Making friends in Spain – 5 tips to build your social circle abroad
A lot of people ask me about making friends in Spain.
How do you meet people in Spain? How to build a social circle when you’re new to the country?
Well, here’s the thing.
I’m an introvert myself, and not as young as I used to be.
I don’t really go out in the “clubs and parties” sense. You could say (and some do) that I’m hardly fun at all.
(What is fun, anyway? That’s what I say.)
But for some reason, my social circle is bigger now than it’s ever been in the past.
And it includes people from literally dozens of countries and many different backgrounds.
Since I’ve become more visible here in the Spanish blogosphere, people have started emailing me with all sorts of questions about how to get settled in Madrid and Spain.
And making friends while living abroad seems to be a big “pain point” among expats.
So, without further ado, here are my tips for making friends in Spain…
Step one: say yes more
When I moved to Madrid way back in 2004 I was a miserable weirdo with no fashion sense and a terrible attitude about everything.
I knew exactly one person in the whole country.
Well, one person and her two flatmates, to be precise. So my entire circle of “friends” consisted of 3 people. Two of whom possibly thought I was a jerk.
Later, when I decided to do the CELTA course in teaching English, my social circle expanded to include a couple of pretty annoying hooliganish Brits, a Canadian guy who for some reason always wore sport coats with jeans, and a few more people I’ve completely forgotten.
In any case, the social life during teacher training wasn’t great – at least for me.
Then, when I finally got a job teaching at a language school, I was around people all day, every day.
Not great for an introvert, but it did have the effect of killing my shyness.
In any case, people would invite me out, and I’d be exhausted and say no. When I realized I was sabotaging myself, I made a resolution: say yes to everything.
(Everything, that is, that didn’t sound extremely dangerous or illegal.)
Paquito’s birthday party Friday? Why not?
Random students want me to hang out at their beach house for a week? Well, okay.
With this simple rule of thumb – say yes more – I greatly expanded my social circle. The key thing is getting out more and into conversations with people.
You never know who you’ll be introduced to along the way.
Once you’ve got that under control, you can move on to our next point…
Use technology to make friends in Spain (or anywhere)
There are lots of ways you can use technology to meet people.
And I’ve made a lot of my current friends online.
It’s not weird anymore.
(Remember when the internet was new, and online dating meant you were some creepy weirdo? Well, those days are over… There are even dating sites for “senior citizens” now.)
Anyway, if you’re far from home looking to make friends in Madrid, you should by all means use technology.
My current version of “saying yes” means that if someone reads an article on my blog and wants to buy me a beer, I’m there.
Sometimes the people I meet this way turn out to be strange, but more often than not I have a great time with people I never would have met otherwise.
(So drop me a line. Yes, you.)
If you don’t happen to be a famous member of the guirisphere, there are still plenty of expat groups on Facebook where people chat – often wanting to go “tomar algo”.
And there are always events on Meetup.com with all kinds of international people.
Failing that, you could come get sweaty in Retiro on Saturday mornings – the fitness and boxing classes I help organize have people from different countries, and we have fun.
If you look around, you’ll certainly find someone or something interesting to you.
Which brings us to our next point…
Get the fuck out of the house
This is sort of the opposite of the last piece of advice, but hey.
I’m a contradictory guy.
Every day I see young people on Facebook groups asking the most inane questions which could be answered by a five-minute walk in virtually any neighborhood in Madrid.
Where do I buy shampoo?
Where’s there a café with wifi?
I’m looking for a restaurant – any kind will do – that’s not too expensive… Where oh where do I find one?
In my day (as guys my age say) we’d have to go ask a real living person these questions – thus getting into a conversation, and perhaps forming a relationship of some sort.
So while I do recommend you use technology to meet people, it’s even more important that you get out of your house.
Because the only friendly people who are going to knock on your door to talk are Jehovah’s Witnesses and scam artists pretending to work for the electric company.
