The foundation of friendship

A few weeks ago, an English-language newspaper based in Amsterdam sent out a survey request, asking internationals what they thought about making friends with the Dutch. Unsurprising, since amongst internationals living in the Netherlands, the most common complaints are the weather, the food and making friends with Dutch people.

It’s not just expats. TU Delft has been trying for years to better integrate the student body. In the past few years, the International Office has worked with the organisers of the OWee week to combine activities. Numerous buddy programmes have been established. And yet, the complaints continue.

The most common refrain is that the Dutch made their friends in primary school and, frankly, they aren’t interested in expanding their social circle. I once suggested to a Dutch acquaintance who was lamenting his lack of romantic interests that perhaps he should join a sports team or an organisation of some kind. My argument being that if he expanded his social network, he might meet someone. “I don’t need more friends,” he replied.

In a small country, I suppose it’s true that the Dutch maintain their friendships longer. And perhaps, by the time you’re an adult, you simply have a full social calendar. But I don’t think that’s the entire problem. I have Dutch colleagues who have moved from Limburg to Utrecht and from Rotterdam to Deventer. You aren’t popping back in for coffee with your old friends regularly over those distances. And I have Dutch friends who became close with other parents when they had their own children or who changed jobs and became friends with colleagues. There is some churn in the Dutch friendship environment.

The question I always have for internationals lamenting their lack of Dutch friends is why would anyone want to be friends with you? Which is, perhaps, more harsh than I intend. I’m sure they are perfectly great people to be friends with. But no one bases friendships on someone in a crowd randomly declaring themselves to be a good person to befriend.

All of my friendships, yes even my many Dutch friendships, developed through mutual interests. I have close friends who I met through work. I have many close friends who I met through the local pub. Some from yoga. Some are neighbours. But, at the end of the day, we all had a reason to talk to each other. So we did.

I applaud the efforts the university is undertaking to improve integration. The more diverse your friend group is, the better. But if you’re a new international who wants to make Dutch friends, don’t expect magic. You have to provide a basis for the friendship. And, beer is a great way to make that happen.

Originally published at delta.tudelft.nl.