In a brand-new apartment, Dana Filek-Gibson tries desperately to make friends with the neighbourhood parking attendant.
Call me old-fashioned, but nothing says ‘I want to be your friend’ like awkward conversation and gifts. Put these two together and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a lasting friendship. How do you think most romantic relationships start? You ask someone about the weather, buy them a gold bracelet or a pulled pork sandwich and BOOM – you’re engaged.
Mind you, I have no plans to marry the parking attendant at my building but I am out to win him over in a friendly, please-don’t-hate-me sort of way. Last month, after our friendship got off to a rocky start, I worried that perhaps Mr Dat* had the wrong impression of me. Also, he is one of those indispensable individuals – like coffee ladies, maids and security guards – who could make your life very difficult, should he choose. And so where the average person might extend an olive branch and be done with it, I am going to assault Mr Dat with kindness. Incessant, forceful, all-consuming kindness. And we are going to be friends.
Make no mistake: I am determined. As long as it’s eating, word games or binge-watching TV, I can do anything I put my mind to. So far, my mission seems to be going well. By subscribing to the above tenets, Mr Dat and I have made in-roads, and I believe that you, too, can thaw the icy relationship with your parking attendant/cleaning lady/significant other if you follow my lead.
First, it’s important to make small talk. In the beginning, stick to generic comments like “Good morning” or “Hello” or, as Vietnamese culture allows, “Did you eat yet?” It is telling that I have chosen to live in a country where no one is interested in asking about my well-being but everyone wants to know if I’m hungry.
Once you’ve managed to ease the initial tension, it’s time to jump in to a more personal level of conversation. I know Mr Dat and I are becoming better friends already because he’s made a few well-timed jokes about my eating habits. Even if they come from a place of judgment, I can tell that he gets amusement out of them and so, without even trying, I have become the neighbourhood comedian.
Then, of course, there’s gifts. I have yet to master this stage of friendship but what I can tell you is that it’s important. You can’t give just anything: it has to be thoughtful enough that it doesn’t look like you found it in your purse but not so thoughtful that you seem overly-invested.
The jury’s still out on what constitutes a good gift for a total stranger you’re trying to platonically seduce, but let me tell you it is not as easy as it sounds. When I took a weekend trip to Vung Tau with friends last month, my greatest worry was whether or not I could find an acceptable token for the parking attendant in my life because nothing says friendship like a souvenir keychain or several packages of the local specialty.
I haven’t got the hang of it yet, to be honest, but I’m sure that in time I’ll figure it out. For now, I just carry on asking Mr Dat what he had for breakfast each morning, laughing too loud at his jokes and thinking up small ways to become best friends.
*Mr Dat’s name has been changed because if he ever read this I’m pretty sure my efforts would be lost.