And here’s another one…
Learn Spanish to make even MORE friends in Spain
If you’re going to improve your social circle (or job prospects) in Spain, you’re going to have to suck it up and learn Spanish at some point.
Otherwise, you’ll end up spending all your time with others from back home – or limit yourself to making friends from the expat community.
Full disclosure here…
Personally, I find the whole “Spanish people are so open and friendly” thing to be sort of a myth. And most of my friends these days are expats from one place or another – mostly not the US.
But I do have some very good Spanish friends who don’t speak much English at all – and a large part of my “dating life” has also been done in Spanish.
And wherever you are, you should make the most of your time abroad to learn languages – it has so many benefits for your brain, your bank balance, and your life in general that it’s kinda ridiculous.
Finally, if all else fails…
Join a club, take a course, volunteer
I’ve met plenty of people through my various interests – blogging and writing, entrepreneurship, fitness, martial arts, hiking, food and wine.
And you can too.
Go and sign up for some courses in whatever interests you.
There are also clubs organized around sports or hiking, which often attract people of many nationalities. Go to language exchanges if that’s your thing. Wine tastings. Meetups, as I’ve already mentioned. There are tons of things to do.
And surely you can find volunteer organizations that allow you to help others – basically guaranteed to make you feel good about yourself, and meet decent people in the meantime.
General tips on making friends in Spain (or anywhere else)
You might have noticed that none of these recommendations are specific to Madrid or Spain – if you live in any major city, anywhere, they’ll probably work.
And on that note, I’d like to end with a few general ideas about how to improve your social life.
Not that I’m the most sociable guy in the world – it’s more because as a someone who spent so long being painfully shy and introverted, I’ve had to think about these things more than average.
So here goes…
I’m not very good at this myself, but in my experience observing the highly sociable, the best ones are also the most proactive.
They’re not waiting for someone to invite them to a party, they’re organizing it.
They don’t wait for your lunch invitation, ’cause they’re making plans to have lunch with different people every day of the week.
For me, this is like a super-power, and I hope to someday develop it.
Most people are secretly looking for someone to lead them.
If you become the person who’s making things happen, I can guarantee you that your social life will be awesome.
A lot of people are surrounded by negativity.
It’s shocking when you realize just how much negativity, actually.
If you can follow the basic Dale Carnegie rules – starting with “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain” – you can be a ray of sunshine in people’s otherwise dreary lives.
The bar is really not that high, trust me.
And a positive attitude is also important for your ideas about making friends in general. I talk to some people here in Madrid who say “I really want to make friends, but all the people I meet are just superficial jerks!”
If that’s your attitude, making friends gonna be tough.
Find more things to appreciate about people. Everyone has something interesting about them. Figure out what it is, and appreciate the hell out of it. (Credit again to Dale Carnegie.)
A positive attitude towards others will pay off in a big way.
In the immortal words of god-knows-who, “Be a fountain, not a drain.”
Add value to people’s lives, dammit. It’s the key to everything.
Be true to yourself
This, of course, is a bit of the opposite of the “say yes to everything” advice I gave up at the top.
But if you follow these steps, you’ll sooner or later end up with more social life than you can handle. When you get to that point, it’s a great time to start prioritizing more: do you really want to do things that don’t sound fun, or hang out with people you don’t really bond with?
Maybe this is the introvert in me talking, but once you reach a certain age (like I have) you stop caring so much about what other people think is “fun”. And you don’t want to waste your time with people you have little in common with.
At that point, you’ve got my permission to start saying no more often.
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for today.
What do you think? Is it easy to make friends in Spain?
Let me know, right here in the comments.
P.S. The now-defunct Vaya Madrid blog used to have a great article about why guiris and expats don’t tend to have a lot of Spanish friends. In my opinion, the reason boils down to something like: 1) Spanish people already have a lot of friends, and don’t necessarily need more. 2) As foreigners in Spain, we actually have very little in common with the locals, except for our occupying the same geography. Spanish people’s lives are different from ours, and we can’t expect to become “fully integrated” – whatever that’s supposed to mean – without a large effort.