How To Make Friends and Influence People (English Style!)

Posted on August 7, 2009 by peacefulyorkshire

redlillocks

Hey lovelies, today we are proud to bring you a guest post by a another American in the UK, who calls herself ‘Redlilocks’– (insert applause!)

A quick introduction… I grew up in Pennsylvania but moved to Denver and then later to Wisconsin where I met an English man with a wicked sense of humour who made me laugh like no American man ever did. After a whirlwind romance, we married and I moved to Kent with him in 2001. Cut a long story short, the relationship didn’t work out & we divorced two years later. By that point, however, I felt so happy and settled in the UK that I decided to stay. I lived in Kent for 8 years and have only just recently moved to Manchester (oop north) to live with my new lovely man. This is not to gloss over the first 3 months I was here in which I spent either crying, saying, ‘pardon?’ to every person who attempted conversation or dreaming of Wendy. (No, not my BFF – the burger joint). But I stopped making comparisons and started to enjoy what the UK had to offer – and there was plenty. Including good friends.

Reading the comments, I felt compelled to write as it seems so many have such a problem making friends with British women. I have some fantastic friends here and genuinely love the UK. I relate so much better to the British mentality then the American ‘gung-ho’ attitude which always left me feeling slightly uncomfortable. That is not to say I’m reserved – by no stretch of the imagination – I’m actually very enthusiastic and out-going but I think I’ve learned that British people aren’t actually cold and snotty but they ARE more reserved and I have had to adapt the way I approach making friends with this in mind.

I have a lot of really great female friends here but have admittedly ‘worked’ for it – at least to start – but it’s been totally worth it and I’d like to share my advice. Bear in mind there are no guarantees here. After all, some people are just not very nice and nothing you can do will change that but do you really want to be friends with someone like that? No, I didn’t think so.
Let’s get started then.

MEETING FOR THE 1ST TIME:

Turn down the volume. I have turned my ‘volume’ of enthusiasm when meeting new people from about a 9 down to around a 5. This isn’t about not being yourself, it’s about being a more chilled out version of yourself .

Asking lots of personal questions doesn’t work. Whatever you do, DON’T ask a million and one questions when you first meet someone thinking that will break the ice. It won’t. They will think you are being exceptionally nosey – questions can come upon meeting them the 2nd, 3rd and 4th time. It’s like melting ice – yeah you can go at it with a sledgehammer to break it into a million pieces or you can warm up the temperature around it and wait. Believe me, the waiting is worth it.

Engage in pointless chitchat. Go ahead and talk about the weather for the first conversation. Tell them where you are from, why you’re here when they inevitably ask and you may need to smile and laugh while you suffer through their stories of holidays in Florida. If the conversation falls flat, let it. English people are not as uncomfortable with silence as Americans. It’s okay, you haven’t failed. Compliments are always welcome. Tell them you love their earrings or their shoes or their bag – it might start a conversation about how great Matalan is.

Keep it light, Keep it positive. DON’T complain about anything British (not even the weather). They will get defensive which is what you are trying to avoid. DO NOT TALK RELIGION OR MONEY. Keep it light and impersonal.

MEETING FOR THE 2ND TIME:

Be warm, not overbearing. You will find they will be a little warmer. Smile warmly back. That is all. Don’t extend your hand (You are not on an interview.)

Remember their name. This is sort of a no-brainer. Don’t be upset if they’ve forgotten yours. I can guarantee they haven’t forgotten you – being American brings with it a novelty value.

Be personable without being intrusive. Now is the time to be slightly more personal. Ask them where they are from, what they do.
Know your limits. Now is probably not the best time to regale them with stories of your childhood or how much money you make. There’s time for all that (well, not the money – that’s just not a conversation you want to have. Ever.)

Bear with the process. It seems long-winded. You’ll have to bite your tongue. You will feel like you are not getting anywhere but I promise you will!

MEETING FOR THE 3RD & 4th TIME:

Greet them appropriately. You may find by this time that they will be even warmer – you might want to give a kiss on the cheek if you feel it is welcome (NOT A HUG). If not, a warm smile always works.

Get to know them ‘properly’: Now you can start asking more personal questions, asking their opinion about something in the news, offer funny stories (preferably if you’ve done something silly – they love self-deprecating humour and it shows humility). Don’t be surprised if they start asking you some personal questions back and genuinely try to get to know you.

