Friends: possibly the question I get asked the most. How to make friends in Amsterdam.
I have written about this subject before but felt reticent to tackle the “how-to” because of how personal this is. Telling someone how to make friends is similar to try to teach them “the steps to fall in love” (hate this expression, but you get the idea). We connect with people differently and my ways to make friends work for me, not necessarily for everyone else. We all need to find our own ways as there are no formulas one-size-fits-all. This being said, because the question keeps on coming – and especially so when folks realize I am also befriended with Dutchies -, I’ve realised this is a thing. I have promised someone to write about this topic (Hi, F.!) , which is a strategy I’ve been employing not to procrastinate on blog posts. So here’s my take on the friendship thing. I hope it can be useful. Also, feel free to ask any question or to share your own impressions in the comments section! Yes, we zijn zover, which is to say, here we go.
The struggle with building a social and affective life from scratch is something akin to everyone who experiences moving countries. It is indeed an enormous task, and even more so when people come in positions of ‘relative comfort’ such as a good job, or together with a partner, which is the situation of many people I speak to. Why might comfort be a disadvantage? Well, what I’ve been observing tells me that when we have the convenience of a bit of comfort, we hold on to it. Our job is important so we work more; we are happy to have our loved one around so we seek solace in them. These are, of course, sensible things to do. However, if you remain in your comfort zone… you know what tends to happen: nothing. The thing is, humans are not good at putting themselves in uncomfortable territory. It feels counterproductive. If you find yourself at a semi-comfortable situation, you’ve guessed it: you will have to make an extra effort. You see, the fact that I’ve arrived alone and jobless heightened my drive ‘to act’ on building my social life for my emotional survival ‘depended on it’. Seven years ago I was very open to pretty much everyone I had the slightest click with. I regarded them as my life-belt.
Long story short: for me, it all started with F., a good friend from my teen years with whom I used to go out partying back in the wild days. When I made the decision to move I sent him an e-mail asking if he could help me find accommodation in Amsterdam. He was the one to connect me to the girl who became my first flatmate, Miss K. When I arrived she was sort of my only friend. Then she introduced me to her friends and schoolmates. In the meanwhile I had been ‘networking’ like a freak. Before moving I reached out to bloggers I used to follow and checked if they were open to meet. I maintained a personal blog too so that helped in the way that they could see that, if nothing else, I was a “real person’ who could write. I also reached to acquaintances who lived here. One of those was so well-connected already that he introduced me to a great number of interesting people right from the start, mostly creative types, which was my drill. This combination of things has set me off to a good start. Then, there was daily effort.
When I arrived in the city my priority was quantity. The more people I met, the better. It was a survival strategy of sorts that I have instinctively employed. I just wanted to avoid feeling lonely like the plague. This is how a frailty becomes a strength. Everyone I clicked with got an invition for a coffee / beer / party at my place / or a fun program together with the ‘friends’ I already had. Most people accepted Sometimes I had to remind them of the invitation, with an e-mail or text – that was usually when we’d set a specific date to meet. From then on it’d usually flow. I met a few people just once or twice, but a few have become friends with who I started hanging out on a regular basis. The fact that Amsterdam is a very international city helps a lot. A lot of us are not from here so we’re all on the same boat.
There was another thing that helped: upon one month of my arrival, Miss K. and me started organising these parties at our place. We’d invite everyone we knew and tell them to bring whoever they wanted. I remember having 50 people in the house, and half of them I didn’t know, which was great: so many potential friendships! Also, everyone was thrilled to be invited to a party thrown by a complete stranger who treats them as a friend. One thing I can assure you: people react very warmingly to generous gestures.
Before I go on with some tips, I need to make a distinction here. Knowing a lot of people is different from having a lot of friends. I know a considerable amount of people in Amsterdam but I haven’t always had this many friends I know I can rely on. The quantity strategy will only work until a certain point. You will eventually end up feeling lonely if you act like more is better. Second step to my journey was narrowing it down, and finding a crowd that I resonated with. I didn’t find it in just one particular group of people. What is typical me is to have different groups of friends from various walks of life, social backgrounds, nationalities. But it sure was of massive importance to find my community of arsty / creative peeps with who I could identify. Those types tend to be more adventurous and spice life up a bit more, which makes me feel alive and, basically, not like I’m an alien.
