Today's topic is: FRIENDS
When we first made the decision to move to Denmark, I was super excited about almost every aspect of the move. The only part that made me sad or apprehensive was the fact that I'd be leaving my awesome friends in the States behind. Luckily, because communicating in today's day and age is so easy, I didn't end up feeling that separated from my friends, and I really didn't start to feel lonely for a while.
In truth, I am a self-described 'introverted extrovert' or is it 'extroverted introvert'? Basically, while I love to socialize and to meet new people, I can only do that in limited amounts before I start to feel exhausted or overwhelmed. I wouldn't necessarily say that I am 'shy', but, prior to moving to Denmark, I never went out of my way to meet new people or to start up conversations with a complete stranger. In fact, there was actually a time in my life where I refused to do anything alone -- go to a public bathroom, go to a coffee shop, etc. I'd love to go to a movie by myself but I'm still not sure I'm brave enough to do that even now...as lovely as it sounds... Anyways, I digress. All this to say that having a personality trait like mine can make it difficult to meet new friends -- especially in an environment that is completely new to you (an people who speak a language that you can't speak); which is right where I found myself a year ago when we arrived in Denmark.
I realized early on that while I could continue to communicate with my girlfriends back home, if I wanted to go out with girlfriends or have that one-on-one time (wine is always welcome to make it a one-on-one-on-one time) with a girl friend, that I was going to have to step outside my comfortability zone and make friends the good old fashioned way. Wait....how do you do that again? It's almost like jumping back into the dating game!!! Talk about scary and awkward!! And, to top it off, our Danish 'cultural class' was filled with warnings that Danes were 'not prone to socialize with strangers' and that it was 'hard to make friends' with Danes, at least deep lasting friendships.
But still, I decided to give it a go. And do you know what I found? Danes are not unfriendly; they are not cold or stand-offish as some would have you believe. Its a silly generalization that pre-disposes Danes to not making new friends, because I think that if you stereotype people like this in the first place, you're not going to approach them or even try to be their friends, am I right?? Well, I guess I threw caution to the wind -- or just completely ignored that part of the class -- and at the end of our first year here I feel like we have been pretty fortunate in the friend department. We have been lucky enough to meet a number of people during our first year here in Denmark that we can call our friends.
So, since I would say that our attempts were mostly successful, I thought I'd share some of the things/ways that helped us make some new friends:
1) School -- having school-aged children made it a little easier to meet people because you already have something in common with them -- KIDS! As I've mentioned in the past, we chose to put the boys in the Danish public school system because WE WANTED TO MAKE DANISH FRIENDS. The kids also wanted to have friends that lived in their neighborhood. We wanted to make friends with Danish parents -- not necessarily parents of an international community (though if you have kids and you choose the international school route, which many do, you will have multiple things in common with those parents as well -- probably your language, your kids, moving to another country, etc.) Sure, I had to get over my 'shyness' to approach some of the other parents, but I also had plenty approach me! Playdates are also a big thing with the kids here, and the school even organizes play groups within each grade, so that made it even easier for us (and our kids) to meet new people. Now, I should point out that living in Denmark, we are VERY fortunate that Danes speak really REALLY good English. So, we didn't have as much of a language barrier to work through. But school is definitely a great place to 'pick up' some new friends.
2) babies/other kids -- Being a stay-at-home mom is not common in Denmark. Most women who are not working are home with a child under the age of one while on maternity leave. So, while I didn't have a lot in common with these women (since Ben was almost 2 when we moved here), this group of women was one of the ones that I found I could socialize with during the daytime (when the kids were at school). Before Ben started at the børnehave, he and I would walk around, go to the library, etc. And, since babies generally love babies, it was a great ice breaker to let the kids 'introduce' us. I met another one of my friends on the train to Copenhagen; her son was making noises and Ben wanted to go check it out, so we walked up the train to find them and the rest is history!
