Ten years ago, I walked into a church building in Arkansas not knowing a single person and feeling very alone. We had uprooted our little family for the sixth time, and I felt very unsure of myself knowing every friend I had was now 1,452 miles away.
Within a few seconds, a woman 30 years my senior sat down next to me. In a thick southern accent she said to me, “Hello! I’m Noramae. I don’t think I’ve met you. What’s your name?” Noramae was open and kind, so I told her about myself. She told me she was a school bus driver who lived on the other side of town. Then Noramae handed me a little card with her phone number on it. She said, “Here’s my number. If you need anything, just call me. I’ve lived here forever and can help you.”
In less time than it takes to order a burger from the drive-through, Noramae had done something remarkable. She’d made a new friend. It didn’t matter that we were seemingly different from each other in age, culture and upbringing. She created a friendship that lasted many years within a few minutes.
Want to make a new friend? Here are five super easy things to say to make friends with anyone:
1. ” Hello!”
Duh. I know this is so obvious, right? But think about how many times we pass by people every day without a simple greeting. In fact, we sometimes even avoid eye contact altogether. “Hello” is the easiest word to say, and it reaps huge rewards when it comes to friendship. It’s the first place to start.
2. “So, what’s your name?”
Introduce yourself and find out who you are talking to. People love their names and respond when you use them. Without being creepy, learn a stranger’s name, remember it, and use it as you converse.
3. “Can I help?”
It happens in the movies all the time — a character drops all of his books and another person stops to help pick them up. Pretty soon, the two are best friends. As cliché as it seems, helping is the best way to become a friend to anyone. Lift a heavy load, open a door, clean up a mess. There are so many possibilities. Noramae offered me help and gave me her card. We talked on the phone countless times afterward and became wonderful friends. We learned to love each other’s families and found our age gap did not hinder our friendship.
4. ” Thank you”
Friendship takes two. If someone is kind to you, respond with gratitude. Saying “thank you” is one way, but if you’re tongue-tied, try writing a note, responding with a smile or nod, or return the kindness in some way.
5. Don’t say anything. Shut up and listen.
Sometimes, you just shouldn’t say anything at all. Stop talking about yourself and listen to what the other person has to say. Ask him questions, pay attention to his story, and just be there for him. As it turned out, Noramae loved to talk. Our conversations could go on for hours as I listened to her tell stories in that thick southern accent. I have since moved from Arkansas and Noramae recently passed away, but I’ll never forget our simple friendship and the wisdom I gleaned from Noramae.
Making friends is a process, but it begins with a few simple words. I still have Noramae’s little card that she gave me all those years ago. It reminds me how far a kind word can go. It reminds me to get out of my comfort zone, help another person, smile and make a new friend. It reminds me that goodness can overpower sadness, selfishness and all that is ugly in this hard world. It reminds me that, sometimes, all it takes is a simple “hello.”