How to Make Friends with Germans
Am I ever gonna make friends with Germans?
Today a student of mine asked me: "Am I ever gonna make friends with Germans?" He's already spent a year in Germany and he still feels like he hasn't made any real friendships. Many "Bekannte" (acquitences), but "keine richtigen Freunde" (no real friends).
In fact, the term "Freund" is used much more carefully in German as compared to "friend" in English. I remember, a month after I moved to the US, someone asking me: "How are you doing? Have you already made some friends?" And I remember thinking: "Äh, nein! What do you mean with "friends"? There are not sooo many people in my life that I could call "friends" and I've known them for years. How am I supposed to make any friends after only a month?! For most people I met, I barely remember their names."
This is how some of my clichés got reconfirmed: "Americans are friendlier, but more superficial, while Germans appear colder and more distant at first, but once they are your friend, it lasts for a life time."
And as with all clichés, although they might be true in some cases, in others they are not true at all. They are there to laugh about, but to never be taken seriously.
So back to the question: "Are you ever going to make friends with Germans?"
The answer is YES.
How long is it going to take you?
Probably between 2 minutes and 20 years. Depending on your definition of "friends".
Here is a short exercise to help you find German friends: 1. List the names of 5 friends of yours.
2. Next to each name write down for how long have you considered them friends.
[It might be difficult to remember exactly when you became friends with someone, because usually there is no specific day or time when we declare a friendship. But that's exactly the point here. You will notice that some friends you've known for many years and some you've just met recently and you immediately clicked. You knew exactly that this person would be a friend for life.]
3. Now write down how you've met them.
Did some common friends introduce you?
Did you participate in a class together?
Did you work together?
Were you neighbors?
Or you met them online / on the airplane / train / through car sharing?
Those are just ideas to remind you that finding friends starts as something very casual and unexpected. It can't be forced, nor planned.
There are no secret strategies behind friendships. The one big secret is that friendships are like love relationships: "No one really knows when they start and when they end." Sometimes it is just the chemistry based on something we have in common.
When and how to meet new friends?
So when and how are you gonna meet your new friends is just a matter of time. And it mostly depends on your readiness to honor them with the term "Freunde".
Is it after you went with someone for a beer or a coffee?
Do you need to do something regularly together?
Does it depend on the stories you tell each other? How many personal experiences do you share with each other?
Does a friendship start when someone invites you over to their house for dinner?
What is your personal threshold for someone to be your friend?
Whether you are someone who picks carefully their small circle of friends or someone who has hundreds of them, think about your expectations towards yourself and the people around you.
Do you really expact to have real friends after a short period of time? If it happens, great! If it doesn't, then don't get disappointed or discouraged.
Sure, when new in a new environment, we all crave some familiarity. We all miss our old friends and comfort from before. But instead of stressing how to make friends, try to focus on all the new and exciting stuff that is around you and is waiting for you to explore it.
Be patient and be open to meet new people. Give yourself as many opportunities as possible to be around Germans and eventually, you'll find a few "Bekannte" that become true "Freunde".
Get out and have FUN!
Take the test to figure out what is the most natural way for you to meet new people.