Friday, December 20, 2019

Cracking the Code: Making Friends with Germans

I have read on many expat groups and forums that it is very difficult to make friends with Germans and I have heard the same from my students here over the years. Germans have the reputation for being distant, stand-off-ish, not warm, and even unfriendly or rude. For my readers who don't believe me, there are chapters written about this in books about Germans, and I just yesterday asked two Germans during the office English lesson if they think there's anything behind this idea. They both agreed that's a pretty common impression, as did M. Yes, I know Germans - even Swabians - who defy this stereotype, but that doesn't mean it isn't based in reality.

Ok, so how do you make friends with Germans? 

Ask them for help with something you need/want to learn that they are already good at.

Seriously, that is all.

Well, not quite all. You have to mean it. If you're faking it, don't bother because they will see through that in a New York minute. Be sincere.

Friends for nearly 30 years (old photo).
No one in the world has ever understood me like he does.
Here's where I'm coming from:

As you know if you've read my blog during the last year, I have embarked on a crazy journey - to become a Falknerin. This would not be crazy in the US or the UK because there all I'd need to do is start volunteering with a falconer, learn about the birds and how to care for them, gain some confidence, and buy a bird. But this is Germany. I must first become a hunter, and in order to do that, I need to really want to become a hunter because of the time and money it requires.

When I started this quest I also started reaching out to everyone I could find who had something to do with hunting and Falknerei. While listening to a radio report about Falknerei and Vergrämen (chasing pigeons away from airports or towns using birds of prey) in Baden-Württemberg, I heard the name Wulf K. How many "Wulf Ks" could there be in B-W?? I contacted a family friend who has a son of that name, and sure enough, he's a Falkner. I asked if I could contact him, and he spent more than an hour with me on the phone talking about Falknerei and giving me advice how to pursue this goal. Among other things, he told me not to go for the "kleiner Jagdschein", which is valid for Falkner but doesn't include the shooting bit. He said if I'm going for my Jagdschein, I should go for the Full Monty. That was the first, but not the last, time I heard that advice.

Another family friend who is a hunter took me down to the Landesjagdschule for a short visit because I had said I was considering a different school near Stuttgart. He thought the Landesjagdschule would be a better choice. There I met the director and sat in on a class, and decided I would indeed attend that school instead.

M and I have visited the Garuda Falknerei several times and always seek them out when they are at the Horber Weihnachtsmarkt. Last year and this year the Falknerin has spotted us at the start of her show and waved with a friendly, "Hi! I know you!" Last year when she did this I turned to see who was behind us, but there was no one. She was greeting us! Haha!

I have known for several years that my Frauenarzt (Ob/Gyn) is a hunter and organizes each year a Treibjagd in his Revier. So in the Spring I sent him a letter saying I am pursuing my Falknerjagdschein, am therefore interested in learning what I need to learn about hunting, and if he would be willing to help me I'd be grateful. 

While chatting with the chef at our favorite local restaurant one evening this summer, he told us there is a Falkner who lives in the village just on the other side of the valley! He told me his name, I googled him and sent him an email. A few weeks later he was sitting in our Wintergarten talking with us about hunting, learning to shoot well (I was having a real problem with that at the Jagdschule), and Falknerei. He spent two hours with us!

Not long after that I got a phone call from my Frauenarzt. He told me he'd received my letter and thought that he would ask JM, a friend of his and local Falkner, to get in touch with me, but when he did JM told him he'd already been at our house for a 2-hour chat!  I think this is what proved to him that I was serious and this wasn't just a whim. He and his wife invited M and me to his house for Kaffee und Kuchen and a drive through his Revier.

A former student (friend by now - a Scot!) told me her boyfriend's father is a hunter, and I practically begged for an introduction. He called me up one evening from his Hochsitz and invited me over to watch him gut the deer he'd just shot. I dropped everything and dashed over. He also took me out with him the next evening when he went to his Hochsitz again, and 25 minutes later I was watching him gut another roe buck.

Several weeks ago M and I met with a group from my summer Jagdkurs, and it was so good to see them again! My Tischnachbar (the man who sat next to me in class) was there, and I was glad to introduce him to M. He often helped me with words or phrases in class when I felt lost and frustrated. Many of my other classmates who offered me encouragement at the Schießstand or help translating now and then were there as well. We've agreed to try to arrange a get-together once or twice a year.

