I was searching my Gmail for some contact info the other day, and I found an email exchange from 2007 between me and Mlle. O’Leary. I was in our hometown for the holidays, and she was working at a preschool in Korea. I’d asked if she wanted to call when all our friends were gathered, so she could talk to us all at once. She was… less than enthused. Not because she didn’t want to talk, but because those conversations are all the same kind of unsatisfying.
Friend #1: Hiiiiii! How are you? Ohmygosh, you’re in [faraway land]!
Traveler: Yes, I am! I’m good, I’m good. How are you?
Friend #1: I’m good! I miss you! What are you doing? Tell me all about it! [loud party noises in the background]
Traveler: Um, well, right now I’m in a call center because I can’t get Skype in my new apar–
Friend #1: [distracted by something hilarious at the party] Hahaha! Do it again, I want to put it on Facebook. Sorry, what? Skype? I can’t right now, I’m not near a computer, but I’m so glad we got to talk!
Traveler: Um, yes. What’s going on with you?
Friend #1: Oh you know, not much. Nothing as exciting as you, off in [faraway land]! Ahh I have to go, things are crazy here. Misssss you! Here’s Friend #2! Bye!
Traveler: Oh, okay. Miss you too–
Friend #2: Hiiiiii! How are you? Ohmygosh, you’re in [faraway land]!
It seems like a good idea to call your faraway loved one when everyone’s already gathered together, but despite everyone’s good intentions, it’s usually a bit awkward. There’s no time to really talk, so you have to stick to pleasantries. The party noises in the background will likely make the traveler homesick. Everyone hangs up wishing it had gone differently.
So what to do? Well, obviously, if you’re close to someone who’s traveling for an extended period of time, set aside time to talk to them one-to-one. Be aware of time zones and fit in phone calls at times convenient to both of you. Send emails. Write blog posts. Poke each other on Facebook (JK, don’t ever poke anyone on Facebook).
When you have a group of people gathered together for some festive occasion and you’re going to call the traveler, have everyone get ready ahead of time. No big preparation is necessary, but explain that when the traveler calls, you’re going to skip the awkward small talk and skip straight to the fun stuff. Everyone will come to the party with a Top Three list of some sort, which they’ll share with the traveler, who will be much amused. The traveler can share their Top Three too.
So now your conversations will go something like this:
Traveler: Hi! I miss you!
Friend #1: I miss you too! I thought of you this week. Here are my top three pop music hits right now…
Traveler: Ahh Beyonce is still the best! Remember when we tried the “Single Ladies” dance like thirty times? You’ll like this; here’s my top three sarong mishaps from this week…
Friend #1: I need so many pictures of that second one. Okay, here’s Friend #2! Love you! Bye!
Friend #2: Hello! Would you believe I saw three different amazing mustaches this month? Here they are…
And so on. Everyone gets to store up some fun tidbits in anticipation of the conversation, the phone is passed around quickly, and there’s no time for awkwardness. There’s no letdown afterward, since you all know what to expect, and you get to share your silly lists with each other once you hang up. Ta da!
Disclaimer: I haven’t actually put this plan into effect yet, since I only thought of it after finding the aforementioned email, but I’ll try it out in just a few months and let you know how it goes. And if you get the chance to try it with any faraway friends yourself, tell us in the comments what you think.