14 Jun, 2024 @ 11:12
3 mins read

EXPANDING HORIZONS: Friend dating in Spain is not as hard as you think, writes Susannah Grant

One of the conversations that frequently crops up amongst expats is how to make friends as an adult when you move abroad.
In a country where a lot of people are born and raised in the same city or village where they continue to live, with extensive friends and family networks on tap, breaking into new friendship groups can pose a challenge to a 35+ year old from elsewhere. In London, I remember counting down the days to my son´s start at the local nursery so that I could scour the playground for other seemingly-fun and frazzled mothers in an area I´d never lived in.
Most UK primary school parents are subjected to a jam-packed calendar of coffee mornings, class dinners and fundraising activities for a new 3D auditorium for the Nativity play. These events are great hunting grounds for the shark parents looking to find fellow finned friends with which to share summer villas in Crete so that Johnny can splash about in the infinity pool with Richard from Class 1B while their parents polish off their second bottle of rosé before 11.30 am.

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In Málaga, however, Juan and Ricardo´s parents may well be having a weekly bottle of Rioja with their in-laws on a Sunday followed by a few Cruzcampo cervezas or three in their grandmother´s pueblo on a puente weekend. So where does that leave the midlife expats or Spaniards looking for new friendships? Well actually, in quite a good position …if you know what to look for and how to find it.

Nowadays towns from Cartagena to Cádiz are teeming with diverse cultural options ranging from book clubs to dance groups and language classes. It´s fair to say that compared to when I first lived here in the 1980’s, Spaniards are far more mobile than ever and many are keen to enjoy a parallel social life with an international crowd.
However, as with any fast-paced capital city, lack of time seems to be a recurring barrier in Madrid. Sinéad, who advises expat families on schools explains, “A common disappointment I encounter from clients is how difficult it is to make meaningful friendships beyond the playground chit chat.” Apparently making Irish friends can be equally challenging for Spaniards in Dublin. “A lot of them only have foreign friends despite working with Irish colleagues,” according to Sinéad. A sentiment echoed by many Spanish friends who have lived in London as I recall.

So how can we go about successful friend dating? Halley from Granada seems to have had some success expanding her and Spanish husband´s social circle beyond his school and university network, “I organised a night out on Saturday for English speaking mums and their Spanish speaking partners, and I think the men were surprised how much fun it was and would probably do it again.” I agree, a bit of social engineering and creativity can go a long way. Why not turn the fact that you have been exposed to other ways of socialising to your (and everyone´s) advantage?

Even Spaniards returning to Spain after long stints away have to be creative when it comes to picking up their social life. After 20 years in England, Marta divides her time between her tiny childhood pueblo in Valladolid where she runs a winery and Gaucín where she spends many months of the year. In the north she is well-known as the daughter of the village teacher and stops and chats to her former primary school classmates when out buying bread. Most of the villagers have stayed there to work locally in the burgeoning wine area of Rueda but there isn´t a lot going on socially.

Bar Casa Antonia, Gaucín

That´s where Gaucín comes in handy as thanks to the local vibrant walkers group, Marta and her British husband have amassed a very varied, international group of friends who are either working flexibly or have retired. “They´re a great, like-minded bunch, with their feet firmly on the ground, literally”, chuckles Marta. “As someone who has lived outside Spain for years, it´s important for me to have that diversity in a friendship circle. In addition, it´s comforting to know that every Saturday night the Gaucín crowd meet up for drinks and tapas and we often join in with them too.”

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