Making friends as an adult is hard, but it’s not impossible. Are you a German expat planning a move to America? It may not seem like it right now, but you’re actually in a very good position to make new friends. Yes, even if you’re introverted or shy. Yes, even if you’re “bad at small talk.”
The trick is that you have to “put yourself out there,” as we Americans say. All that means is that you need to go out and talk to new people, rather than waiting for them to come to you.
Finding New Friends in America
If you want to make new friends as an adult, you need to know where to meet new people. There are, of course, the obvious places: bars, church, settling for the annoying mother of your kid’s new best friend…
If those options don’t sound appealing, here are a few other places you can meet new people and make a new friend (or three).
Connect with Other Expats at Work
If you came to America on a work contract, it’s unlikely that you’re the only expat in the area. The other expats in your company are probably connected with the larger expat community.
Not only is the easiest way to make new friends, it’s a great support system. You can complain about Americans, bring stuff back from Europe for each other, and they will help you through difficulties in the US during your first few months.
Meetup is a popular way to meet new people in the US; especially in larger cities. You can find groups for all interests, from board game groups to book clubs. Many cities also have groups for people new to the area, expats, and people within certain age groups. This is great for introverts, because everyone at a meetup is there to meet new people.
Check Facebook for Groups and Clubs
I know, I know. Facebook is evil. Or, if you’re young, evil and profoundly uncool. Unfortunately, it’s also where a lot of local clubs organize themselves. In Michigan, for example, several board game groups, cycling clubs, and even German expat groups use Facebook to plan all of their events and get-togethers.
Join a Gym or Amateur Sports Team
While it’s popular to join a club for a specific sport in Germany, this is a little more difficult to do in the US. Sport clubs exist, but they’re not as common and (often) a lot more expensive.
So if you want to keep fit and make some active friends, it’s time to join a gym!
Alternatively, you can join an amateur sports team. These are usually organized through workplaces, but some are organized by your neighborhood or city. You’re going to have the easiest time finding baseball teams, but you should check online to see what else is available. Who knows; maybe you’ll even find a soccer team that isn’t just for kids!
Accept All Party Invitations
If someone invites you to a party or other large get-together, you should always say yes. Even if you feel too tired. Even if you’re not really interested in the person who invited you.
Why? Because you might actually meet people you will like at the party.
As you start to make friends, you can turn down invitations to events you’re not interested in. In the beginning, though, it’s important to be as social as possible.
Fake It ’til You Make It
Most importantly: you need to make the effort. Sometimes, you have to make the first move, rather than waiting for others to come to you. You can attend every Meetup event in your area, tag along to every expat event…but you won’t make any friends if you aren’t at least willing to start conversations.
Which brings us too…
Social Interactions: The Little Differences
When it comes to social interactions, there aren’t many major differences between America and Germany; but, the few that exist are important to keep in mind. So, here’s my guide navigating your new social life in America.
Breaking the Ice: Small Talk leads to “Big” Talk
Many people (not just Germans) don’t understand what “small talk” really is.
My business English students all supposedly loathed making small talk, yet they always had a great time when I forced them to practice.
Small talk isn’t just talking about the weather. It’s any superficial starting point that can lead to a more interesting conversation.
These are all examples of small talk:
- talking about a recent vacation
- talking about the food at a party or event
- asking someone what they do for a living
These might all seem obvious, and that’s…kind of the point. Germans do make small talk. Everyone makes small talk.
Find the Fun in Talking to Strangers
The key difference I’ve noticed is that Americans are more likely to initiate small talk with people they don’t know. Germans stick to the people they’ve known since Kindergarten.
Many Americans simply like to talk, even if they don’t expect to “gain” anything by the end of the conversation.
In contrast, I’ve been told by many Germans that they don’t see the point in talking to a new person, unless they have a good reason. In other words, they see conversations with new people as a waste of time.
Well, the “point” now is making new friends. Not every conversation leads down that road, of course; but some will. You just need to take the initiative and “strike up” a conversation.
…and Don’t Take it Personal When Good Conversations Lead Nowhere
As mentioned above, many Americans treat talking like a hobby. The American girl chatting with her Canadian seat mate on a flight probably doesn’t expect to hear from him ever again; she’s just passing the time with conversation, because she finds it enjoyable.
That doesn’t mean she wouldn’t like to hear from him again, necessarily; it just wasn’t the reason she started talking with him.
You’re going to meet Americans that you feel like you got along really well with, but it just doesn’t translate into a true friendship. It doesn’t mean they didn’t like you, or that they didn’t find you interesting. It also doesn’t mean they’re superficial, as some Germans believe.
Adult life is busy, and not everyone is looking for new friends. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to make new friends, it’s just not a priority in their lives at the moment. With these people, you often have to take the initiative to invite them out. If they keep turning you down, or accept your invitations but never invite you to something, then maybe they’re not the right friend for you.
The good news is, many people are looking for more friends! Find the people who invite you to do things as often as you invite them.
“We should hang out sometime!”
If you make the effort to be social, you are going to hear this a lot. Similar to how someone asking, “how are you?” is more of an extended hello, this phrase isn’t a real invitation.
Not yet, anyway.
If an American says “we should hang out sometime!” they’re usually being sincere. Yes, there are some Americans who are so afraid of not seeming nice all the time, they say this to everyone they meet. Even people they didn’t like. In most cases, though, if someone doesn’t at least hypothetically want to see you again, they will just say it was nice to meet you, and leave it at that.
Unfortunately, even someone saying this to you sincerely may never extend a real invitation. It’s not because they didn’t mean it; rather, life got busy, and, well…they forgot.
So think of, “we should hangout sometime!” as shorter way of saying, “I enjoyed meeting you, and would like to see you again if I have time and remember!”
If you would also like to see them again, make sure you exchange numbers. I also suggest inviting them to do something a few days later, rather than waiting for them to invite you.
And if you didn’t like them? Just smile, nod your head politely, and tell them that sounds great.
This is the first part in a series of guides for Germans moving to America. I am an American woman living in Germany with my German husband. We met while he was an expat in America, on a three-year work contract. Through my husband, I met other German and European expats, and learned the difficulties and annoyances they had while living in America.
If you have any questions about this post, or other aspects of life in America, feel free to ask in the comments below!