In this quiet time after the madness of Fastnacht and before the indulgences of Easter, with the spring flowers popping through the dirt it is an opportune time to think about beginnings. The air will (hopefully) be warming soon and the festival calendar will begin again and whilst Germany is great on your own, it is when you are enjoying it with friends that it really comes alive.
Not speaking German was a huge hurdle to making local friends. Does anyone want to be friends with someone with a toddler like grasp of the local language? Well some people do, but they have to speak and be confident in English (or your native language) until you can catch up, and whilst these special people do exist they can be hard to find. What you need in this situation is an expat friend (maybe *gasp* more than one), believe me that friend is worth their weight in gold.
When I started this chapter of my life in Germany I had no idea –
How long it would last. Almost seven years and counting (and no-one is more surprised about that than me). A word to the wise, when your company sends you to work abroad, talk to people who have done it before. Not that I think I would have done anything massively differently but that perspective would have been very useful. Forewarned is always forearmed.
Expat women I needed in my life -Photo AlieC
How many friends I would make. As much as I love my husband and am one of those soppy people who consider him to be a best friend, we both needed someone other than each other to talk to occasionally. Having no family or friends in Germany was quiet but doable to start with, I shared my new life with my friends back in the UK but Skype cannot replace an actual face and my lifestyle had dramatically changed, I needed a face that understood.
How much I needed expat friendship. Finding someone who understands where you are coming from (in the literal sense) is like finding a piece of home abroad. I never felt particularly British before I left the UK, I was just like everybody else. In Germany though, I’m suddenly different. I do things differently, I speak differently. I have never felt so absolutely British and foreign in my entire life.
I have been very lucky in life that I have good friends who I love and appreciate. Childhood friends, music friends, university friends, work friends and all those reprobates who fall in-between. Unfortunately none of them had ever lived abroad for more than a month and only a couple of them had been to Germany (Berlin only, naturally) so I had to find my own answers to all my various questions.
Thankfully the internet is a fantastic place filled with information, forums and people who were or had been in the same boat. Some information, forums and people were more helpful than others. There was one question though that stumped me, I searched high and low and still could not find real milk, yes I know it sounds silly and very small but finding fresh milk was important. I even started blogging about my expat life to share my experiences with other people so that my struggles and stumbles didn’t need to be repeated.
How to find a expat friend
Join a German class – *whispers* It’s where all the other foreigners are. Don’t miss out by only being friends with speakers of your native language, being forced to speak German as your shared language does wonders for your fluency and language retention.
Join a Stammtisch (regulars table) – Plenty of cities have an English, Spanish (insert your native language here) regulars table and it is a great way to connect with other foreigners (sometimes locals too) Nuremberg has a particularly well attended English Stammtisch.
Join an expat group – Your chance to find likeminded people who have also made the move away from their own home countries. Locally I always recommend Stuttgart Expat Meetups for any newcomers. Look out for all the expat species in attendance. Note – These groups sometimes come under the guise of International women’s groups but are (generally) open to everyone.
Connect online – Even before your feet land on German soil you can begin making connections and doing research, there is so much more available now even than there was five years ago. Making new expat connections has never been so simple, utilise that search engine.
Keep your ears open – A German friend mentioned another Brit who had moved into her street and she asked if I wanted an introduction, erm yes! turns out we grew up about 20 miles from each other as kids and had a heap of mutual friends. All three of us have since moved away but our group whatsapp lives one. This leads into one for the brave…
Possible expat finding location, the local gin section of the supermarket 😉 – Photo AlieC
Accosting people in the supermarket – I met one of my best friends in a supermarket, I overheard her speaking to her husband on the phone and introduced myself and asked her if she’d like to get a coffee that week. This woman knew where the real milk was!
Expat friendship has its downsides, of course, naturally expats do their expat thing and move on. The old saying about friends being in your life for a reason, season or a lifetime has always resonated with me when I think about expat friendships. Without these people and their experiences I’d never have discovered the gentlest dentist, which bars give the best measures, just how to get the best deals with airlines and that being with other foreigners makes you feel a little less foreign.