Don’t be scared. If you find you have things in common and you would like to see them again, invite them around for a cup of tea or a drink down the pub. You’ll be surprised how quickly the English will open up when they’ve had a few.

I think the main thing is not to try too hard – it will seem forced. My female friends (English) who have met other Americans find them scary – overly enthusiastic (which they don’t trust; they think it is fake, no matter how sincere you are) and nosey. What’s natural and normal for us is alien to them and they don’t know how to take it. So being accepted here is all about working around THEIR issues slowly until they are warm enough to you that you can feel very natural about totally being yourself. By that time, they will have (almost) forgotten you are American and the person beyond that will shine through.

You might not want to take my advice – it’s just what’s worked for me. I find with English people, once they DO warm up to you, you will have some pretty fantastic relationships. When I moved from Kent to Manchester, I had 3 going away parties because I had 3 different groups of pals (male/female mixed) that I wanted to be able to say goodbye to. It’s worked and I don’t feel like I’ve not been myself, or have denied who I am.

So now that I have moved I’m starting all over again – having to make new friends. I start a new job tomorrow and am hoping that in a couple months time, I have made some new friends to go shopping with or get lunch with or have a natter with over tea. In the meantime, I’ll smile politely, chat about the weather and laugh at the appropriate places when they tell me all about their annual trip to Disneyworld.

How do you find people in Britain who make you happy when you’ve just moved?  Click here

How a pair or rollar skates can help you make friends in Britain- Click here

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  5. Clare June 1, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    Hey,

    It’s weird hearing your comments because this is totally NOT my impression from living in Britain for my whole life (21 years now).

    Possibly this is because I live in Scotland? My Dad has told me that the English are far more reserved than we are (I’m moving there next year, eep!).

    I would welcome friendly advances at networking events (and most people I know/have met at these things seem to as well). Admittedly Americans can seem to us to be brash, but I would rather someone friendly and brash than stand offish.

    Perhaps this is an age difference too?

    Anyway sorry to hear you’ve not had amazing experiences with people!

  6. Parakeet May 4, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    I had a weird time with giving people compliments about what they were wearing (just women- I’m a woman!). They gave me strange looks like I had deeply offended them by even noticing what they were wearing! I soon stopped doing that… but maybe it was just some strange quirk of the people I was with at the time.

    #1 rule for first-time interaction with English person: Discuss weather. In detail. It won’t fail you!

  7. Michelle March 29, 2010 at 5:13 am

    I think the difficulty comes when you don’t have a job or a lifestyle where you naturally run into other people in a neutral setting for a third or fourth time, just out and about in your life, without having to arrange getting together with them specifically.

    I don’t have any trouble chatting with British people or being low-key and reserved, opening up slowly — it’s just that for me to reliably run across anyone (other than the elderly porter of my apartment building) more than one time in any 12-month period, given the way my job works, how often I travel, etc., a get-together has to be arranged or it won’t happen, and it’s the arranging that they baulk at, as if you are asking them to commit right now to being your future bridesmaid (not that you even have a boyfriend yet), when really you just wondered if they’d like to grab lunch, once, at Pret a Manger next Tuesday, to have a sandwich and a friendly conversation.

    Probably joining some kind of large group activity that you can commit to doing regularly and which has the same core group of members going each time would encourage the sort of multiple, casual meetings that can lead very slowly to some people letting their guard down. I’ve tried different group things in London, but people come and go so much, and the membership changes all the time. I’m sure I could do better at finding something suitable, though.

    But one problem is being single and female, as well as looking about 8 years younger than I actually am, at the age where almost everyone has a partner/husband – I am automatically ruled out by most women as being dangerous to get friendly with, it seems.

    Making friends with adult British women is a multi-layered conundrum for American women, but always worth trying!

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  9. Steve Shawcross August 12, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Sadly a lot of people in this country think you have to get drunk to have a good time. I’m teetotal, so I have never understood this mentality, nor do I want to.

    As you say, what’s wrong with a natural high? If you tell most British people it is possible to have a good time without getting plastered, they look at you as if you’ve just landed! The excuse you can always use is: “I’m driving” (even if you’re not), since drink-driving is rightly stigmatised here.

