Sunday, June 15, 2014

Meeting new people as an ex-pat

To be frank, I'm perplexed about how one goes about forming acquaintanceships/friendships in a foreign country.  The one friend I did succeed in making, and, boy, was I glad I did, just moved back to the UK.  Rats. 

After almost two years of living in CH, here are some highlights of my experience in the 'buddy department' so far:

Met a German woman last year through work.  We hit it off and she gave me her number, suggesting that we met up for coffee at some point.  This was after I had mentioned my challenges in meeting new people.  On our coffee excursion, she mentioned her own difficulties in getting closer to people here in CH.  Her example was that after five years of living in Zurich, she and her partner had yet to be invited to a Swiss person's place for dinner/apero/what-not.  Thinking that they might like to be invited, at least, to an American's place, I invited her and her partner over for a bbq some weeks later.  We all ate, drank and were merry.  I then never heard from them again.  Did they contract food poisoning?

Met a Briton at a party back in December.  We hit it off and she suggests we swap nos. in order to meet up again at some point.  After a few texts sent back and forth, we met for drinks.  It turned out that she's a bit more established here, and, after eight years in Zurich, she's set with a solid circle of ex-pat and native friends alike.  We chatted about the usual ex-pat stuff: language and culture challenges, the pros and cons of living in a foreign country, etc.  I had a good time and sent her a couple follow-up texts.  They must have fallen into the abyss as I never heard from her again.  -guess her roster was already full.

Met an Irish woman last year again through work.  We went out for a drink and a chat and seemed to hit it off.  We then conducted a text correspondence over some number of months.  She suggested at least a few times that we get together again.  When I then tried to hammer out plan with her, she stopped responding to my texts.  I bumped into her by chance at a pub about a month later.  She was friendly and profusely sorry for not having been in touch, but, hey, she said that she had about '50,000' other texts to sift through and can't be expected to respond to them all.  After that night out, I neither heard nor saw her again.  It's been about six months.  One can imagine I haven't sent her anymore text messages.

Met yet another ex-pat at a party a few months back who has been in ZH for just over two years.  We've been pretty active about keeping up regular coffee dates and I enjoy hanging out with her.  A week ago, I texted her suggesting that we meet today at 12.30 at one of our regular spots.  She responded by asking if we could meet instead at four.  That was no problem.  At three o'clock today, she texted me too ask if I could come instead at 3.45.  I did my best to arrive at the newly appointed time.  Upon my arrival, I could see that she had already had a coffee date with someone else and that it seemed to be winding down.  No biggie, I thought, I'm always up for meeting new people.  After about 45 minutes of chit-chat between the three of us, it was time for my ex-pat buddy to leave.  She had another engagement.  Goodbyes were exchanged and I went home a bit deflated.  It had taken me about thirty minutes to get to our meeting place.  In total, the commute time to the cafe and back home took longer than the coffee date itself.

Sometimes it's difficult to muster up the inspiration to go out and meet new people, but staying home doesn't make one any friends or acquaintances now does it? 


  1. Meeting people that will stick with you can be really hard. It's almost like dating!! I spent the better part of a summer trying to woo the friendship of a very near neighbour. Only to listen to her complain of her trying to make friends with another neighbourhood couple, but her husband was not keen on the match up. It is a tricky bit. I've had better luck getting involved with volunteer groups or craft groups to meet people. Good luck with it:)

  2. Thanks for your comment! I agree that the whole thing is like a courtship of sorts. I've two volunteer gigs at present (one long-term and the other just under half a year), and, while we do all get on, it doesn't seem that hanging out outside the bounds of the volunteer arena is likely to happen. I shall press on even in the face of discouragement!

  3. Dear Beata,
    I saw your comment on Tom's blog.
    It is difficult to make new friends in a foreign city - and it seems to depend a bit on the city too. In 6 years in Hamburg a found two real good friends - and I'm an outgoing person who's job as vocational advisor demands that I easily can talk with people, and can listen. Hamburgians might be more like Schweizer - nice, but very reserved. Here in Berlin (almost 4 years) I met a lot more people and am well acquainted with.
    I think: don't give up (though one might be vexed or baffled sometimes). Have a visiting card with you - two of my best acquaitances here I got that way. (Often one chats, and then one thinks: Oh, she was nice - sorry I didn't invite her for a coffee). I wish you luck!

    1. Brigitta,

      Vielen Dank für den Comment! Ich glaube auch, dass man nie aufgeben sollte, neue Leute kennenlernen zu können. Ich bin auch ein sprachfreudiger Typ und als Kalifornierin, es ist mir leicht Small Talk zu machen. Aber es ist absolut richtig, dass die Schweizer vielleicht doch im Vergleich zu uns aus Kali eher verschlossener sind so wie die aus Hamburg.

      I think what also comes into play is that my standard German is much better than my Swiss German (understanding). My impression is that most natives would rather speak English with me than 'Schriftdeutsch'. And, while I understand that, I'm not always interested in helping people practice their English! I then tend to shy away from English-only situations, thus resulting in a bit more isolation. Oi vey!

      Again, thank you for your post!
      Liebes Grüssli aus Züri


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