How I Learned To Avoid Other Americans (IRL and Online) and Began To Go Outside

How I Learned To Avoid Other Americans (IRL and Online) and Began To Go Outside

When moving abroad the idea of losing my social calendar never occurred to me. I simply forgot that being friendless could be a thing. And when you combine that with culture shock, language barriers, time zones, international calling rates and flaked promises to visit you wind up virtually alone. While I had my husband and some semblance of a life through his family I was left without my own circle. I could text and DM people from back home but was often left on read and vicariously living the life I  once lived. So when you make the move, inevitably your social life comes to a halt and the lack there of becomes all too obvious. You need actual friends on your side of the planet preferably not the people you must endure during endless Deutschkurs. You want people on your team who will provide longevity, unsolicited advice and buy you one more drink. You cannot enjoy the transition because there is no one to share it with. So you are back in junior high trolling for friends. Unfortunately, your quest may be daunting as Americans, international English speakers and like minded folk may be far and few in your viertel.

Thankfully for me I had people who made me aware before I realized my problem. I had only been here in Germany about a week before it was suggested I meet another girl in town from the states. My friend had been stalking this girl on social media and asked did I know her. Now Köln is very small but I hadn't seen her before so I too became intrigued and finally got up the nerve to drop in her DM's. And within a week or so we met in Ehrenfeld for an American breakfast to get to know one another. We had a pretty interesting morning over misshapen Deutscher pancakes, speaking English rather loudly and cracking ethnic jokes. While it was all so fun doing the above her words were full of misery and folly. I felt as though Germany had eaten this chick alive. She would begin every testimony with a disclaimer and offer me the opportunity to run while ahead. Then as per usual she dropped the bomb of "moving soon", as all expats do, ya know so you can stop trying while you are ahead. In that meeting I realized I would probably never meet this person ever again and it really set the tone for other interactions with Americans abroad.

After a while of clamoring for the possibility of friends I took refuge in digital spaces where Americans and English speakers could connect over expatriate drama and tragedy. Honestly, it wasn't a new phenomenon for me. I had grown up in the internet age and spent most of my adolescence in chat rooms and online user groups. I even met my husband in an online dating app. Now I was discovering the world that is Facebook Groups and Reddit Threads. In them I would unlock a treasure trove of information, recommendations and alas friends. However, much like my initial experience meeting a fellow American, I was inundated with more of the same. On top of those interactions it seemed this modern, virtual world was 24/7 and accompanied by notifications every time shit hit the fan. While these forums may be resourceful upon entry after a few weeks to a month they are nothing but cesspools of misinformation, complaining and gossip. And as per usual everyone is in there being nice until you interact. I would eagerly accept an invitation to meet in person for one sided vent sessions. I would be a punching bag, a therapist and or the only person who tips and it was very discouraging. Sadly, I kept doing this to myself, either taking a risk on six degrees of separation or falling for the invite to coffee knowing I hate bean water. So I would begrudgingly meet someone just to listen to the same story of them coming here, hating it and moving soon. So time and time again I would leave hopeless with no klein geld for the toilleten.

Recently after a series of unfortunate events I left almost every American in Germany and Expat in Germany group on Facebook. I was growing very tired of missed connections, terrible interactions and misinterpretations of my comments and intentions. Trust I had tried to find some sort of portal to a more tailored experience. I joined Internations. I tried to tag along with others to Mundo Lindo. I began to pay more attention to these random lady picnics and so-called brunches in the womens expat groups. So I was always in bed at night or distracted at a meal with the glow of a phone in my face trying to connect. I had to stop and focus my energy on other outlets. And while it has been a slow crawl it is healthier to meet like minded individuals while getting out and doing things I actually like to do. I'll also admit it has been hard to let go of the "communities" I spent most waking days scrolling through but I know I am better off. No more threads about expatriate taxation or snotty admins cancelling events because they can't make a reservation at a decent restaurant. Ugh and no more annoying posts trying to sell me worn shoes and dead succulents.

While a lot of us envy Germans who have friendships from kindergarten to old age we need to realize that was our reality too. We once curated our own circles of friends and networks. Our friends also shared similar upbringings, education, career and lifestyles. So why would anyone believe that expats and or Americans are all the same and belong in the same circles? If I were in the states I would not be focusing my energy on others just because we lived in the same zip code. I am a very cosmopolitan girl and I know what I like, love and hate. I'm a Yankee turned Southerner, a Gemini and a super, duper Liberal. So I had to drop my expectations on meeting the exact carbon copies of my friends back home as well as leave the notion of infiltrating existing German circles. I just needed to interact with a variety of people and narrow it down to those who also wanted meaningful friendships. I had to keep my interests and values front of mind NOT spoken language or nationality. Thinking about the latter simply isolated me from meeting quality people who were complementary to me and shared similar expectations about relationships while abroad.

There are plenty of online and IRL meetups with expats who engage over special interests. The people who avidly attend are typically here to stay and eager to meet others. So many of the groups and events are not solely dedicated to language, students or business i.e. Radio Sabor. You can fully commit to these additions in your social calendar or totally float in and out with zero obligation. You can also go out and attend local activities like klamotten exchanges, food truck bazaars, flohmarkts, biergartens etc. There are also more curated events like late museum nights, throwback cinema events and open university lectures. I personally like going on lil adventures where I just take the day and wonder about to see what is happening. This get outside mentality has made my time here way more fulfilling. Surely, there were plenty of days when I felt as though if I didn't have Deutshkurs I would never leave the confines of my bed. And had I succumbed to that feeling those silly expat FB groups would have kept me planted right there. Of course one has to have the will and motivation to get on their two feet and find alternatives. However, don't put yourself in a position where that will dissipates. I whole heartedly recommend clicking the X, getting up and opening the door to real things and real friends in real time.