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Often, when you meet new people at parties, the first few minutes of conversations are fairly standard, especially when you come from a similar background. What do you study, what do you do, where did you grow up, what are your hobbies, …

But, somehow, none of the answers to these questions tells you a lot about a person, and they are very rarely inspiring. Even the hobbies are quite arbitrary as one can do most hobbies for a variety of reasons. What’s worse, I tend to forget the answers if not during the course of an evening, then certainly over the next couple of days. The underlying belief that one can get to know people through superficial facts always reminds me of the following quotation from “Le petit prince“:

Les grandes personnes aiment les chiffres. Quand vous leur parlez d’un nouvel ami, elles ne vous questionnent jamais sur l’essentiel. Elles ne vous disent jamais: “Quel est le son de sa voix? Quels sont les jeux qu’il préfère? Est-ce qu’il collectionne les papillons?” Elles vous demandent: “Quel âge a-t-il? Combien a-t-il de frères? Combien pèse-t-il? Combien gagne son père?” Alors seulement elles croient le connaître. Si vous dites aux grandes personnes: “J’ai vu une belle maison en briques roses, avec des géraniums aux fenêtres et des colombes sur le toit…” elles ne parviennent pas à s’imaginer cette maison. Il faut leur dire: “J’ai vu une maison de cent mille francs.” Alors elles s’écrient: “Comme c’est joli!”

So last weekend I decided to ask newly met people different questions. In particular: “What’s your favorite sound?”

I still remember all the answers I got and I don’t think I’ll ever forget them, ranging from the sound of pouring a wine from a bottle to the purring sound of a cat. I also believe that these answers let me get to people better in 30 seconds than many other standard questions in 30 minutes.

Do you have other good ideas for questions like this? Questions should be non-offensive, not too intrusive, require at least a few seconds of honest thinking and be a pure matter of personal opinion. Hmm, maybe I should even ask people this meta-question: “With which question do you think one can get to know people in an instance?” 🙂

One person almost “scared” me when she replied to the question “What are your passions?” by saying in a somewhat sad voice that she had honestly not thought about this for a long time.

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“Les salons de Modeste, c’est une spécialité de la ville de Fribourg. Une fois par an, entre 20 et 30 personnes ouvrent leur salon à ceux qui veulent bien leur rendre visite. Le principe: sur la base d’un choix totalement aléatoire, les personnes qui ont envie de participer à la Saint-Modeste se rendent dans l’un ou l’autre des salons ouverts à cette occasion pour une rencontre conviviale, sans autre but que la rencontre elle-même.”

Last night there was the “salons de modeste” in Fribourg. The selection criterion this year was “passions”. That is, you had to think of a passion, say “dance”, and then of it’s first letter, “d”. The local newspaper would then tell you which host would be “responsible” for you. Your host, which you’ve probably never met before in your whole life, would then offer free food and drink to all people who share passions starting with the same letter.

I went with a friend who’s keen on tennis and as I recently discovered tango, we decided to go for the host for the letter “t”, or actually for the prefix range “su-to”. A funny experience. You knock at somebody‘s (or rather Johanes’) door and that person is then “obliged” (… of course, these are volunteers) to offer you food and drink for the evening. So we got to enjoy homemade sushi (which actually tasted better than any sushi I’ve ever had in a Restaurant, including Japan) with 6 other people. What an absolutely brilliant “institution”! By the way, the place itself was also interesting and very original. It was actually a hobby garage with a somewhat improvised kitchen and “salon” on the second floor. Though this “floor” was more of a balcony, surrounded by a balustrade and with clear few on the two cars on the lower level. There was a clear smell of motor oil when you entered, but I stopped noticing it after about 10 seconds and it certainly did not spoil the taste of the meal.

However, the organizers made one mistake which might have unpleasant consequences for one of the hosts.

A 27-yr old girl living in a shared appartment also volunteered to be a host and she was responsible for “ru-st” (I think). As an example word from this range the organizers put “sexe” (the French spelling of “sex”). What’s worse, the address of the location included a remark “you have to go around the building” (so it sounded a bit “dodgy“) and she also gave her telephone number as the place is apparently not easy to find.

Now, obviously, the girl did not name “sex” as her passion to the organizers. And “sexe” was just one example word from the prefix range. But I really don’t want to know how many “prank calls” she got or what kind of people she might have accidentally attracted.

Last Saturday I went to see a, well, “piece” called Vertige at the Theater 2.21.

It certainly was not a regular theater piece but more of a multimedial experience. Video screens on either side of the room. Loudspeakers spread throughout the room. Some parts were certainly not esthetically pleasing (and they weren’t meant to be), and it was also not enlightening in any way (at least not to me), but I still enjoyed the show, as it was simply very creative. For example, have a look at this picture.
It also gave me a chance to meet a former colocataire (and not colocatrice as I would have said until a few weeks ago).

If you’re in Saarbrücken on November 16th, I hope to see you in the evening at THE social event of the year!

You can find the invitation (which you’ve probably also received by email) here.

As some people for some reason find our invitations funny/witty, I also post the ones to the Heaven and Hell (2006) and to the Pyjamas Party (2005).

@home: If you live in a shared appartment, put up an electronic dartboard.

@work: Buy lots of sweets and put up a sign “Free candy” next to your door.

Both worked fine in my case.  🙂

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