of course!’
Moments later, I find myself singing David Bowie’s Space Oddity with these new found mates of mine and drinking from a visually impressive tower of beer, three litres to be exact, of which made a bloke who ordered a pint beforehand say how he, ‘felt emasculated by the size of it’.
The tower quickly grew to become the novelty tourist attraction of the party as attendees began to take photos of it. (We should have charged them for the privilege of doing so and made a killing).
Nevertheless, it started a whole range of conversations with strangers about music, filmmaking, and the influences of culture, as well as more serious topics of bullying and mental health, none of which I would have had if I had chosen to leave.
That night, I became reminded of the reason I choose to attend events despite my discomfort, a sense of belonging and social inclusivity. You see, for me the Ritz’s second birthday was not merely a celebration of the venue itself but a celebration of the diversity of culture and of individuality. Not only did this party provide me with food to satisfy my hunger, it introduced me to a new circle of friends, of which I am ever so grateful.