A classmate and friend from my Jagdkurs introduced me to a Schießlehrer (shooting instructor) in Stuttgart who has been a godsend. For the past two months M and I have been going nearly every Wednesday afternoon and Sunday morning to the Schießstand (shooting range) in Stuttgart for lessons. I never wanted to shoot or even touch a gun. I had serious problems during the Jagdkurs and dreaded our days at the Schießstand. Zip forward to today, and it's a whole different world for me. This Schießlehrer has done wonders for me - even when I shoot badly, which has been often, he stays cool and tells me I'll get it eventually. On Wednesday (2 days ago), I finally saw that day.

Datenschutz-approved photo of my very patient Schießlehrer
coaching me on the damn Kipphasen
Every "regular" at the Schießstand has been helpful, friendly and welcoming. We recognize each other and everyone is per du (we use the informal "you" and first names with each other). The ones who are working volunteering as Aufsicht (supervisors) offer tips even when we don't ask, and we appreciate everyone's input and help! We are improving and it is because of their help. I have exchanged emails with some of the other students there. One of them sent me 35 pages of potential questions for the oral test of the Jägerprüfung that she and her classmates had created!

Are all of the above-mentioned Germans my friends? No, not yet. At least not in the German sense. They wouldn't refer to me as their friend either (Germans frequently use the word Bekannte - acquaintance - and that's a good thing to be!). But I have gotten to know a whole lot of wonderful people this year who are willing to work with me and help me reach my goal. I genuinely enjoy spending time with them and learning from them. 

Ok, so what if you don't know German well enough to carry on a conversation yet? Same tactic: Ask a German for help! One of my closest friends here is a woman I met at our second Kochkurs five years ago. We exchanged emails so I could share our photos with her, and I asked her to be my Sprachpartnerin (language partner). I'd help her with English, and she could help me with German. She agreed, we met a few times, she invited me to a Kaffeekränzchen at her house, and since then we meet every few weeks or months whenever we have time. And she continues to help me with my German during our conversations!

Several times recently I have struck up a chat with a total stranger on the train which has led to a genuinely interesting talk! We did not exchange contact information, which I find really cool as well - if the fates align, we'll meet again. If not, I enjoyed the time chatting with a stranger about topics that interested us both.

I've made acquaintances and friends with Germans by volunteering, teaching, taking cooking classes, joining a Verein (club) and through my pursuit of the Jagdschein. We've made friends with our neighbors as well. None of this was instantaneous, though.

Making friends with Germans takes time and effort. The only things worth doing take time and effort. If you sit around waiting for them to come to you, it's not going to happen. Tell them you want to learn something they can teach, and prove to them that you mean it.

Trust me.

White-tailed Eagle, Isle of Mull, Scotland
Just because.

I guess in a way this blog post is my effort to throw out into the universe a heartfelt THANK YOU to all those who have been willing to help me. This is the most difficult thing I have ever tried to do, and without these folks I could never have made as much progress as I have.


  1. Yes, THIS! It's funny, because it seems that expats get disappointed when Germans are not pounding down the doors to be their friend, but they're not exactly doing much to actually forge a friendship or meet new people. It's almost as if they expect a German friend to fall out of the sky before them. It takes work to make new friends, especially in a new country, and making friends in the US isn't just automatic, either.

    I found that taking the reins, joining a group, and then organizing events really helped me make friends. When you're the organizer, you have often have more contact with all the attendees just because of your role. I had joined an international organization in the US and continued to be active with it here and with the exception of a few people, all of my other friends were met in that group. If a person sits home, pining because of having no friends, that doesn't really solve the situation at all!

    Just as you did, it's great to get out there, learn new things, talk to folks, and try new things. New Bekannte and Freunde will follow.

    1. I'm sorry I didn't see your comment until just now! It's always nice to know someone else out there sees what I do. :-) I like the way Germans make friends! There's little "fakeness" to it. They don't pretend to like you, say they'll call or write soon and then disappear. If they've decided you're worth the effort, they'll be your genuine friend.

      I agree that many expats seem to expect friends to fall out of the sky, but that's just not the way it is here. My advice is always to find somewhere to volunteer and/or join a Verein. Then show them you want to learn and get involved.

      I hope you've had a nice Christmas!