making-friends-in-england

How do you connect with your English man’s friends? VERY SLOWLY.

Posted on November 13, 2012 by yankeebean

I read an email from one of our fab-oo-luss readers and it’s definitely worth sharing.  I’ve been through this, and I know from past comments and emails that some of our readers have, too.

The question is:

How do you connect with your English man’s friends?

Here’s the email in it’s entirety:

Dear Yankeebean and all you lovely ladies from SNFY,

I’m having a slight problem with English culture I was hoping you might help me with over a blog post.

I’m an American doing my MA in London, and met a really great English guy shortly after I arrived. We’ve been dating 9 months now. He’s from London and doing his MA here as well, although at a different uni. My question for you is how to connect with his English friends. I’ll tell you more back-story so you can better understand my predicament.

My boyfriend’s close friends are mainly from his undergrad time, and although they all live in London, they don’t see each other very often, but when they do, they all get together for a huge gathering of about 15 people. They are all really close and more than half of them are actually dating each other. I’ve come along to about four of these gatherings now, and I’m having a hard time getting to know them, as they don’t make much effort to get to know me, and I’m quite shy as it is. Usually what happens is that they arrive, ask me the obligatory ‘How are you? How’s uni?” questions and then all talk together in a group about English topics I know nothing about, or reminisce about old university times. Other significant others who come along don’t seem to have this problem, as they aren’t afraid to chime in on the topics about England, whereas I have no idea what they are talking about. Even when I’ve spoken to a few of them one-on-one, which is usually easier, I’m the one doing all the effort, asking them all the questions about themselves (Although I must say, this is usually more true for my conversations with the women than with the men.) I guess my question is, is there some sort of unspoken English rule about how to actually converse in large groups in England? Any advice on how to get past the “How are you?” stage? I realize that it’s always hard being the newcomer at a gathering of old friends, but I thought that by the fourth time meeting them and 9 months into dating him, his friends would be making more of an effort to get to know the girl he’s crazy about. It wasn’t even until last time that one thought to ask where I’m from in the States!

Since I’m a student in London, most of the people I’ve met are actually foreigners as well, so I really haven’t had much experience with English social norms. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now whenever I miss home, and always laugh at your insight into English behaviour. I’ve even just bought “Watching the English” on your recommendation. I was hoping it would arrive in time for me to prepare for the last get together (it was yesterday), but it didn’t :( I did start reading it today, though, and already found that I’ve been going about talking about the weather all wrong this whole time! :)

Thanks again for the great blog. Love it!

Cheers,
NotLongInLondon

And here it is again – that age old question, “How the FLIPPING HECK am I supposed to talk to new English acquaintances??”.  I feel for you, NotLongInLondon, I really do.  I’ve been there.  In fact, I’m tempted to buy property there since I visit so often…

There’s a post by one of our guest authors, Redilocks, about just this topic – How to Make Friends and Influence People (English Style).  It’s a step-by-step guide about how to meet English people without scaring the shite out of them with your natural American-ness.  In fact, it was after I read this post that I started complimenting English women when I first met them.  IT TOTALLY WORKS.  I still get the odd alien laser death glare, but they’re much less common these days…

But if you want proof that you’re already doing a grand job of working your way in to your boyfee’s UK crowd, read this comment from a past post.  One of our readers, Michelle, remains the victim of the rudest and most unbelievable encounter that I’ve ever heard of between an American and an English woman.  After you read Michelle’s experience, I know you’ll feel better about your attempts, because it sounds like it’s actually going pretty well for you.

My final word of advice, and my own person attack in situations where I can’t seem to turn the tide in my favour is this.  Channel your inner  ninja, sit, and listen.  Don’t worry about talking or chiming in, just sit back and observe what’s going on.  If you have something to say, go for it, but don’t stress about it.  I think the ultimate key to hanging out with an already-established group of Brits is time, time, and more time.  Just keep going back, be patient, and you’ll wear ‘em down soon enough.  :)

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What Others Are Saying

  1. BritInUganda June 11, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Just a little note that in my experience us British will often avoid asking an American where in the States they are from because we are scared that they might actually be Canadian and will be offended that we have absolutely no idea about the difference in accents! I have been in this situation many times and probably gave the impression that I was not interested when in reality I was trying to avoid looking foolish.

