Friends will be friends…

It’s so hard to make friends in Germany. I’ve heard and read this statement from international friends many times over the years. You have to know Germans for years before they would consider you a friend or even invite you to their home.
Of course I think of myself as an open-minded and welcoming person, but isn’t there a grain of truth there? It does take time (spent together) before a person I like moves from the category of acquaintance to friend. On the other hand I find it strange when people call me a friend when I have the feeling that I barely know them. In the US people call you a friend much faster and any sales clerk in a store will ask you how your day was. For Germans that is a real question requiring a real answer. But if I told a total stranger that I was having a horrible day, this person would be surprised and possibly annoyed. Obviously there are meanings attached to our words which are communicated through cultural codes. And only if you know about these codes you can truly understand what is being said.

In many parts of Germany people are quite reserved and it takes a long time for them to warm. (Not in the area of Rheinland, mind you – these people are very chatty and will talk to anyone who doesn’t run away.) Also there are some very chatty German personalities around. It is just not the majority of people. As for Leipzig I have been told that people are unfriendly and closed-up. I cannot say that this is true. But it is true that most people will not do the first step in starting a conversation or friendly small talk with you unless there is a specific reason. But there is a very easy way through that. Smile and be friendly yourself. It usually helps. Once people realize that you are a nice human being they cannot help and react to that in the same way (with a few exceptions, okay).

As for making real friends – that is a different matter. Being a friend is a big thing in Germany. It is not something acquired easily and with some people it takes years. Especially if people have been living in one place their whole lives, it will take time for them to make room for you in their circle of friends. Taking the first step helps. Inviting people to activities, to your birthday, to a barbecue. Once you make a German your friend though odds are good, that you have a friend for life. Trustworthiness and reliability are highly valued features of friendships in Germany. Obviously besides the initial getting along and spending a good time together. A circle of friends can be just as or even more important to a person than family. So yes, it does take longer to make friends in Germany. But it is definitely worth it.