If I had to generate some general rules of thumb for making friends, they would be:
# 1: Use the internet to your advantage: the power of the internet lies in the potential it has to bring people together and enable them to find their crowd. Reach out, reach out, reach out. Try to contact people in the same situation as yours. For instance, I only got responses from bloggers with a similar reach of mine. Everyone who was ‘bigger’ was simply too busy to reply as they probably had a lot of requests of different sorts coming in. Meet-up is an excellent way of meeting people with similar interests of yours. Instagram as well. I have met a lot of cool people at public instameets. Do you follow a few folks who live in Amsterdam who you relate to? Invite them for a coffee. Here’s an example of how I did that. I’ve heard of some Facebook groups that work really well, too. Do your research!
# 2: Do not refrain from showing interest and taking initiative: In case this is something you struggle with, know that this is also something that you can train. It will feel uncomfortable at first but, like everything else, it does get better with practice. Observation helps. It is true that I tend to be an extrovert but I haven’t always been this social: I’ve learned to be spontaneous through careful observation and example of outgoing people who surrounded me throughout the years.
# 3: Hobbies: Your interest in things other than your field of work is a potential matchmaker. Go take lessons in whatever you like doing, or you’d like to learn how to do. Like learning Dutch for instance. That’s where I’ve met some of my best girlfriends in town.
# 4: Cultivate: Let’s say you already know a fair amount of people – you would just like to get closer to some of them. Invite them to a dinner at your place. Instead of throwing a general “what if we…” at people, take the initiative, and make it oficial. Make a Facebook event or write an e-mail, and be specific about when and where. People tend to respond only to concrete plans.
# 5: Understand the power of community: Bonding is what keeps people together, and they usually need context for that. Community gives context and creates unforgettable memories, which, again, makes people stick together. What I mean is, together we are stronger so share your friends, make everyone meet. Try not to be a separatist, like: on Monday I’ll meet up with Jan and on Tuesday with Tessa. It is more powerful if you bring everyone together and have everyone befriend each other. Invite a group of people to a concert you’re attending. Or simply, to drinks at the bar next door. Again, make specific and clear plans. ‘Who’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘why’, for instance: “Friday evening drinks to chill out after a work week”. If there’s no clear ‘why’ other than you wanting to socialize, say that something like “I’d love to dance with you all tonight” or “I’d love us to get drunk together” or “Let’s whine January away over massive amounts of cake”. If you’re not into big groups you can do exactly the same thing with a couple of friends of yours. Community is community regardless of the number of people in it.
The last tip is self-explanatory but it has to be stated: negativity won’t take you anywhere. The reason why I’m saying this is the following. I meet a lot of people who express the desire to make friends only to start bitching about “Dutch people”. Many of them, I come to realize, have no clue about Dutch culture, but they think they know, they have read something somewhere, or ‘hear-say has it that’… I say, forget it. Forget all of it, even if you have had an unpleasant experience. Making friends starts with two basic things: curiosity and openness. When you come with a preconceived idea of how people will act, you will only confirm your worst suspitions. Forget everything you think you know about the Dutch, or whatever nationality for that matter. Start like a blank page, with genuine interest, and see where that leads you. You need to act on this one no matter how many times you felt you were rejected or unsuccessful. This is not conditional. I mean, sure, you will be able to connect through whining but the people who will be receptive to it are the ones who are equally clueless and lonely, and most of them will end up leaving Amsterdam, sooner or later. And you’ll end up in the same situation again. It all boils down to: good people are attracted to positive energy and good intents. People make the place and, like it or not, you’re part of it now, so gather your energy, make an effort, and give it your best.
Now I look forward to hearing from you! What are your takes on making friends in a new country? Do you reckon with any of the above? What’s working for you? Feel free to share your experience as it might be of use to others!