Friendship is very important for Germans. Maybe it’s even more important for the Germans living in Munich because they first make you work your ass off in proving yourself to them before even considering to “let” you into their friendship circle.
As a very sociable person who enjoys getting to know any stranger that comes my way, I’m quite fascinated as to why there’s a myriad of barriers that I had to personally jump through to be even granted to the chance to exchange contact information. (If requested, most do give it but rather uncomfortably or unwillingly). And be prepared to be the one who does the contacting and other initiatives–it’ll take the Germans at least half a year or even a full year to initiate a hangout with you–depending on how much they have come to trust you.
I’ve only lived in Berlin and Munich so I have to be careful not to generalize all Germans. I have casually met and know a variety of Germans spread all over Germany so I am only strictly speaking from my observation of this sample size. I think I have built up quite an experience so far that I can confidently say that there’s something more reserved, private, and unsociable about Germans living in Munich. My assumption is that Munich, although quite liberal for Bayern, is much more conservative than Berlin Germans and they have a very defined culture that they proudly and dearly hold on to–the Berlin Germans are also proud but definitely more laid back and chill. Surprisingly, both Munich and Berlin have a hefty amount of expats and immigrants but I think Berlin Germans have embraced “Multikulti” better. They are very open and curious about people coming from different backgrounds and culture so they comfortably embrace expats much better than Germans in Munich.
You must have guessed it already. Yes, I’m an expat currently living in Munich and I’m extraordinarily baffled at these poker-faced Munich Germans who are locked and sealed away, even after several encounters.
“Germans are not open books. They can initially come off as a little humorless and somewhat suspicious, particularly to overly gregarious Americans.”
This quote beautifully sums up my conclusion about Germans in this city. Harsh? The truth can be. And after endless discussions with many other expats in Munich, we all to some degree hold this to be true. But can you blame us? Being an expat means you’re new to town and eager to make friends. I’ve lived in 5 cities (Washington, Chengdu, Hanoi, Rome, and Berlin) and I’ve never had trouble making new friends. There’s something odd about this city’s mentality towards strangers.
I am a gregarious American who strongly believes that “strangers are friends who you haven’t met yet.” You may stereotype me as the typical friendly but superficial American, but I really do thrive in befriending others and listening to their story and opinions–no matter how opposite it is. This has made me more tolerant of diversity in the world and understanding that we are all pretty much the same at the end of the day. Given that Germany will continue to receive immigrants, refugees, and expats, the Germans here should really learn from this. Really. If you have an open mind when meeting someone for the first time, only good can result. So I just don’t understand why Germans here are so guarded for such a long time–as if they are constantly suspicious of every new acquaintance?
So I asked them why, but I’m afraid their answers suck. It’s very illogical and I feel like it’s more like excuses from personal insecurity than actual, real, concerns. I’ll counter it with these arguments:
- Shyness. I get that. I’m personally not so I don’t mind doing the initial legwork and sparking a conversation with you. If it’s going well, I don’t mind being the one to ask to connect and make plans to meet. But after 3-5 times of meeting and I’m still carrying the entire weight then these Germans have a chronic shyness disorder. I think the Chinese are usually too shy to begin a conversation but open up fairly fast once you do the initial heavy lifting for them. A lot of my close friends are innately shy but we became friends because they gave me a chance. After a while, these Germans can’t resort to shyness as an excuse–they’re just being cautious of taking a leap of faith with the unknown.
- Trust. It’s important for Germans that they can trust their friends. But what human doesn’t? But upon the first encounter, I’m not going to ask you to borrow $20, nor reveal my deepest darkest secrets to you, or talk shit behind your back to your closest friends. I understand that trust builds over time but if the window of opportunity is extremely narrow or closed from the beginning–there’s no chance for building trust or friendship. Here’s an outlandish concept: Friendship starts by picking a human you’ve just met and you’re like, “Yup, I like this one,” and then you do stuff with them. Germans overthink this too much.
- “I don’t know them very well” — as the response to deflect new social opportunities. I hear these way too often and it makes no sense. You don’t know them but you can’t get to know them until you meet with them. By that logic, you’ll never meet anybody new. From my observations of home parties here where the majority is Germans, each stick to the people they know already and rarely muster any curiosity to engage with other Germans. No wonder they stick to old friends, they are incapable of making new ones!
- Deep, long-lasting friendships. Germans want friendships like how they want their manufactured goods–high quality. Again, what human doesn’t? There is a common German critique of the American approach to friendship–which is starkly different. “Americans seem very open and very happy at first, but eventually every relationship with an American plateau because they tend to keep some secrets from each other because they don’t want many people to be too close to them. Whereas Germans are usually cautious among strangers and only open up to them slowly. The advantage is that there is no plateau to the relationship. So Germans have a more limited social group but they’re very close to whoever is in the group.” This is often echoed a lot by Germans. Has it been scientifically proven that being too open at first leads to bad friendships? No. Here’s a fact: friendship is unpredictable. You’ll only know if you open up and give it a try. And to even get to the point of deep friendship, you have to give the person a chance. The Germans are not only overthinking but overly pessimistic.
- Clear, defined friend circles. Let’s say you’ve made it. You’re considered as a friend to the German, but it’ll take a while before they’ll introduce you to their other friends. So if you’re new to this city, don’t count on the locals to connect you. In defense to this, one German explained that “What if they don’t connect? What if they’re too different?” Who cares? If they don’t click, it’s not your fault nor your problem but you don’t realize that you’re taking away other people’s chances of making new friends. This overthinking results in the German trying to control a situation rather than letting it up to fate and chance.
- Holding on to old friendships. Most of the Germans in this city are born and raised here and so are their friends. These friendships are valuable because not only do they share a common culture, language, and background, but they are deep and strong trust has been established. So they tend to hold on to these old friendships and don’t really bother putting effort much with making new ones. It’s like preferring to wear the old high heels one day rather than starting to wear your new highs. Because it took a while to break into the old heels, so why go through the trouble again.
- Alter egos. The German friends I do have has two sides. When they’re back in Germany–on their home turf–they are reserved and cold. But when they’re abroad, they’re so open and friendly that it’s surprisingly refreshing. I had no trouble becoming friends with the German exchange students at my university in DC but the moment I observe them in their home country, they don’t behave as open to people as they were when they were in the U.S. When I was traveling in Southeast Asia, I met several Germans because they started conversations with me and even proposed joining my journey. They would never do that back home. It’s as if being in a foreign place justifies the release of their social inhibitions or maybe because they are an expat/foreigner eager to find friends. Sound familiar?
To hit back on that American friendship criticism, I’d like to point out that German friendships can actually be more superficial than Americans when you look at the initial phase. At least Americans tend to give everyone a chance to be their friend and see where it leads. The Germans here are nice at face value and meet to some degree my rudimentary criteria of compatibility, but I am often frustrated at how my relationship (or lack of) with them continues to remains so dull and lifeless. I put so much effort into getting to know everyone I meet, but there have been so many conversations that are so superficial and boring. I am severely irritated by the general lack of open-mindedness. Who has endless patience for this approach? I’m certainly not going to waste my time on relationships that aren’t going anywhere.
It’s kind of sad that I’ve given up on pursuing friendships with Germans here because I have a strong motivation to improve my German language skills. After almost a year of living here, all of my friends are expats around the world–no Munich Germans–so I speak too much English. However, it’s even sadder that one of the first topics that help me bond with other expats here is sharing our frustrations with Munich Germans.