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Strangers into friends: Colombian style


Amin and Amala: my new friends

"The Square"

That's what I call it. A twelve-minute walk from my home, Paisas (what people from Medellin call themselves) begin to hang out there starting from around 4:00 PM. Sometimes as singles, more often as couples, and sometimes in a group of three or more.

The gambit

Immediately as I walk into the Square, I glance around and select who my new friends will hopefully be, most often the first couple that I notice. 

Almost everyone is sitting around the three-sided edge of the Square, facing inward. I approach my intended new friends confidently from the inside of the Square, stopping about two meters from where they are sitting. By this time, one or both of them will look up at me.

In a tentative, polite manner, looking back and forth at both of them, I ask, "Can you speak English?" Close to 80% of the time one or both of them can speak enough English so I can continue with the rest of my introduction, focusing more on the person who said they could speak English.

"My name is Dwight. Three months ago I moved to my new home here in Medellin after living 21 years in China. I'm finding that Colombian people are quite different from Chinese I'm trying to get to know them better. Would it be okay if we talked together for a few minutes to get to know each other?"

Almost always I can see that my introduction has sparked some surprise and interest in their eyes. At least 95% of the time the answer is "yes."

I then ask if I might sit down on the steps (one step lower than they are) to one side or the other so that we can more comfortably talk together. I repeat my name and then ask for each of their names. 

Sometimes they have questions for me right away, but I usually lead off by finding out about their work or what they are studying in school. I then share about being a life coach, working over the phone with my clients in the USA from anywhere in the world. They often ask why I moved to Medellin. 

At some point, I will find out the nature of their relationship. Then I will ask each one of them what they like about the other one. This usually brings some embarrassed smiles. 

Even though I have some leading questions I can always fall back on, as with most enjoyable conversations, there's spontaneity and each one of us is in repartee with the others.

The conversation will usually continue for 15-20 minutes at which time I will hand them my Whatsapp introduction card, which is in Spanish, that asks them to become Whatsapp friends with me. In saying goodbye, I thank them for their cordiality and I ask them to "count me as your friend." 

Friends galore

Yes, it's probably true that few of these will become close friends, but they are friends nevertheless.

Currently, I am enjoying visiting the Square almost every afternoon, getting to know at least ten new Colombians each week. 

“A stranger is just a friend I haven't met yet."

-Will Rogers

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