Making Friends With Germans

My German husband and I got married in the States, and a few days later we boarded a plane bound for Germany. Through the whole ordeal, I never once doubted whether or not I’d made the right decision for my life, but that didn’t change the fact that I was overwhelmed. I had quit my job, sold my car and nearly all my possessions, gotten married, and left my home country and all my friends and family behind. You’d have to be a super-human to not be at least a little overwhelmed by all of that.

When we finally darkened the doorway of my husband’s apartment, we were completely exhausted from the long trip and only wanted to eat, shower, and sleep. Needless to say, I was not impressed by the note left on our door from our neighbor which said something like, “As soon as you get home, please come see us immediately!” I knew her intentions were lovely and kind, but the added pressure of immediately meeting my new neighbors upon arriving at my new home in my new country and with my new husband was just too much. All I could think was, “Really?! We JUST got married. We JUST moved in together. And most of all, we JUST got home from a stupid-long trip that included a 7 hour layover! Give us a few days to get settled and catch up on our sleep before you start insisting that we meet with you!”

The next day, our neighbor knocked on our door around noon, but my husband didn’t hear it. We were still resting and I wasn’t in any mood for visitors so I didn’t dare tell him someone was at the door. I needed time to settle – to nest. I had enough “new” to deal with already. I didn’t need a new person thrown into the mix as well. Not right away, anyway. A few hours later she returned and knocked again. When we answered, she expressed her extreme disappointment that we hadn’t gone down to visit her the moment we got home because she had baked a wedding cake for us and now it was no longer fresh and would probably be dry. Unbelievable. I was inwardly outraged, though I never expressed those feelings to my new husband. My brain knew she was only being kind and meant well, but my emotions did not agree. In my opinion, it was unimaginably rude and selfish of her to be so demanding. If she had for even 1 second tried to put herself in my shoes, she would have quickly realized that satisfying her own need to meet the new American in the house needed to wait a few more days.

We told her we’d be down in an hour and when the time came we dragged our jet-lagged bodies downstairs and were practically force-fed cake and juice. I remember being too tired to be hungry, but I finished my cake and juice only to have her insist we try the chocolates she bought and refill my glass with orange juice. I finally realized that as long as I kept drinking, she’d keep refilling without asking. I didn’t want to be rude, so I nursed the juice as long as possible and stopped when there were still about 2 inches in the bottom of the glass. She refilled it anyway. After more than 4 hours of listening to all of them converse in German, we finally left. My belly was sloshing with juice, I had a headache from trying to make sense of the German, and I felt more overwhelmed than ever.

As a side note, if you ever go to a German’s house, I’ve learned to accept an offered drink. Every German I’ve encountered desperately wants me to drink something. Drink very very slowly, and unless you’re really thirsty, leave your glass more than half-full. Otherwise, when you finally leave, you’ll be so weighed down by your full belly that you’ll barely be able to walk.

I have a deep respect for German culture. Germans are not the cold, rude jerks people make them out to be. They are warm and welcoming, and truly want to make you feel comfortable in their homes. It’s so extreme, that I sometimes find their hospitality to be overwhelming and smothering, which is basically the exact opposite of the German stereotypes we Americans often believe to be true. It wasn’t until I came here that I realized how guilty we Americans are of keeping people at arm’s length.

This leads me to the topic of my post today: Making friends with Germans. Recently, my husband read an article that compared developing relationships with Americans and developing relationships with Germans. Before telling me the outcome, he asked me, “Do you think it’s easy or hard to make an acquaintance with an American?” “Of course it’s easy,” I replied. “Getting to know someone on a surface-level is always easy, but making a deep, lasting connection of friendship… that’s the difficult part.” I didn’t understand why he’d asked such an obvious question so I followed up with, “Surely it’s that way no matter what the culture, right?” He went on to explain that the article claimed it is the opposite in Germany. According to the article, it’s often very difficult to get to know a German on a surface-level, but once they let you in, you’re in all the way. They’ll go to dinner with you, share personal information with you, and even be excited to meet your spouse or significant other.

