Shelley’s Review: I am lucky to also be a member of Cheryl’s FIKA group. I fell in love with Cheryl immediately when I learned that she is not only a fellow extrovert, but also an avid reader of the classics and contemporary fiction. This makes it easier to overlook her odd tea habit. Cheryl, I’m ready for the trip to alpaca farm.
For my first Halloween in Asheville I donned my big, Russian fur hat, sunglasses and trench coat. I entered a restaurant where some of my new friends had assembled for the Halloween version of our coffee meetup. I spoke with an untested Russian accent and gave a phony name. I was welcomed and accepted. They did not know who I was. I almost peed my pants with joy. Halloween is my favorite holiday. Before cosplay, we had to save our alter egos, playful disguises and bad acting for October 31 or thereabouts. I have never missed an opportunity to confuse people and these new acquaintances were fresh fodder for my usual Halloween antics. I wasn’t entirely sure this was the best way to go about forging friendships, but after I laughed, spoke in my own voice and gave away my identity, this assembled group did not pull out the pitchforks and drive me back to my costume trunk to reconsider the wisdom of my ways.
After our big move from the Texas coast to the North Carolina mountains, one of my top priorities, after finding my way around and settling into our new home, was meeting people. I had lived in one place for forty-two years and though in touch on Facebook and other social media, the majority of my friends were physically half a continent away. Though there were a lot of activities available in my new city, I felt bereft of companionable cronies with which to scout them out and rejoice or lament in the experience.
Exploring Meetups, the outlet for finding people who like to do the same stuff as you like, was an excellent strategy for finding people who like to do the same stuff as we like. Asheville is a town of many transplants. The first question you are asked is where are you from, followed by how long have you lived here. People here are looking for connections.
It was not my intention to replace old friends, but the physical presence of friends is desired for an enjoyable life. Sharing activities is fundamental to the nurturing of the soul. Even if that activity is chatting while drinking coffee or laughing over lunch. Acquaintances become friendships when we actively participate in experiences together and share our life stories. Being new in town requires a certain amount of moxie, bridging the gap from strangers to friends, taking that leap of faith that the people you meet will like you and want to go to the Cat Museum or Alpaca Farm or rummage through the Extremely Large Resale Barn next to the river with you.
One evening, my husband and I were eating at a small middle eastern restaurant where the tables line up along a bench at the back wall. There was enough space between the tables, accommodating two to four diners, to allow a small-bottomed person to slide between and plunk down on the bench. Shortly after our food arrived, another couple sat at the table next to ours. We exchanged friendly hellos then returned to our own food and conversations. The man asked us a question and our conversation merged with theirs until we became better acquainted. The woman introduced herself and asked for our names. We obliged. In a new community, you take more risks, so I gave her my phone number so that she could contact me about a coffee Meetup group that she enjoyed from time to time. We finished our meal and left. I was happy to have made a contact. She was the first person to ask for my phone number. It seemed momentous.
When she called a couple weeks later to invite me to accompany her to the aforementioned coffee group, we were hosting our first out-of-town guests and I had to turn down the invitation. I called her two weeks later to see if she would go with me to the next coffee meetup. She declined, too busy. Had I made some mistake? I tried again the next week. She was going out of town. These things happen with busy people. You might get only the one shot while they are experiencing a lag in their busy schedules. I felt I had blown it.
I decided to go on my own. I looked up where they would next meet and showed up at the coffee Meetup unannounced. I had never been to an official Meetup group, so I did not realize one must rsvp to some activities due to the space limitations of some of their meeting places. Duly, but gently notified, I proceeded to make a big dent in my no-friends-in-Asheville status. While I had previously thought that my best chance of a potential new friend had taken place in that middle eastern restaurant, I was wrong. I only saw her once more at one of these Meetup groups. I didn’t mourn or regret that lost potential for making a new friend. There was, at this very first introduction into Meetups, a room full of them!
I was welcomed, seated, looked over and questioned. This scrutiny might put off the timid and reticent; I embraced it, reveled in it and engaged with everyone near enough to hear me over the din of all those other people connecting in the room. Some had been coming for a long time and seemed to be well connected to one another. Others had only recently arrived in town. The official name of the group is FIKA, a Swedish concept which embraces the attitude that one should make time each day to relax over coffee with friends. I don’t even drink coffee. They politely tolerate tea drinkers. Participants don’t care what anyone is eating or drinking; they are there for the comradery of their companions. With no other requirements to join, other than the willingness to sit down and chat, the group appealed to my social nature. I became a regular member.
I put the FIKA gatherers to my favorite litmus test that first Halloween, just a month or so after my first meeting. I received looks of amusement and questioning (who was this weird person?) and I felt myself right at home among the costumed and unadorned alike. I knew then that I had found my tribe, a large troupe of open and friendly folks always ready for great conversation and friendship. Dare I say it now? I met some of my future guest editors that day! After that first year of weekly attendance at FIKA events, my number of HOA (hugs on arrival) increased to the point that I was no longer jealous of the well-acquainted persons I saw at those first few meetings. They are my friends now.
Over my second year of FIKA gatherings, a squad of close friends was formed. Qualifications seemed only to be having a particular sense of humor, being willing to participate in activities, laughing at inappropriate moments and then laughing at laughing at inappropriate moments. Now I have the pleasure of being in a group text and having long, rambling, online conversations that last for days and may or may not result in coming together for some shared activity. This year, one of sparse face-to-face contact, our communications have been kept alive via that continual text, ZOOM gatherings and meeting up outside when the timing and weather are right.
When the cooler weather of autumn arrived, FIKA started to have outdoor meetings. I went to my first in-person gathering. Ten people met in a park near my home. I looked upon those familiar faces and felt content. Though hugs were still out of vogue, I could feel that a hug-ish intention was presented by my coffee-drinking buddies. Halloween is coming soon and I will be ready with another wacky costume to amuse these friends, online or outside, to keep these connections going, even though I drink tea in this coffee-drinking world.
The kettle and coffee are always on,
I met Guest Editor Shelley at a FIKA event. I was struck by her terrific sense of humor. Don’t worry, I recovered to find that we have much in common. I believe a trip to the alpaca farm is in the cards. Who could want for more in a friend?