3) walking around the neighborhood - while we do have a car here, Max uses it for work and I choose not to drive it. When we first got here, we walked EVERYWHERE. (I was afraid to use my bike too, LOL). And, once Ben started at the børnehave, I found myself with oodles of time and nothing to do. So, I figured since I was already out and about, I would take a walk around the neighborhood. If you keep the same schedule most days, you find you run into the same people repeatedly! (Another perk of Denmark I suppose is that people are very active -- out on their bicycles or walking as well -- so this made it easier to meet people out and about). Sure, some couldn't speak English and I couldn't speak Danish so our 'conversations' consisted of a few "god morns". I met a lot of older people this way -- pensionists (retired people) -- out walking their dogs. Sometimes I even recognized their dog before I recognized them! Conversely, a lot of people recognized me because I always wore the same purple NorthFace backpack around when I walked (good place to store stuff or carry stuff home from the store). Turns out that several other parents had similar routines as I did -- so I met many of them between dropping the older boys off at their school and taking Ben to his -- or during pick up time as well.
4) Turn on your 'American Radar' -- in addition to the Danish friends I've met, I've also met a good handful of ex-pats or 'American converts' :). Perhaps my most favorite meet-up story involves my good friend Jen. Jen and I crossed paths one morning as I brought Ben to his school, and she was bringing her daughter to hers. I happened to overhear her speaking to her daughter in English -- and not just any English, but AMERICAN ENGLISH. So, being the bright conversationalist that I am, I stopped her in the middle of the path and blurted out "are you speaking AMERICAN?" We started chatting, exchanged numbers and the rest is history HAHAHA. Since that first experience with Jen, I have chatted up other Americans at the mall, in the Netto, etc. It's funny how easy it is to pick up an American accent here once you've turned on the radar!
4) Join a class/club: When walking got to be a bit boring, I started visiting the local swimming pool -- I met some women while swimming laps. (I joked with Max that the swimming pool is one of the few places that you can meet a friend and see them naked at the same time LOL). Then, Jenn convinced me to try taking some Reformer Pilates classes with her at a local fitness place called Energii . After one class, I was hooked! And it has been a great place to meet friends! The instructors are all super friendly and helpful and the people I've met there have been friendly and warm as well! Plus, as an added bonus, I get to listen/learn/practice my Danish! (and learn some fun new words like "skulder puder"). Yes, it was intimidating at first -- especially not always understanding what was going on, but there is nothing more 'bonding' than being in pain together, LOL. It's almost like an initiation ceremony of friendship or something! I definitely recommend finding something you can join -- like the gym, etc.
5) Meet your neighbors - it seems like everywhere we have lived we have had fabulous neighbors, and Denmark is no exception! In fact, our next door neighbors are the REASON we live in this area in the first place (YAH for coworkers living next door!). Meet your neighbors by being outside, taking family walks, saying hi to people as they pass by. It's so nice and convenient to have friends that live nearby -- not just in case you need to borrow some butter, but also to join them with a glass of wine or cup of coffee to relax!
6) SMILE - I put this recommendation last, but it is probably the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT RULE in making friends. No one wants to be friends with someone who is scowling. This lesson is as simple as it comes -- and something your parents probably told you before you went to school (I know we've had this discussion with the boys here). Smiles are also contagious -- if you smile at someone they are bound to smile back at you. When I'm out and about walking around -- I smile at everyone I pass and say 'god morn'. I smile at the people on bicycles even if they aren't smiling at me. I smile even when I don't feel like smiling because if one person smiles back at me, it makes me feel like smiling again. Happy people are much easier to approach, and much easier to remember. There were a few women at my pilates classes that I was very intimidated by -- they never seemed to smile (in retrospect they were probably gritting their teeth to get through the workout). But sometimes you just have to laugh or smile -- and that tension is lost. Also -- being able to laugh at yourself helps a lot. Like, when I lose my grip on my pilates ball and it rolls across the room....laughing at that usually helps break the ice.
Making new friends is NOT easy. And besides, it's not about the quantity of your friends, its about the quality. I'm not posting this to convince you that you need to go out and make a ton of new friends. But, if you are lonely and on the lookout for a new friend, maybe one or two of these pointers can help you. Making just one new friend -- and having someone to socialize with -- makes a huge difference in combatting loneliness and depression. And once you make one new friend, that friend can introduce you to other friends and before you know it your social calendar will be overflowing (if that's what you want, that is).
As I mentioned before, I feel so grateful to have met and made the friends that I have this first year in Denmark -- I truly believe that their friendship has helped minimize my homesickness and has made my time here in Denmark SO much more enjoyable. Three cheers to good friends -- near AND far!