The Localist

Five tips: Where the heck are the flamin’ locals?

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I’m always surprised to hear foreigners and out-of-town-ers say that they reckon Sydneysiders are cliquey. Having been fortunate to meet so many wonderful locals I thought I’d jot down my 5 tips for finding friendly locals to share stories with in the city I currently call home, Sydney.

No.1 tip: Go swimming!

This city is full of beautiful locations to splash around and relax in the sun, and I can honestly say that some of the most interesting people I know I met while swimming. There are quite a few I am fond of, but one of my favourites is George, a 90 year old well travelled Hungarian man who I met at the local pool. He spends the Aussie summer in Sydney and then returns to Budapest for the European summer. He is a proper tanorexic and only goes swimming when it’s hot. After I’ve done my freestyle laps we chat as we go up and down the pool – he does breaststroke with his head out of the water and I kick with the board. George was widowed 16 years ago. He tells me he gets lonelier and misses his wife more and more as time passes. I’m lucky to be one of the few that he talks to every week and our chats remind me to appreciate my loved ones. I love that like me he doesn’t know how to drive and it’s never bothered him. He’s impressed that I’ve been to Budapest and know how to pronounce it properly.

I also enjoy my chats with Freddy the local park gardener, a tall and deeply tanned Aussie ocker in his sixties who looks like a farmer in his big straw hat and blundstones. When I come for a swim during the week Freddy waits for me to finish my laps then we sit and chat during his tea break, often about our travels. When I first moved back to Sydney a lifeguard told him I was there and he came especially to say g’day. My dad thinks he wants to adopt me. Recently Freddy walked into the pool all flushed. The receptionists happened to be mucking around with a sphygmomanometer (dooby that measures your blood pressure) so they put it around Freddy’s arm – that’s how he found out he had high blood pressure. There’s such a community vibe there and it’s lovely how people really look after each other.

No.2 tip: Check out a local book club

Book clubs are everywhere these days. My next door neighbour invited me to the one at the local library a couple of months ago. My book club is an eclectic mix of people, all intelligent and intriguing locals, and all of whom are there to interact with each other and exchange ideas. It includes a psychotherapist, a travel writer, an academic, and an erudite dude with a twinkle in his eye, long white hair and dirty nails who drives a station wagon full of junk. I haven’t worked out what he does yet but until I do I’ve decided he’s a paparazzi, because he reminds me of a war photo journalist I once knew who also had a car full of random stuff (like a ladder to access high vantage points in his other life as a pap). Not to mention “scone lady” who comes each month equipped with a basket full of home made scones, double cream and my favourite jam! Not only have I met loads of interesting people, but I am enjoying reading again. And rather than read a book then putting it away and forgetting about it, I get a thoroughly stimulating discussion (and sometimes heated debate!). We had our Xmas party tonight, which involved sitting around sipping Moet, munching on mince pies and chocolates and debating a lame (in my opinion) novel about the wife of Captain Cook (that pommy fella who “discovered” Botany Bay).

You might find the perfect book club for you here http://bookclub.meetup.com/cities/au/sydney/, or ring up the library closest to where you are staying.

No.3 tip: Stay with a local

With sites like airbnb being around for years now I can’t remember the last time anyone I know stayed at a hotel. But just in case you haven’t cottoned onto this yet, it’s a less scummy alternative to that couchsurfing site. Meaning you pay for a spare room or entire flat/house owned by a local, so you’re more likely to be staying in residential neighbourhoods and living like a local. If you’re lucky you’ll get a host like my mate who goes above and beyond for travellers who stay in her spare room. Last weekend she had some friends, including myself, come over to welcome the dude who arrived from Toulouse that day. He is a European fabric salesman and we were all designers so we oohed and aahed over his fabric swatches then took him out to a nearby bar. He travels so much that he has two passports and he refuses to stay at hotels. When my friend had a Hungarian visitor recently she dressed up as that freakishly scary Japanese ghost from The Ring and dragged him to a friend’s Halloween party. This guy landed in Sydney knowing no one and met 40 locals all on the same night, including a pirate, a zombie nurse, satan, Jesus and Mary and a couple of vampires!

No.4 tip: Volunteer with a local charity

Through volunteering with various charities I’ve met diverse locals who want to make a difference, no matter how big or small, rather than sit around and whinge about all that’s wrong with the world. Years ago while volunteering I met my good friend, an inspirational woman called Barbara who at the age of 73 still travels all the way to the Democratic Republic of Congo each year, working on projects like building and running a school and building homes for a displaced Pygmy community. My work does pro bono work for Mission Australia and I recently struck up a conversation with them about getting a group together in the new year to volunteer to join aged care people for their monthly themed lunches. The residents don’t get visitors very often and I look forward to spending time with them and hearing their stories.

No.5 tip: Visit the local store/markets/open studios

Not only do you get to sample local products/art/food, but you get to meet locals who have a passion for what they do. That’s how I got my first fashion placement years ago. I wanted to see whether I would enjoy (and be any good at) designing and the designer dude whose garments I was admiring at the market (but couldn’t afford) agreed to take me on as an intern. He’s definitely one of the most interesting and fun people I’ve ever known. I also met a guy at a French cheese market stall who’d spent previous winters as a shepherd in the French Alps and he had fascinating stories to tell about those months spent in the snow all alone, except for a dog and a bunch of sheep, with no electricity, freezing cold water and a mobile phone with only enough battery to call his mum once a fortnight.

MEET THE LOCAL: LAC-VIET

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