Shortly after moving from Florida to Georgia, I was baking cookies and ran out of vanilla. With a batch of cookies in the oven, I told my husband that I was going to run to the corner market and would probably be back before the 10 minutes were up on the cookies – but to listen for the timer anyway, just in case. I grabbed my wallet and keys and dashed out, leaving my cell phone behind because I thought I would only be gone for a minute.
Over an hour later, I dragged myself back through the door, exasperated and exhausted. The market was just around the corner from my house – only a minute away – but I made a wrong turn and ended up across town. Without my cell phone and without a GPS, I quickly became seriously lost. Now that I am very familiar with my neighborhood, I can look back and laugh at how wrong that afternoon went – but it was a very scary experience at the time.
When you move into a new city, it is a huge adjustment. The surroundings are unfamiliar, you don’t know the people living around you, and even a quick trip to the market can be daunting. Once you finish unpacking, develop a strategy to get familiar with your new neighborhood and your new city. Here are some suggestions on how to do it:
Before moving day, go to the city’s website and request a visitor’s brochure. Play tourist in your new town, either before you move or soon after settling in. Find the historical landmarks, the parks, the downtown farmer’s market, and the museums and theaters. Knowing what is in and around your new town will help you feel more familiar with the location. Also on the city’s website, check out the “residents” section to get important phone numbers, information on city services such as trash collection, public transit schedules, and directions to important locations, such as city hall.
Schedule daily walks, either first thing in the morning or after dinner. Not only is walking great exercise, but you’ll get much more familiar with your neighborhood than you ever could by driving around. Notice your neighbor’s houses and yards, so when you meet someone new and they tell you which house is theirs, you can compliment them on something you noticed: their beautiful rose garden, their new shutters, etc. This is a great way to start a conversation and get to know your neighbors. Chances are, other neighbors will be out walking dogs, chatting over fences, and mowing lawns, so this is a great way to stop and introduce yourself.
If you don’t want to – or can’t — walk around the neighborhood, spend time in your front yard where neighbors can see you and stop for a quick chat. Whether you sit on the front porch with your morning coffee, pull weeds in the late afternoon, or read on a bench outside your apartment complex, making yourself available and approachable is key to meeting your neighbors.
Get connected – to your homeowner’s association, the PTA (if you have school-age kids), the local book club, the neighborhood watch, the neighborhood bowling league – whatever. Find the groups and organizations that interest you and show up to them! Not only will you meet your neighbors, but you’ll find out about neighborhood happenings and feel as though you are “in the loop” and not an outsider.
Have a housewarming party! Be sure to invite all of your neighbors – either in person or with invitations. Keep it a very informal open house – if they want, they can drop in any time during the allotted party time (2 to 4, for example). Keep it simple – you are still unpacking boxes, after all! If you schedule your get-together after lunch but before dinner, guests won’t be expecting an elaborate spread. Just serve coffee, tea, and some cakes and cookies. Then don’t worry – they’ll show up! You are the new face on the block – they are curious about you, your family, and your home.
Make it a point to meet one new person every week. From the guy in the produce department at your local supermarket to your child’s new teacher to the city bus driver, making the effort to strike up a conversation with one new person a week will help you overcome that feeling of being alone in an unfamiliar place.
If you are bad with names, try this trick: Make it a point to repeat someone’s name after they give it to you. (It’s nice to meet you, Bob.) Then, connect their name with something familiar. For example, picture Bob behind the desk of a Vermont B&B in a pullover sweater, which will bring to mind Bob Newhart. Now, imagine writing Bob’s name on a Post-It and sticking it to his forehead. (It works! Franklin Roosevelt was famous for never forgetting a name because he would picture people with their names scrawled across their foreheads.) As they leave, say the name again (Goodbye, Bob!).
Be sure to ask your neighbors about the community’s traditions, events, and any neighborhood quirks. You’ll want to know about the neighborhood garage sale that takes place every April or the fall block party in October. You can also ask about the local schools, the area’s doctors and dentists, the location of the best coffee house and restaurant, and so on. Friendly neighbors can also clue you in on the not-so-friendly ones and things to avoid (Henry doesn’t like cars parked in front of his house; Sue will have a fit if the kids run across her lawn).
Finally – get lost! Be sure to take your phone and GPS, but go ahead and explore! You may discover a great out-of-the-way antique store or a gorgeous street lined with Victorian homes on one of your “getting lost” excursions. Perhaps you’ll find a great little park or a pick-your-own farm. When you discover one of these hidden gems, be sure to note the address or general directions so you’ll be able to find it again.
Before you know it, you will know your neighbors, your town, and all of the best locations. Don’t put it off – begin now, even before moving day, and your new neighborhood will quickly become home.
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