Blogger Geneve Girl offers these ideas on how to go from being completely alone in a strange city to being one of those people sitting in cafes surrounded by cool hipster friends.
A couple of years ago, I upped stumps and moved myself to Berlin in an effort to ‘find myself’ amongst the history and culture* of that unique city. I’m not sure I found myself (unless ‘myself’ is someone who occasionally overindulges in bratwurst and pommes frites, has a mediocre grasp of German and regularly gets knocked off their bike by trucks and wayward rabbits) but what I did find pretty quickly was that I had completely forgotten how to make friends.
I’m not talking about how to be a friend — I’d like to think I’m an old pro in that respect — but literally how to go from being completely alone in a strange city to being one of those people sitting in cafes surrounded by a group of cool hipster friends laughing gleefully at how young and funny and fabulous they are.
What are the odds that such people even exist, let alone that I will find them in an unfamiliar place where I don’t even speak the language, let alone that I will succeed in making them be my friends?
I had spent the previous eight years or so surrounded by warm, wonderful friends, rarely having the opportunity – and certainly not the need – to seek out new ones. My previous experience at making new friends was limited to the first few weeks of first-year university (when we were all so drunk that everyone was your new best friend), the first few weeks of high school (where we were all so scared that we became instant friends with whoever we were sitting next to in class) and the first few weeks of grade one, where friendship groups were defined by who liked the same colour crayon as you (also, I’m pretty sure one girl tried to bribe me in chocolate to be her friend. I may have accepted).
None of these experiences had prepared me for making friends in adulthood, where you can’t just walk around drunk all day, befriend the guy sitting next to you on the tram or offer the girl at the coffee shop chocolate to hang out with you.
Three years, three different cities and some embarrassing failed friending attempts later, I still don’t think I’ve got it sorted. Meeting people is easy; making friends is hard. Distinguishing between the two can be just as difficult, especially when you’re in a new city and you’re desperate for the reassurance that friendship brings to your life.
Don’t try to recreate the friendships you’ve had for years, and don’t expect to find a bestie immediately. Be open to each opportunity that comes your way, but you can’t just sit around waiting for opportunities either. You may have to put yourself out there and occasionally cross the line between friendliness and stalking but, hey, it’s a continuum anyway, right?
For those of you wandering the aisles of Migros alone scanning the faces of your fellow shoppers for potential buddies, don’t lose hope. Here are a few ideas for how to find your new amigo:
1. Pretend you have more friends than you actually have
Sometimes, you have to play hard to get when it comes to making friends. The desperation gets kind of palpable after a while, so even if you don’t have any plans after work, sometimes it can be a good idea to pretend you do. People don’t want to be friends with people who have no friends, so try to make it look like you already have some and you’ll find it will pay off. If a colleague asks you to join them for skiing on the weekend, DO NOT just jump at the chance, lest you look like a lonely loser. Be a little coy about your plans and make them sweat it out a little. Then, obviously, say yes and thank god one of your colleagues pities you enough to spend time with you outside of work hours.
2. Always say yes
Okay, when I say “don’t look too desperate” please remember that you are kind of desperate and not really in a position to turn anyone or anything down. If you make ‘say yes to everything’ your motto when moving to a new city, you may end up in a compromising situation involving a bottle of cheap gin and a Belgian guy you hardly know****, but at least you won’t be spending Saturday night watching season two of the Sopranos, right?
3. Move your butt
If there is one thing that is in abundant supply in Geneva, it’s outdoor and sporting activities, so why not try a few out? There are a bunch of sport-related clubs for runners, volleyball-players**, Frisbee players, basketballers, cyclers, golfers, people who like to drink beer (oh, sorry, I mean people who play pool/billiards), softball players***, plus a million different ones related to snow sports, all of which are findable via Glocals.
Taking part in these activities is a good way to find people who are interested in similar things to you, which increases the likelihood that you will not find them to be total deadbeats (although I can’t guarantee that). For the ladies, there is an ever-growing netball community in Geneva, so why not show up for a game. For all you wannabe Romeos out there, do us all a favour and learn how to dance will you? There are a million and one salsa/tango classes happening in Geneva at any given moment, so why not give one a try? And if you’re up for a more intense workout, there are a couple of outdoor workout classes happening around town, which are a great way to meet people while getting your butt kicked by a crazy trainer.
Word of warning: If you’re not really looking for friends but in fact are looking for a dating service, I’d be a little careful about attending fitness classes or joining the running – there’s nothing attractive about sweatiness and uncoordination. Speaking from experience.
4. Embrace exclusivity
Like any good relationship, the chances that it will be successful and mutually fulfilling are greatly increased if two people come from similar backgrounds, cultures or religious. Now, I’m not advocating intolerance or cultural isolation here, but I do think that if you’re searching for mates, a good place to start is with people who are like you. So, why not search out a cultural association or an expat club where you can meet people with whom you can immediately bond about all the great things in your own country you can’t get in Geneva (for me, it’s Vegemite, sunshine and happiness).
If you’re stuck, contact your Permanent Mission here in Geneva and ask them if they know of any such organisations, and while you’re at it get them to put you on their social events email list so you can shake the Ambassador’s hand and drink their free wine once a year. If you practice a certain religion, check out any social groups associated with them here in Geneva – you can find a list of English speaking places of worship here.
Another tip – given that Geneva draws so many international graduates, a lot of the bigger universities will have alumni groups operating in Geneva. Do a Google search or even try Linked In, and you might find a whole group of people with whom you can whinge about how the value of your Master’s degree is slowly declining as scandal after scandal rocks your alma mater.
5. When in doubt, go to Facebook
The Facebook status update has wrongly acquired the status of a cure-all, with far too many people now using it as a form of diagnosing their strange-looking rash, taking revenge on their ex, or whinging about the guy who stole their park at the shopping centre today, HOW DARE HE.
But, let us not forget the power of the social network. If people can find housemates, employees and spouses via Facebook, surely you can find someone who knows someone who lives in Geneva and might possibly want to be your friend? Yes, I know it’s a little cringe-worthy, but if you’re desperate for mates, are you really in a position to be picky? Swallow your pride and post your friendlessness out there for all the world to see. And, if you get a bite, make sure you pursue it with all your might. Stalking is a harsh term to use when it comes to making friends, but you could learn a lot from many successful stalkers who have gone before you. Do: keep your communications light and bubbly, don’t put pressure on the person to meet up with you, keep the conversation on non-contentious issues.
Don’t: call every day, email them in any font that looks like a ransom note, send packages of pornography, flowers, candy and pizza to their house like Gwyneth Paltrow’s stalker did.
*Read: bars and clubs
**Volleyballers? Sounds kind of sexual…
***Softballers? Sounds kind of like an insult….
**** Not me, I promise.
Photo credit: Stuart Seeger (best friends).