An Expat’s Guide to Making Friends

There is a lot about moving abroad that makes you feel like you are back on the mean streets of adolescence, a.k.a. the hormonal halls of middle school. For example, I immediately felt thirteen again upon having to figure out exactly how to use applicator-free, organic cotton German tampons. Then there’s the whole problem of making friends because, well, all of a sudden even though you thought you were a well-adjusted adult approaching mid-life, you don’t have any friends. At least not in Berlin. In Berlin you are roaming the metaphorical halls of middle school, searching for a clique that you actually want to be a part of and that will have you.

Luckily I had some experience to draw from.  I had done this once before, almost six years ago when we moved from Los Angeles to London. And thus I have devised my handy Expat’s Guide to Making Friends in three easy steps.

Step 1:
Accept invitations from anyone, including well-meaning work colleagues with whom, upon reflection, you have nothing in common other than work. How else would you end up eating brunch at a Siberian restaurant and listening to aforementioned well-meaning colleague deliver a joint monologue with his wife about how they ended up in Berlin that lasts, unbroken, through three trips to the buffet table? And yes, apparently Siberia has a cuisine, which based upon the evidence of this brunch resembles that of a down-at-the-heels church potluck. Still, it was nice of them to invite us.

Step 2:
Solicit invitations from anyone/place/thing. This is easier than it sounds. Just Google the International Womens Club in your city. I did this in Berlin despite the experience I had with it in London where it was overrun with bankers’ wives with a penchant for lunchtime activities that I could never attend because, shock, I actually worked during the day. I also did this despite the fact that the one night time invitation I netted out of the London club resulted in husband and I spending an evening on red leather couches in an apartment in Pimlico surrounded by Republicans in the George Bush second term-era.

Happily, our first outing with the Berlin branch of the International Womens Club went better. It started well enough when we were seated at the fondue restaurant between an American consultant and his antique-dealing wife and a Japanese couple who turned out not to be a couple.  Then in swooped Jocelyne of Brittany, a middle-aged, larger-than-life paean to fabulousness.  Her career as a diplomatic translator made her interesting enough, then we learned she had previously lived in the Cotswolds (in the town where we had first visited, Mickleton, no less) and her sister lived in Santa Monica.  Small world.

Step 3:
Find your local English Language Bookshop and sign up for the mailing list. Yes, I know the poetry reading starts at 9PM on a weeknight which is the time you are normally watching Mad Men in your pajamas, but go anyway. How else would you hear the line “Dave, the radiologist” used to great effect in a poem read to you by a poet over Skype from Brooklyn while you drink white wine from a tumbler? For this pleasure you will have to endure a bearded twenty-something reading you a “sound poem” in which he repeats the same word continuously for two minutes. (I don’t remember the word, but I do remember he thought it was important to tell the audience he had studied with an acoustics professor.) You will also have to bear the silent wrath of the poet from Baltimore who glares at you before she mounts a step ladder six-inches from where you are sitting—how were you supposed to know that was her podium?—forcing you to stare into the middle distance while she too repeats words, this time different ones in alphabetical order. Her poems are mildly annoying, but maybe we can be friends?

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