  2. richard February 6, 2013 at 7:44 am

    im english albeit expat, living now in brazil and before USA, in total for 12 years. I share similar frustrations in reverse – living in my foreign environment. Its not just england that is guilty for the suffering you endure, the social clumsiness the locals make you feel so bullyingly. my grievances are almost identical to most amerivans comlaining about the English, but against brazilians and americans. I get almost same here in Brazil, a place people usually think as outgoing. Everywhere every country you go, the ignorant mob element always rejects, beckoning the pack to belittle the outsider, however colourful you may be. thats the sad part for them. its ignornant pack-behaviour you find in every land. However saying all this may defend my country and all its nuances as it may seem, I do pity you and i know full well what you go thru. English people in the south are notoriously reserved and clicky, you will find it more difficult to break into there little friend grops. My tip is be crafty, if you actually care to try even, ease in and show your social worth craftily. DO NOT brag in any way. american type no holes barred – I am the shit! – big-myself-up is instant suicide. Be crafty not l;ose your cool, use wit and intelligent fightback. English people, who find themselves as outsiders, do all this – but very slyly… you probably havent even noticedI know full well american puzzlement with this and have sympathy for you, but Ireland and every other english speaking country bar the USA it is also taboo to self-brag. DONT ever be inquisitive – however innocent iyt may seem – to the point the person backs off this is seen as very creepy and is also suidcide. Its not as easy like the US. English coldness, cronyism, clannishness and unfortunate social acceptance rituals for outsiders we demand, have all been borne out of obligatory distrust and aloofness fermented and formed over a 2000+ year old turbulent and violent expansionist empire period. Work around it. be smart and shrewd. everyone will want to be your friend

  3. NotLongInLondon November 16, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    Hi Yankeebean,

    Thanks for taking my question! My boyfriend and I have been together now for just over 2 years, so it’s been a while since I wrote to you, and I can finally say that I have managed to start connecting with his friends. In fact, we all got together as a group about a month ago, and one of his female friends actually initiated a hug when we left! I was so surprised and frankly, over the moon. Not only did I get a hug, but during dinner, everyone asked me more questions about myself and we had real conversations, which was really nice.

    In the end, the way I managed to get to know my guy’s friends was by sitting and listening, as you suggested, but more importantly, remembering what they said and asking them about it the next time I saw them. For example, one friend’s sister had a baby, so the next time I saw her almost six months later, I asked how her nephew was. She was really impressed, as she didn’t even remember telling us about him. I’ve remembered similar things about his other friends, and it seems to have made a good impression. I suppose in a way it is complimenting them, but on a more personal level.

    Taylor, thanks for you suggestion to try double dating. I think it’s a great! Not only will it help me connect with his friends, but will be good for him as well, as they hardly ever get together anymore because of their busy schedules :(

    Cameron, my boyfriend and I hardly ever hang out with his friends, and I have plenty of my own (all of them just about any nationality other than British…). But because my boyfriend is important to me I wanted to get to know his friends and was frustrated that they didn’t seem to want to get to know me. Thanks for the suggestions, though!

    Yankeebean, thanks again for taking my question! I’m glad you are posting in the blog again more regularly–I missed it :)

  4. Cameron November 13, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    Okay, this is from an English man not a woman, soooo I may be getting this wrong but here it goes:

    (don’t shout at me if I’m wrong :P )

    Your American! Which makes you different than 99.99% of the people that are around you on a daily basis. I think most UK women may look at that as a threat. It’s kind of like a woman who is very beautiful may sometimes find it hard to make new girl friends.

