Today I had one of the most interesting, inspiring conversations with strangers at East park.
I’ve been passing by this tent in the park for the last couple of days.
I saw people leaving there with drawings, I saw people chatting but didn’t have a clue what it was about, I only knew it was part of Summer in the Square, a month of free gigs, performances and activities at the Cultural Square.
So today, whilst wandering around at lunchtime as I normally do, I decided that the one thing I’ll do different today is to find out what was happening under that tent.
So I went over and ask the two lovely ladies sitting there, Abi and Jo, what it was all about.
They told me that they invite people to build little hubs or dens, create a space to have a conversation with each other, a ‘conversation station‘ . They were then asked to write down their thoughts and a book will be put together and sent to all participants.
The topic of discussion today was what it makes a good neighbour.
Abi was telling me what others have been talking about over the last couple of days she is been running the workshop. Below are just some.
A guy said that he and his neighbour have a lot in common, listen to the same music, go to the same events and if they were not neighbours they would have been friends. Which sounds bizarre, but it makes sense. They didn’t want to break the ‘neighbour’ boundaries.
Another lady thought that her neighbours may stereotype her because of her colour but she concluded that ‘you won’t know how good a pudding is until you try it’.
A Muslim and Christian lady whilst discussing about their neighbourhood customs, realised through their conversation how similar they were, despite their religion.
I talked about how different the culture is back home in Cyprus and how I struggled to adjust when I first moved in the UK. I know some of my neighbours here, we say hi, we take parcels for each other but that’s it. Back home I know all of my neighbours, the whole neighbourhood not just those living in the same building.
We often have a chat, they come and we go over. We share food and other goodies.
The downside of that is that there is no much privacy. People often ask you intrusive questions without realising that you mind feel uncomfortable. And everyone knows everything you do. Nothing stays a secret for long!
When I first moved in the UK I used to think that Brits are rude or unfriendly and I sometimes worried that maybe they were put off by my accent or my level of English but I grew to realise they are probably worried not to intrude, not to invade my privacy.
Abi told me how she wanted to invite her neighbour to a barbeque she had recently but she didn’t in the end as she thought that her neighbour might have felt obliged to go even if she didn’t want to.
Whilst I was there writing down my thoughts a lovely Chinese lady arrived with her adorable 5 year old. She told us how back in China where she grew up, they used to leave the door open and their neighbours would come in at any time without any warning. In modern China most live in large block flats and you don’t get to meet many of your neighbours.
The little girl at this point interrupted and said ‘and there are no (green) fields to play and run in’. It’s incredible that children would wish for the most simple things like a place they can run and play.
We ended up talking about stereotyping and how we judge people based on their colour, religion or even their behaviour. Most of the times the way people behave is not necessarily who they are. It’s not all black and white. We all have been rude or did something bad. That does not define us.
After spending my lunchtime at the tent with all the lovely ladies I went back to the office, excited, eager to share this with my colleagues which sparked up even more interesting conversations and beautiful stories shared.
My colleague Denise told me how her Italian neighbour used to take her food. I then remembered that a couple of years ago, my Chinese and Indian neighbours use to bring me delicious dumplings and fresh curry and I used to take them freshly baked cake and Greek pies.
We moved on talking about regional differences. Linda who is from Northern England told me how more open and chattier people are up there compared to the South.
We then went on talking about how when we were kids we were out in the neighbourhood playing all day and our parents wouldn’t worry if we were gone for hours.
Nowadays parents tend to be overprotective. I’m not sure whether it’s much more dangerous today than it used to be decades ago or we think it is.
And we ended up sharing our childhood memories. The grumpy old lady living in the corner who would complain about the noise the kids in the neighbourhood make, the lovely one living on the other side who used to treat us to biscuits and chocolates.
So today I’m grateful for the incredibly beautiful conversations with lovely strangers which then continued with great friends and colleagues.
It’s amazing how different but also at the same time how similar we humans are.
Today I was reminded to be more open. And not be scared to talk to my neighbours or anyone else for that matter. Social norms are useful and sometimes necessary but they shouldn’t dictate our life.
My urge, my need to do something different, even small every day to break the routine led to a great day of interacting with beautiful humans.
Thank you to Jo, Abi, the John Hansard Gallery and Summer in the Square for this great initiative!