Making Friends as an Expat: It’s Not Me, It’s You (okay, and me)
I have always believed in ‘quality’ over quantity when it comes to friendships. I don’t have millions of them, but the ones I do have are usually permanent and mean something more than “Hey, I know we haven’t talked in 10 years, but will you help me move this weekend?”
That being said, I’ve lived in the UK for the majority of the past 4 years, and can count on one hand the number of close British friends I have. Most of them I’ve met through shared workplaces, either here or abroad. I went to UCL, a British university, for about 6 months, and I did not leave with one friend that I didn’t know before.
It’s partly my fault. I could have tried harder, interjected myself more into conversations, opened my door more often. Even now, I could join some ‘Meet-up’ groups, do some volunteering, find a group hobby, and I’d probably find SOMEONE. But instead I find myself gravitating towards “American in London” type groups and nurturing friendships with American friends who just so happen to live in London.
If I’m honest with myself, I’m intimidated. The ‘over-the-top’ friendliness of Americans is something I take for granted. I rely on people talking to me first and making that first ‘friendship move,’ but here I could be waiting for decades. When I was a student surrounded by mostly Brits, I found the atmosphere a bit ‘cliquey’ and closed-off. No one was knocking on my door to find out who had moved in, that’s for sure.
This isn’t to say anything negative about making friendships in the UK, but it is different. I’ve found that the hardest part is taking the first step, because once you start to develop a relationship, the friendships are no less meaningful than the ones I am used to at home. It’s just that you don’t really make friends here in the check-out line at the supermarket. You can’t be expected to have the Welcoming Committee show up on your doorstep with a loaf of bread (Brits will read that and laugh and think I’m joking, while Americans will be like ‘oh, yeah, my mom is one of those committees!). You have the make the effort to meet people and say “Hey, I may be American and slightly different than you, but we both love trashy television and oh my god, did you hear Adele’s new single? Want to get dinner?”
Guy has suggested for years now that I go out and make some British friends rather than international ones who always seem to come and go, but making friends as an expat is hard! So 2016 is going to be the year of branching out and meeting new people, even if it’s just one or two. I need to brush up on the small talk (weather and traffic, ALWAYS), show up to a few meet-ups, and find myself enough friends so that my ‘side’ at the English wedding isn’t embarrassingly small.
If all else fails, I will just resort to promising people free food if they come and pretend to be my friend for a day. Is it inappropriate to make your fake friends wear nametags so I can remember who’s who?