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'They don't do small talk': Why foreigners in Germany find it hard to make friends

Rachel Loxton
Rachel Loxton - [email protected] • 30 Sep, 2019 Updated Mon 30 Sep 2019 16:07 CEST
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A recent survey found internationals struggle to make friends and settle in Germany. Here’s what our readers had to say about it.

When it comes to working and education, Germany ranks highly in the eyes of foreigners, according to a recent survey about international life around the globe. But many say they struggle to make friends and learn the language.      

Germany landed in the bottom five of the Ease of Settling in Index in the latest edition of global community Internations' annual Expat Insider Survey for the third year in a row.

According to the survey, Germany ranked 60th out of 64 countries in the index, with 55 percent of expats in Germany stating they find it challenging to make local friends – a full 16 percentage points above the global average of people living abroad (39 percent).

In fact, four in 10 internationals (39 percent) said they were concerned about not being able to make friends when they come to Germany, 12 percentage points higher than the global average of 27 percent.

So why is it so hard to settle into life in Germany?

READ ALSO: 'It's difficult to make new friends': Germany ranked one of hardest countries to settle in

'They don't engage in small talk'

When we asked our readers, we were inundated with responses. 

The majority of people who replied to our survey said Germany was an "extremely difficult" country to find your feet in. 

Some people said a lack of small talk – and even rudeness in some cases – makes it harder to engage with people in Germany.

“Many of the locals look at us with contempt,” said one reader. “They don't engage in small talk. They keep to themselves. It's just hard even getting to know your next door neighbour due to these things.”

Another reader added: "Most people are very unfriendly and not helpful."

“Germans are hard as rock,” said one respondent, while others highlighted racism as an issue that makes it difficult for them to settle in.

Some readers said they felt Germany isn't a very open country in general.

Photo: Depositphotos/xload

“Most Germans don't generally seem to be curious about the world around them, are not often interested in meeting anyone not from Germany, let alone becoming close friends with people from Germany,” a reader told us. “In many other parts of the world, small talk is a way to get to know people over time. But in Germany, small talk is frowned upon.”

“I find German culture to be not very open or friendly,” another reader said. “Of course there are friendly individuals but as a whole, I haven't found it that open.”

Respondents also said progress can be made – but it takes a while. 

“Initially it is difficult to make a contact, but persistence helps and once you have made a friend, that friend is good and helpful and faithful,” said a respondent.

READ ALSO: Are Germans really rude or just avoiding politeness overload?

'The people here are wonderful'

But that isn’t everyone’s experience. Some readers said they disagreed with the findings of the Internations survey, arguing that it is straightforward to make friends and settle in Germany. 

“Having just moved to Hamburg barely two weeks ago, I'm already starting to feel settled and welcome,” said one reader. “It's a huge change from London where I lived before but the people here are wonderful and there are plenty of resources to get settled in and involved.”

Other people said connections linked to school and work helped with the settling in process.

“I have children in Germany and that gave me a connection with people locally through kindergarten and school,” said a respondent.

What makes it easier to settle into life in Germany?

Many people said – understandably – not knowing German makes it a lot harder to get to grips with the country and make connections. 

READ ALSO: ‘Language is a huge barrier': What it's like for internationals working in Germany

But apart from nailing the famously difficult Deutsch language, what other things make it easier to settle into life in the Bundesrepublik?

Readers comments ranged from urging people to join clubs or take up hobbies to advising people to simply be friendly and the rest will follow in time.

“There are some Germans and foreigners willing to help you to settle in,” said one reader. “They act as translators, give you tips on where to buy stuff, the best price, what is good, what is bad, etc.”

Others said internationals needed to put a bit of work in and study the German culture and way of life.

"Being flexible is a must," a respondent told us. "You have to be ready for whatever comes your way and be ready to jump through all the hoops they require for all the different things required to live here.

“Do as the locals do and you will get on well,” said one reader.

Another point that would help foreigners settle into Germany is improving digitization, one reader said, adding that it is often difficult to find information online about businesses, clubs or integration facilities.

Yet another reader had the opposite experience, proving it really does just depend where you live.

"In my case, Hamburg has a site (hamburg.com) dedicated to helping foreigners enjoy the city and integrate," said the reader.

Other readers said signing up to language schools are a good way to meet friends, while others said getting involved with local initiatives like churches or community gatherings helps.

"I have made friends with people from all over the globe here in Germany by taking language courses," a reader said.

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Rachel Loxton 2019/09/30 16:07

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