While this post has been incredibly hard to write because making friends is by no means straightforward and easy, what we have learned over the years it is also something that we always want to share with you. If you live abroad in most places, you will find that foreigners tend to group together and make friends with other foreigners. There may be some exceptions to this ‘rule’ but if you just have a look around you, think about who you know and who you interact with (whether or not you are currently abroad), you will probably see that most people from a place hang out with others from a place and that foreigners stick with foreigners. That is not to say there is no possibility of integration—in fact Claudia’s brother is a great example as he has only a handful of guiri or foreign friends—but, that this is not necessarily the norm.
We have a couple of theories about why it is hard to make friends in Spain*, but the basics hold true all over the world: People who find themselves with a good, solid group of friends, are most likely not really looking to branch out to accept a whole bunch of other people into their circle. On the other hand, if you are new to a city, you are probably looking for friends. What does this mean? That people looking for friends tend to find each other while people who aren’t looking for new friends will most likely stay in their pre-made groups.
That being said, from the outside looking in, there is this impression that Spanish people are super friendly and outgoing (and they usually are) but, at the same time, that making true Spanish friends is not easy. This may feel confusing at times, trust us, we’ve been there when you have the weird experience when someone says to you, “hey, let’s grab a coffee/beer/etc.” but they don’t actually say when…or where…or end up meeting you… usually ever. While this is pretty common and we would say that the person is being friendly by offering, it can throw you off when they don’t follow through and you end up hanging out with other people who are actually looking to do something. However, the truth of the matter is that making good friends isn’t always easy and will require work from both sides.
In addition, we believe that if you are only here for a short period of time, these two processes (staying within your ‘group’ and not following through with plans) will only seem to intensify. In our opinion, this seems pretty fair—if you are from a place or are staying there for a long period of time, it is really hard that your friends come and go in a cycle (for example, a school year). However, at the end of the day, we are all on the lookout for people we click with, so don’t give up yet, you just might have to work harder than you previously thought. At the same time, it will probably be worth it.
If you want to make friends with Spaniards (or natives wherever you may be) check out the video we made on this subject and our tips below!
Our main tip would be: make it obvious that your friendship is worth the investment.
How can you do this? We recommend taking initiative!
1.) When you talk about meeting someone for coffee, follow through on it. Try and set up a date, write them to remind them, make an effort. Between the two of us, we cannot even count the number of times we have told someone ‘let’s have a coffee’ and not met up with them, but half of that is our fault. Spanish people love to socialize while eating and drinking but if you are not actively working to follow up on an invitation in Spain, it is likely that it will get set aside for another time or, potentially, never seen again. If you are persistent, and they actually want to meet you, they will. And it is wonderful to meet up with a new friend and learn about them one-on-one.
And this is a tip that can work for you outside of Spain too. Before you know someone, being able to understand whether they ‘really’ want to have a coffee or not can be difficult and is culturally different (read this post about preparing for cultural differences for more information). However, once you can show someone that you mean what you say and that you are working to invest in their friendship, they will be more open to do the same.
2.) Invite your potential friends to things too. Don’t just expect to be invited automatically to join in with all your new friends’ plans, and don’t take the lack of invitation to mean you’re not friends. Different people act and react to friendships differently. If you want to change something, be proactive in your situation and put together a tapas night out, afternoon coffee and snacks at your house, or try to organize a walk/picnic to your favorite spot in the city. You can also try getting together different friends and make it a group outing. Consider how people in your life might come together in different ways. When your potential friends have fun with you and the other people you invite, they will be more likely to remember you the next time they are planning something.
At the same time, remember that even if you are not invited to do other activities with a person, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t value you or that they don’t want you in their life. There are some friendships that cross boundaries and bleed into every aspect of who you are; other friendships are more aligned to one activity (such as football, partying, etc.). That doesn’t mean that the friendships that are based on one activity are not important. On the contrary, sometimes it is good to have people that you can connect with outside your ‘normal’ group. And if you want to develop that friendship more, go for it!
3.) Join general social activities. This is probably one of our favorite tips because it is something that we tend to overlook or give less value when we are looking to make friends. Find a place where everyday activities that you already enjoy or want to learn are carried out and sign up. Whether that means joining a sports team, going to poetry readings, or taking a painting class, get involved in activities where other people are carrying out their everyday life as well. Talk to people in that space and see if you can create friendships there, taking advantage of the interactions that are already going on within the group.
For example, if the people in your class are meeting up to go drinking, step out of your comfort zone and go along with them! This is a great environment to practice your Spanish as well as show your classmates that you are happy to spend time with them! This may sound bizarre but you might find that the people you want to interact with are under the impression that a) the foreigners in the class didn’t speak Spanish and b) don’t want to hang out with them. You can only prove them wrong if you take action to do so.
We do understand, however, that sometimes friendships created in specific activities will also stay in those activities. Like we mentioned above, not all friendships are the same, and you probably don’t want them to be. This might mean that while you have a great relationship with the other participants in your art class, you only see them there. You have two options, and neither is guaranteed to be exactly what you want. You can accept where your friendships are with the people around you or you can decide to build on what you have to grow towards what you are looking for. Metaphorically speaking, the ball is in your hands so take the action that you wish to take.
And remember, like with all friendships you have built around the world, you are going to have to prove that it is worth it to invest in you as a friend. Sometimes it might not work (which is normal—are you friends with everyone you meet back home?), but it is definitely worth the effort and you will probably learn a lot about yourself while you’re at it.
So give it a go and let us know how it works for you!
*We also recognize that we have friends that don’t agree with this and can ‘make friends’ anywhere. As the shyer of most of our guiri friends, we are pretty hesitant to say we are friends until we have established more of a friendship.