    To answer your question: Non-in-yer-face Brits would politely answer the questions :) By “in-yer-face”, I mean somebody who doesn’t unduly invade somebody else’s privacy– so the Brit wouldn’t subject his/hers American cousin to the third degree ;)

    Hope that helps :-)

  10. simb August 12, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Thanks for the primer! I am leaving Italy (I am American) to move with my husband back to his homeland of Yorkshire. While I have always enjoyed our visits there, I have been concerned about how I would settle in if we moved permanently, and how I would make friends. As part of his campaign to assure of me the move, he has been scouring the web for ideas, and thankfully stumbled on this websites. Thanks to you Redilocks and the ladies of “She’s not from Yorkshire” for all the info. This t’owd lass is now ready for t’move.

  11. Redlilocks August 9, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    Firstly, thank you so much for allowing me to be a guest on such a fantastic website – you guys all rock :)

    So glad that my tips have been well received! Yankeebean, I suppose it’s never hard & fast rules you have to live by so you don’t have to remember them like a rule book – some people will be warmer than others and so you might be able to skip a step or two ;) Others, it might be that you meet them 6 or 7 times before you can really open up! I think the main thing is to gauge it by the individual and when in doubt, keep it light & impersonal and hard as it sometimes is (believe me because I’m not a naturally quiet person), back off and just listen! ;) xxx

  12. Iota August 9, 2009 at 6:33 am

    What a sensitive and insightful post. I think the key is to realise that it’s all to do with cultural difference, and nothing about people’s underlying friendliness or unfriendliness. And yes, sad but true, a drink or two helps.

    The self-deprecating humour – yes, that will endear you to a Brit!

  13. yankeebean August 7, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Shaw-meister!

    “It’s one of the less attractive traits of the British, that many have to get drunk to open up… ” I’ve noticed that, but (as you said), it’s not the same for everyone.

    When I first moved here it used to really bug me that I’d go out to dance clubs only to have my friends say they ‘weren’t drunk enough to dance’. What does that even MEAN? I always thought of dancing as something you do instead of drinking – a natural high.

    STILL! I get your point – what happens to the non-in-your-face-type-brits when they go to the States? Are they facing total melt-down from the 20 (million) questions?

  14. Steve Shawcross August 7, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    Great post Redilocks, I agree with everything you’ve said there. I think it’s all a question of being self-aware, and not projecting an “in-your-face” or unwittingly baleful or glib attitude. In other words putting one’s self in the other person’s shoes, and gauging how you would come across.

    As well religion and money, party politics is a good one to avoid… for much the same reasons as religion (private beliefs, contentious issues etc)– unless you have got to know the person well.

    Certainly British (Scots and Welsh are no different from the English in this conext) do warm to you slowly; but it’s not because we’re unfriendly, as Redilocks rightly says.

    It’s because we’re working you out, whether you are honest/sincere or not, or if you are ‘friend material’ or not– saving time and hurt feelings: Rather than getting pally with you and then the awkward realisation we’re not going to get on with you after all– then going through an sticky “leave me alone” scene. We’re terribly awfully polite like that, dontchakno ;)

    We prefer to make friends for life and be loyal in this country; for relationships like that, we need deep rather than shallow foundations– the solid rather the transient.

    This is not meant to come across as a criticism of Americans, I’ve been to the USA twice and have affection for the Americans’ friendliness and benevolence. It’s one of the less attractive traits of the British, that many have to get drunk to open up…

    We’re not all like that though. I’m teetotal, and I have no trouble having Americans approach me or talking to strangers. I’m told I’m approachable and non-judgemental, so feel free to say “hi” if you see me around :D

  15. yankeebean August 7, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    I LOVE this post! Although, admittedly, it’s a little overwhelming that there’s so many things to remember.

    Still, at least they’re there when I need them. And when it doubt, hunt down some Australian people cos they’re just as loud and emotion-open as us Americans :)

  16. Millymollymandy August 7, 2009 at 3:27 am

    Spot on! Congratulations on a very shrewd and affectionate post – especially the bit about personal questions early in an aquaintanceship. I’ve met americans who come over as the Spanish Inquisition on first meeting! Softly softly catchee monkey works much better with English people.

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