“Ohhhhhh,” I groaned. “Oh, I get it now… All those times our neighbor told me I could stop by her apartment for a visit anytime I wanted… she meant that. And when she asked you why I didn’t come over, she was genuinely surprised and hurt that I never took her up on her offer. Before she ever even met me, she decided she was willing to let me in so she believed we were actually friends. I feel awful.” My German gently replied with, “Yes. She really did believe you were friends.” “But,” I said, “from my vantage point, it was painfully obvious that we would never be friends. That’s not rude. It’s just a fact. Her own daughter is older than I am. She speaks very poor English and at the time we lived there, my German was totally non-existent. We had nothing in common and a language barrier to boot! I had zero interest in being anything more than her acquaintance.”

This was probably the greatest epiphany I’ve had in the almost-2-years I’ve lived in Germany. My husband has a wonderful group of guy-friends that all make a point to include me in their plans to see each other, but I have always refused to call them “my friends.” When we talk about them, I’ve always referred to them as “your friends” to which he always replies “they’re your friends, too,” and I always reply with, “no. They are generous enough to extend an invitation to me when they want to see YOU.” But now I get it. His friends let me in. They truly do consider me a friend, and I am overwhelmed (in a good way) by their generosity of friendship and concern for my well-being.

The more I think about the article my husband read, the more I agree with it. When I left the States, aside from my immediate family which I spent quite a bit of time with, I only had 4 friends I was close enough with to see on a weekly basis. I, along with most the Americans I know well, don’t let people in very easily.  It’s easy to explain by saying, “People often can’t be trusted. We have to protect ourselves from getting hurt.” But the risk of getting hurt by a friend is the same no matter where in the world you go. The difference seems to be that we Americans allow that fear to almost cripple us while Germans live more freely and understand that getting hurt is sometimes just a part of life.

I’d really love some feedback on this. Do you agree with the article? Have any American expats in Germany noticed the same things? This topic has suddenly become very interesting to me so please share your thoughts!

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. I absolutely agree with the article (I’ve read that in books as well). Americans do superficial really well. Deep and lasting friendship is a beautiful rarity. Our mistake is not believing a German who says “Please come over any time”, because in the US that is nothing more than a seemingly pleasant way to end a conversation. I can understand that you were tired and not in the mood to viist when you flew over from the States after your wedding, but I find it amazing that your German neighbor baked you a cake and went our of her way to welcome you. We’ve lived in this tiny village for nearly four years, and we have only recently become friends with one couple living next door. This is not a problem for us because we like our peace and quiet and don’t want a social life.

    I spent several hours today with one of my Syrian refugee students who lives in a tiny village not far from us. I had asked him to tell me his story. At the end I asked him how he’s liking life in Germany. He is happy here, but he said he and the others he lives with only know 6 families in the village, and that makes them wonder if most of the rest don’t like refugees. I told him they don’t need to feel that way, because although there are surely some who don’t like foreigners, Swabians just don’t go out of their way to welcome newcomers. They’re constantly working anyway – either at work or in their homes, gardens, or garages – and they hardly have time for socializing. He said he’s noticed that – life in Germany seems to be about work and appointments.

    Interesting topic – agreed! 🙂

  2. It is very hard to make friends. We are so busy and you have to make time for friends. 😦

    1. I think that’s the difference between Americans and Germans. We Americans tend to believe that once we have a family, we should devote ALL our free time to our family. And to spend any time with friends is to forsake your family. But everyone needs to get away sometimes. Everyone needs downtime with friends. Germans seem to understand that, so they’re much more willing to make time for their friends.

      An old Bavarian tradition was for men to go out every Sunday morning with their buddies and have weisswurst (white sausage), soft pretzels, and beer. It’s very accepted here that people need time with friends and away from their families on occasion, and nobody’s offended by that.

  3. Now that I understand the difference in the cultures, I’m also shocked that our old neighbor decided to welcome me into her home before having ever met me. At the time, it was nothing more than a nuisance for me, but now I see how special that was.

    I’m with you though… I like my peace and quiet and have never had any sort of desire to make friends with my neighbors. 🙂

    Thanks for your feedback. I really can’t wrap my head around this. I talked to my husband about it again last night and said, “yeah, but people are very often untrustworthy. You can’t just let anyone in!” His outlook is completely different than mine and it boggles my mind!

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