Whenever we attempt something new chances are we’ll learn something new. In the last 12 months of my quest to thaw the Seattle Freeze in my own neighborhood I’ve learned a few ‘trade secrets’ other Seattleites may want to use to increase connection with their neighbors. Some I’ve learned by trial and error, some I’ve picked up from those who’ve posted great comments on the blog.
Secret #1: Plan Ahead!
Confession: I am the Queen of the Last-Minute Invite. As an extroverted extrovert, I tend to make the silly assumption that people want to hang out. All the time. On a moment’s notice. What was I thinking? Early on I made the mistake of thinking that a week or less is ample notice for inviting people to dinner. Uh, wrong.
Here’s what I’ve learned: it is not at all odd – in fact it is preferred – to give your Seattle neighbors about 3-week’s advance notice for a dinner invite if you expect their calendar to be open. No exaggeration. Seattleites do not think it odd that you’re inviting them 3 weeks out. In fact, they appreciate it.
Secret #2: Don’t have everyone over for dinner in one night!
Block parties are GREAT for getting acquainted with a lot of neighbors on one night; dinner parties are not! One blog subscriber told me about a seriously CRAZY dinner party she had with her neighbors. She wanted to have some neighbors over for dinner that had just moved in a couple of months previous. But when she got ready to invite them, she felt a little “guilt twinge” that she hadn’t yet invited over some other neighbors that had moved in across the street two years previous. So, guilt won that round and she ended up inviting both of them. And they each had 3-4 kids. And she and her husband have 3 kids. IT WAS A ZOO. Forget conversation; the whole night she was just trying to keep the spaghetti off the dining room wall.
When moving from acquaintance to inviting a neighbor over for dinner, plan a dinner party with just one neighbor at a time. If you want to invite two neighbors, either stick with empty nesters or hire a sitter! Even with a sitter, keep the ceiling at six adults. More than six and your introverts will start dissolving into the wallpaper. #TrustMe
Secret #3: Don’t take a “no, thank you” personally
In a culture that is constantly moving with the wind in our hair, sitting down over a meal – or even a cup of coffee – is a gift. But in this day and age you can count on it taking a while to get some people to unwrap that gift. I still have neighbors, one year into this journey, with whom I’m still trying to find a time that works for both of us to have them over for dinner. No joke.
Since launching a coffee klatch last fall, each time we’ve met it’s been a different group, with maybe 1-2 people who were able to attend a previous klatch. People are busy and schedules change on a dime. DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY. Don’t focus on who can’t make it. Rather, celebrate who says “yes” and seize the opportunity to get to know them better.
Secret #4: Inviting is Contagious
Not every lesson I learned was difficult; some lessons have been downright encouraging. I’ve learned that by simply practicing the Discipline of Inviting, I think I’m seeing a shift in our neighborhood culture. I’m hearing about neighbors inviting other neighbors over for tea. I’ve seen families heading to another neighbor’s for dinner. I’ve been asked “when are we going to have another one of those block parties? It’s great to catch up with everyone.”
Certainly I’m not the first neighbor to extend an invite – that would be ridiculously egotistical of me to think that, especially since I was INVITED to participate in a neighborhood Bunko group and a neighborhood Book Club. But I’m feeling a shift in the frequency of invitations.
Maybe when we get intentional about inviting our neighbors to connect, the neighborhood culture itself starts to believe that ‘inviting is a safe thing to do here’ and, thus, encourages more inviting? I think yes.
Secret #5: Inviting is a Gift.
Whether or not a neighbor has been able to attend, many are so appreciative of just getting the invite.
- I’ve gotten hugs from neighbors while out for an evening walk who said “oh, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to make it – we had family in town – but thank you! I hope I can make it next time.”
- I’ve gotten a knock on my door from a neighbor just coming over to say thank you.
- I have a neighbor who said they’d been ‘burned’ in friendships in the past, but my invites and blog have encouraged them to start fresh and take some risks.
Even with some neighbors who’ve yet been able to make it over for a dinner, coffee klatch, block party or other thing – I talk to them more when we’re all outside doing yard work or bump into one another at the mailbox. I’ve gotten really nice voicemails and emails expressing sincere thanks for the invite, and ‘hope to make it next time.’
I believe the Discipline of Inviting opens doors to further conversations.
Secret #6: Not every neighbor wants to connect. But many do.
Yes, I still have neighbors on my street, in both directions, whom I’ve never met. They didn’t respond to my block party invite or my Seahawks Tailgate party. I wouldn’t know them if I passed them at the grocery store. But I HAVE met a lot of them, and I am grateful for those whose lives are in a place where they are able to connect and want to be known in our neighborhood.
For those that I’ve not yet met, I’m committed to stop categorizing people based on first impressions or responses. We never know what’s going on in people’s lives until we get to know them. And we never know when an opportunity might present itself to connect in the future.
Secret #7: Anyone can do this.
My goal with this journey was simply to put the pineapple out on the front porch and do my best to make sure the people on my street weren’t feeling victim to the Seattle Freeze. I just started doing some inviting. Nothing magical, nothing extraordinary. Nothing that anyone else couldn’t do. I hope more neighbors have felt welcomed, connected and happy to be a part of our neighborhood. I certainly am enjoying getting to know them and seeing them get to know one another.