    Also, I believe that the paying of compliments allows you to get closer to some girl friends because it kind of puts you beneath that person, thus they accept you. However, I think that those friendships are not real friendships and you may find yourself being used as an emotional support. You know, only needed when that person feels bad and the butt of jokes when that person feels good.

    My advice is to find your own friends for these very important reasons:

    1. You can get away from your partner and anyone who knows him. Trust me this is a good thing from time to time.

    2. You can find the RIGHT friend that will ACCEPT you and that you like too!

    3. You can bring your friend with you to your partner’s events if you feel lonely and spend the whole night saying bad things about the other girls.

    4. His friends will see that you are an independent person and someone that doesn’t require their friendship to feel accepted. Which, most of the time will cause them to want to be your friend. (humans are weird huh!)

    IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not try and push your partner away from his mates because you don’t like their girl friends! A man’s mates are like his brothers! Even women born in the UK don’t understand this, its not like male to male friends in the states, it’s as important to a man as his mother!

    I hope I didn’t offend anyone with this post :S

    • yankeebean November 13, 2012 at 4:56 pm

      One of things that’s very sad (but very true) based on my experience is that Brits are more likely to be friendly if you’re slightly aloof.

      I DEFO think one of the reasons English women can be tough to crack is that they feel intimidated by me (and/or American women in general). I KNOW how awful that sounds, but it’s true. It’s not like I’m some stunning model, but I consider myself a pretty confident person and I sometimes wonder if English women confuse that with flirtation when I’m talking to their dudes.

      • Cameron November 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm

        Yes, I agree about the confidence. It’s hard for me to know what or how much I have changed because of America. I was born and raised in the UK but became an adult in America got my first serious job, house, and etc. ( i moved here when I was 20 )

        But I notice things when I go home like when you talk to people they don’t look directly in your eyes. They kind of look at you then move them away then look at you then move them away.

        On a side note, didn’t the used to be three of you guys? What happened to the rest?

      • yankeebean November 13, 2012 at 6:24 pm

        Ahhh, the question arises at last! Where are the other two lovely expats that have so many past posts?

        Their lives have moved them away from the blog for now. PacificYorkshireBird has moved back to the States and probably off the blog for good. PeacefulYorkshire is working on her PhD and might be back in the future once academia mania has subsided. :)

      • richard February 6, 2013 at 7:58 am

        Its not just non-english women who suffer the wrath of the bitchey english pack-girly. english women are notoriously very bitchy to outsiders. In england, There is disproportionate amount “good looking and normal” english women abhor associating in girly groups, whove been burnt too much in the past to bear any more. Women who ever entrust themselves to make good friends with people only if they are male

  5. Andrea November 13, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    This is why most of the Americans I knew when I lived in London hung out together, which was a bummer but it did make life easier. Fortunately all of my husband’s friends were friendly but it was still difficult to make friends.

    • yankeebean November 13, 2012 at 4:53 pm

      All my guy’s friends were always perfectly friendly, too – but most of them were never particularly warm. Sometimes I wonder if it’s partly just a sign of getting older and not being at Uni any more, but I’m not so sure…

  6. Taylor November 13, 2012 at 9:55 am

    I know exactly what you mean! It’s hard not having your American friends here! My English fiancé hangs out with mostly uni friends and school friends, meaning they’ve been friends LONG before I was even in the picture! Kind of intimidating. And of course a major source of the conversation they have is football (soccer). The last thing they want is ME chiming in to their guy time.
    I’d suggest if you’re feeling timid of the group setting, try asking your boyfriend if you can go on double dates instead with his friends/their girlfriends. I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s actually really fun going out to dinner or having a drink with just 4 people as opposed to a big group. It’s more personal that way and not as hard to join the conversation! I’ve become closer with my fiancé’s friends who we meet up with like that than the ones who just come around in big groups.
    Hope that helps a bit!

    • yankeebean November 13, 2012 at 10:51 am

      YES. That’s an awesome suggestion!

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