An OAP Mick Jagger lookalike, a silent French artist in winklepinkers, and two hipster twins in matching paisley shirts. Not my usual lineup for a night out. But, along with the two friends I am travelling with, this turned out to be a perfect-albeit bizarre- group of people to party with.
The love affair began when, on a bar crawl from our hostel, I struck up conversation with one of the mohawked hipster twins about his music taste. Beginning with a shared love of Morrissey and somehow spiralling into us performing all nine minutes of Don Mclean’s ‘American Pie’ with the bartender, this is the kind of rare conversation that makes me as excitable as a six year old who has just discovered Coco Pops. There is something profoundly special (and relieving) about knowing someone of your generation likes to rock out to the same obscure, outdated tracks as you.
And then we spotted something brilliant. In the corner of the bar, my friend Zoe was stood chatting to Mick Jagger. Or was it Steve Tyler? On closet inspection, we realised that this man in fact resembled the gloriously unfortunate love child of both famous rockstars. I say love child, but he was easily older than both of them. Hans, the chain-smoking German guy in question, soon became the rockstar great uncle I had never had. But I was in for an even bigger surprise.
‘I’m converting to Judaism’ announced Mick Tyler.
On the other hand, Rene, the monosyllabic artist, transpired to be one of those wonderful people who hides modestly in the background but then becomes a maniac, MANIAC on the dancefloor. If his odd brightly-coloured socks, army jacket (which he chivalrously offered to my friends and I during the cold walk home), nautical cap and white disco pants hadn’t told us enough about his hidden eccentricity, his dance moves (think Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’) certainly did.
The thing is, I would never have spoken to any of these people if I had been out in London, where we are all confined to our age-specific , image-controlled public spaces where such a motley crew could never come together. Nor can I blame this all on extraneous circumstances; sometimes it comes down to my own superficiality, or indeed my choice to buy into and attempt to live up to the ‘exclusivity’ of certain bars and nightclubs. We are restricted to socialising with people who are- on a surface level- just like us, and this merely reconfirms our prejudice against supposed outsiders.
This is partially as a result of suspiciousness; suspiciousness that is reinforced by nightmarish news stories. We avoid ‘stranger danger’ by gravitating towards those who seem the least ‘strange’: who speak like us, dress like us, and no doubt went to the same primary school as our third cousin (such is the North London social bubble, in any case). And yet, the single person I’ve encountered here from home transpired to be the most slimy, duplicitous character of them all. There is no guarantee you can trust anyone. Often, going the extra mile to meet yellow travellers or locals is infinitely more fulfilling than falling back on an unsatisfying familiarity.
Like my experience, you might also find that little things surprise you about your new friends. At home, it’s rare I meet a person who I haven’t, at least in some sense, been provided with a background about. So it is refreshing to be compelled to trust your own instincts about someone, as you did as a child. There is also a mutual lack of commitment with friends you meet travelling. There is no sense of social-climbing, nor an underlying hope of meeting the love of your life. You are simply there in the moment, enjoying each other’s company.
Back at the hostel, I brushed my teeth before crashing from the night’s antics. Faintly, I hear a male voice singing Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ from the toilet cubicle; soon after, Rene, the artist, emerged from the cubicle. This was the ladies’ bathroom. Laughing at his mistake, I redirected him and headed off for a much needed sleep. It was only later, as I was dozing off, that I remembered what Rene had told me when he handed over his business card:
‘I like to paint naked women…in unusual situations’.
Perhaps I’ll forget about the Facebook add.
Ultimately, it comes down to this. I learnt it was possible to have one of the funnest nights of my life spilling beer and dancing like a toddler in an almost empty club, with no pretensions, no romantic interests, and no pressure to live up to a stringent entrance policy. And all because it was amongst strangers. Give people a chance, abandon all notions of having an agenda, and see what happens. At very least, you’ll have fun.