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LIVING IN GERMANY

How I made friends during my first year in Germany

It’s not a secret - making friends in Deutschland as a newcomer can be tough. Here’s how The Local’s Shelley Pascual managed to build up her social circles during her first year in Germany back in 2012.

Recent surveys have indicated that upon arriving in Germany, foreigners can experience loneliness as they find it hard to make friends, partly because Germans are perceived as unfriendly.

I lived in Braunschweig, Lower Saxony, in my first few years in Germany, where I found it wasn’t too terribly difficult to make friends. But this probably had to do with several factors – such as the cosy size of the city and the fact that I put a lot of time and effort into it.

READ ALSO: Braunschweig – the German city that deserves to be put on the map

As soon as I landed on German soil in early 2012, I was keen on having some sort of a social life and made it a priority to get to know people; I didn’t want my partner – whom I’d essentially moved to Germany for – to be my sole source of companionship.

At the time, everything was new and exciting and I had just begun to learn German. As I wanted to see whether I could teach myself the language in a freestyle fashion without taking lessons, I didn’t attend a German class and thus couldn’t make friends in this way.

I also didn’t live in a shared flat, or a Wohngemeinschaft (WG), which can also be a great way to establish friendships.

Still, this didn’t stop me from attempting to make friends with locals and I found alternative ways to do so. Looking back, my beginner level of German was actually an advantage during those early stages.

This is because – through Sprachentandem arrangements – I was able to get acquainted with Germans, some of whom would eventually become friends.

At the language centre at the local university, the Technical University of Braunschweig, I signed up as a native English speaker looking to meet someone whose native language was German.

Many other institutions across the country, such as Humboldt University in Berlin, organize similar tandems for language learners. The Geothe Institut does so too. And though I can't vouch for this website as I haven't made use of it myself, TandemPartners.org is also meant to put language learners in touch with one another.

The idea behind these exchanges is that, through regular meetings, a person interested in learning their partner’s native language can do so in an informal way. And after a few months of weekly meetings with the handful of tandem partners I had, not only did my German slowly improve and so did their English, a few of us started to hang out in our free time as well.

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Another way in which I was able to make friends during my first year in the Bundesrepublik was through colleagues at work. This was rather easy to do, I’ll admit, since the majority of my colleagues were fellow native English speakers; we could relate with one another well and shared similar experiences as foreigners in our adopted country.

Eventually I befriended many of my colleagues, who introduced me to their friends and acquaintances – non-Germans and Germans – and my network quickly grew.

But I didn’t stop there.

I utilized platforms like Couchsurfing.com and Internations.org to find out about events going on in the city; I’d randomly show up and ended up meeting loads of different types of people.

One Couchsurfing member for instance had posted onto the platform that she was offering a Turkish food cooking workshop, and all those interested needn’t do more but pitch in for ingredients. I remember having a lovely time with the handful of people I met that day, not to mention that I enjoyed delicious food in good company.

Today Couchsurfing and Internations members still actively post events and users can filter their search based on city. With a variety of events for users to choose from that are more specific to one’s interests, Meetup.com has also become a popular site for those looking to meet new faces.

I should mention too that there were several grassroots organizations and NGOs in Braunschweig while I lived there that organized meetups for those looking to practise their German; I befriended a few of the people I met on these occasions too.

Now – five years since I moved to Germany – I no longer live in Braunschweig, but I’m pleased to say I’m still in touch with many of the friends I made there – the majority of whom are expats. On the other hand, plenty of friendships have fallen by the wayside. 

But this doesn't bother me at all. As the German saying goes: so ist das Leben.

I’ve since moved to Berlin; the capital city is essentially my oyster in terms of friendship-building opportunities. I've been here almost seven months and have already met people I can foresee building long-term friendships with.

The key I've found to making friends here (or in any other country, for that matter) is to go in with an open mind and to leave expectations and perceptions you might have at the door. So what if surveys show other foreigners think Germans are unfriendly? 

As with life in general, I believe that if you put yourself out there and push through with a positive attitude, you're capable of overcoming anything – even the challenge of making friends in good old 'Schland.

 
Keen on sharing your stories with us on how you managed to make friends here? Send them to [email protected]

LIVING IN GERMANY

REVEALED: The most commonly asked questions about Germans and Germany

Ever wondered what the world is asking about Germany and the Germans? We looked at Google’s most searched results to find out – and help clear some of these queries up.

Oktoberfest
Hasan Salihamidzic, the sports director of FC Bayern, arrives with his wife at Oktoberfest in full traditional dress. Photo: picture alliance/dpa |

According to popular searches, Germany is the go-to place for good coffee and bread (although only if you like the hard kind) and the place to avoid if what you’re looking for is good food, good internet connection and low taxes. Of course, this is subjective; some people will travel long stretches to get a fresh, hot pretzel or a juicy Bratwurst, while others will take a hard pass.

When it comes to the question on the bad Internet – there is some truth to this. Germany is known for being behind other rich nations when it comes to connectivity. And from personal experience, the internet connection can seem a little medieval. The incoming German coalition government has, however, vowed to improve internet connectivity as part of their plans to modernise the country.

There are also frequent questions on learning the German language, and people pointing out that it is hard and complicated. This is probably due to the long compound words and its extensive grammar rules, however, as both English and German are Germanic languages with similar words in common, it’s not impossible to learn as an English-speaker.

Here’s a look at some of those questions…

Why is German called Deutsch? Whereas ‘German’ comes from the Latin, ‘Deutsch’ instead derives itself from the Indo-European root “þeudō”, meaning “people”. This slowly became “Deutsch” as we know it today. It can be a bit confusing to English-speakers, who are right to think it sounds a little more like “Dutch”, however the two languages do have the same roots which may explain it.

And why is Germany so boring? Again, probably a generalisation, especially given that Germany has a landmass of over 350,000 km² with areas ranging from high rise, industrial cities to traditional old town villages and even mountain ranges, so you’re sure to find a place that doesn’t bore you to tears.

Perhaps it is a question that comes from the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with being strict about rules, organised and analytical. Or that they have no sense of humour – all of these things being not the most exciting traits. 

Either way, from my experience I can confirm that, even though there is truth to German society enjoying order and rules, the vast majority of people are not boring, and I’m sure if you come to Germany you’ll meet many interesting, funny and exciting people. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Germany

When it comes to the German weather, most people assume a cold and cloudy climate, however this isn’t entirely true. While the autumn and winter, especially in the north, come with grey skies and sub-zero temperatures, Germany can have some beautiful summers, with temperatures frequently rising above 30C in some places.

Unsurprisingly, the power and wealth of the German nation is mentioned – Germany is the largest economy in Europe after all, with a GDP of 3.8 trillion dollars. This could be due to strong industry sectors in the country, including vehicle constructions (I was a little surprised to find no questions posed on German cars), chemical and electrical industry and engineering. There are also many strong economic cities in Germany, most notably Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Smart and tall?

Why are Germans so tall? They are indeed taller than many other nations, with the average German measuring a good 172.87cm (or 5 feet 8.06 inches), however this may be a question better posed to the Dutch, who make up the tallest people in the world.

Why are Germans so smart? While this is again a generalisation – as individuals have different levels of intelligence in all countries – this question may stem from Germany’s free higher education system or their seemingly efficient work ethic. Plus there does seem to be some scientific research behind this question, with a study done in 2006 finding that Germans had the highest IQ in Europe.

So, while many of the questions posed about Germany and Germans on Google stem from stereotypes, we can confirm that some aren’t entirely made up. If you’re looking to debunk some frequently asked questions about France and the French, check out this article by our sister site HERE.

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