Thursday, 7 April 2016

Why is it hard to make Irish friends ?

The first advice any foreigner is given when moving to Ireland is "Don't stick with your own, make Irish friends". I always say that to newcomers in this country, but the truth is, it's not as easy as it sounds.

A reader left the following comment on the blog recently and I think it sums up perfectly my feeling about the Irish and friendship:

"In France people may come across as being cold when you first meet them but as you get to know them, they tend to become close friends and you will talk about pretty deep things. Whereas, on the whole Irish people are more like "mangos", sweet and warm on the outside but you won't get very personal with them in the long run."

Comparing Irish people to mangos, now that's an analogy I never heard before!

I have thought about this subject for a long time, but didn't really know how to approach it without appearing negative or too critical. I've talked to many people about it, and came to the conclusion that having Irish friends is possible, but it's hard work. The reason is mainly cultural and this is why I don't want to sound too harsh, because at the end of the day, any friendship takes work, and learning about cultural differences is part of the whole "living abroad" journey.

First of all, every expat instinct is to find people in the same situation. People who will understand and sympathise with them. People who are having the same experience so they can share their doubts, fears, joy and all the emotions they're going through. I think this is one of the reason why expats tend to have more foreign friends, because they can relate to each other. On top of that, many of them work in a multicultural environment so their first colleagues are foreigners and the easy option is to stick with them.

The other issue is French people (I can't talk for every nationality) socialise very differently than the Irish. We usually invite people for dinner. Eating and drinking together in one's home is the main component of a French friendship whereas Irish people socialise outside. They meet their friends in the pub and that's as far as it goes (unless you're young and your nights out involve massive house parties). So if you haven't been invited for dinner in an Irish house, don't take it personally.

Another thing is that family is much more important here in Ireland, and I sometimes felt it was actually *more* important than friends. Irish people (the ones I know anyway) tend to go out to the pub with their grown-up kids, brothers, sisters, in-laws, cousins and so on. That doesn't really happen in France, not in my family anyway.

Maybe it's hard to become friends with Irish people because they already have their social circle, friends they know since secondary school, university or work. I mean, they don't really need "new" friends, whereas, when foreigners comes, it's the first thing they're on the look out for!! And it can be hard coming into a group of friends already formed. On the other hand, when the Irish see a whole bunch of Spanish or French people together, who don't speak the same language, I can understand they'd be afraid to approach them.

The Irish on the whole are very welcoming. I have met great people over the years and I can call some of them friends, but it took a long time and effort. Having said that, it was worth it.

To finish this off, I'll share something I've learned. If you want to be friends with an Irish person, and they tell you "Oh, we should go for coffee sometimes", you'd better agree on a date, time and place straight away or else you'll never hear from them again!

At the end of the day, we all have to make an effort and adapt to each other's culture . So basically, go to the pub to socialise with the Irish, and in return make them eat a delicious home-cooked meal with a nice bottle of wine. I'm sure they'll love it. I know my Irish friends do :-)