Throughout my life I have lived in different countries and always found it relatively easy to make friends. My father was an engineer and wanted to discover the world, so he took his ever growing family from Los Altos to Caracas to Grenada to Paulo Alto to Montreal. In fact, none of my siblings or I were actually born in Canada though we are Canadian citizens. We learnt as children how life was a constant process of hellos and goodbyes.
I thought that once I got my first job and was living in a nice and cosy apartment … it would be easy to take my pick from the anonymous German masses and meet new friends.
My attempts to establish contacts proved difficult. First, I didn’t speak German, which proved a greater hindrance than expected (see Misconception #1). Secondly, all my attempts at being friendly created a dichotomy between intention and the outcome.
What didn’t work
When I tried to be friendly with my neighbours, they became very wary of me. I obviously was much too smiley and far too forward in my social gestures. There were times when I even suspected they ran into their houses to avoid having to talk to me. Or, at least it felt that way.
Then there were my colleagues… 28 happily married male engineers with the social skills of a bushel of eggplants. Do you think any one of them thought, “Ah, a new colleague from a country far away. Maybe she could use a bit of friendly hospitality. Why don’t I ask my dear wife if we could invite her over for a cup of tea on the weekend?” Net. Nada. In the five year I worked there it didn’t happen once. Since male engineers are a sub-category all of their own, I won’t waste any more effort explaining or excusing their lack of hospitality genes.
What I learnt during my first year in Germany was, first, winter is a lousy time to move to Germany. Everyone is hibernating behind closed doors. Secondly, it’s rather senseless to sit around hoping someone is going to invite you into their home.
If you want to meet people then join the local chess club, Bach Choir, or Green Party initiative. Or, as I did, become a “Stammgast” (a regular) at a charming café and get to know the people who work there. I might take a while, but it is well worth being patient and persistent.
Thirty-three years down the line, my life has been enriched by these friendships; friends I met all those years ago, alongside those I met along the way up to this present day. They helped me to understand the complexity and nuances of life in Germany. They are the people who have become my adopted family or tribe. They’ve shared all the joyful moments, as they have the disappointments and stood by me in moments of crisis. They really are the reason I can call this place home.