FOR MEMBERS

Tips for how to make friends in Austria from those who have done it

Friends at bar
Several of our readers said they've found it harder to make friends in Austria than other countries they've lived in - but there's hope. Photo: Priscilla Du Preez/Pexels
After the city of Vienna ranked dead last in a survey ranking 'local friendliness' according to foreign residents, we asked our readers for their experiences making friends in Austria. Here are their tried and tested tips.

Learn German

The language barrier was frequently raised as an obstacle to close and long-lasting friendships and by far the most common tip from our readers was to learn not only German but also Austrian dialects to bond with locals.

“Language is very important, if you don’t speak German well it will be very difficult to make Austrian friends. Not speaking the language correctly is not an option here if you want to really integrate,” said a reader working as a scientist.

“Try to learn the language as fast as possible,” said a 25-year-old student, who was planning to leave Austria for a country she perceived as friendlier.

READ ALSO: Vienna ranked top for quality of life… but ‘world’s least friendly city’

Adapt to local culture

It’s not just the language that foreigners should try to get to grips with, but also those unspoken norms that can act as a barrier to close ties.

“Adapt to the local customs, always tell the locals that their food, culture, etc. is the best in the world even if it isn’t true. And avoid Nazi jokes at all costs!” said a US national living in Salzburg.

“Everything here must be scheduled, even just a simple hang out” said Daniel, a 32-year-old from Romania, who was one of several readers to comment on the less spontaneous culture compared to southern Europe and South America in particular.

A Cuban reader, Julio, noted: “If you come from a country like ours, where people are spontaneous and open and enjoy to talk with strangers in the street and public transport, be prepared for change, because here that doesn’t exist.”

A British reader aged 60 in the Salzburg region was one of several who spoke positively about community spirit and friendly neighbours in Austrian villages as opposed to cities.

“I have found the Austrians in our village really really friendly, I guess if you are prepared to be friendly and open in return,” he said. “Our immediate neighbours are wonderful. They have always encouraged us to take part in everything, meet villagers and have only spoken to us gently in German, to help us learn. Respect the local traditions, respect the local regulations, join in and find out what is important and how festivals, especially church activities, are conducted and what the relevance is. In other words, learn about the area where you live and what happens when.”

Make the first move…

Several of our readers described Austrian culture as “introverted” or “reserved” or even “unapproachable”, and said that it often falls to new arrivals to reach out directly to others if they want to build friendships.

“I think you need to be fairly outgoing to begin with. Teetotal introverted vegetarians will struggle!” joked John, a British pensioner.

“Be ready to try things out of your comfort zone. Connect with people on social media, ask questions, speak to people face to face etc.,” said a Maltese IT worker.

“I met one person through a club, he introduced me to a group of friends who really accepted me and we became really close. But this was after I realised I need to make the first step. I wasn’t used to it,” said a 20-year-old Russian who moved to Austria to study. 

Join a club

While it may be harder to meet new people spontaneously, one tip that had led several readers to find friendship in Austria was to accept that socialising is more scheduled and organised in Austria than what you may be used to, and join a club. Readers told us they had found friendships through hiking groups, orchestras, choirs, and knitting groups to name a few.

“Making friends does not come as easy and naturally as I would have thought for a city like Vienna. It is certainly possible, but you’ll have to search and find some people sharing the same interests as you to have the chance of meeting someone you can become friends with,” said a 25-year-old student from Albania.

“I love chess and Vienna has a lovely chess culture, and I fit into that crowd and met some good people, although the language barrier made it a bit difficult. I also have some religious inclinations and found a nice English church with welcoming people,” commented a 22-year-old from South Asia.

“The easiest way for me to make friends was to join a sports club” said Chris, an engineer from Namibia.

It doesn’t necessarily mean you need an existing skill or hobby — you could always just open yourself up to new opportunities as they come. Clare, a 58-year-old working in Vienna said she had found friends through Facebook groups, including “people who wanted to go on hikes with company, a pub quiz team, and a wild swimming group”.

Become a Stammgast

A good option if you can’t find a social club you’re interested in was suggested by John, aged 74: “Go to several ‘locals’ bars near where you are and just join in conversations. You don’t need to drink a lot but a little will blend you into the culture.”

Consider shared accommodation

“It’s been pretty easy for me to meet both Austrians and other foreigners in Vienna. I live with locals, and have met a lot of other Austrians through them. I’ve also met locals in sports, bars, uni and through friends. I’ve met other foreigners through uni and international networks” said a 24-year-old from Denmark, who recommending finding shared accommodation.

This was also the advice of Marjorie, a teacher with a background in opera living in Styria. “I had a roommate who was also a teacher and she helped me with my German and to meet people here. We are still friends after 40 years.”

READ ALSO: How to navigate the Austrian rental market

Make the most of any connections you do make

It’s not only roommates who can be the key to local connections. Several other readers shared experiences of an Austrian colleague or neighbour who slowly introduced them to local friends, most of them saying that while friendships might take longer to form in Austria, once you’re in, you have close friends for life.

“Lasting friendships have come through colleagues and introductions and local social media” said Carl, a 48-year-old from Australia.

A retired reader living in Salzburg found friendship in what many would call the unlikeliest of places. 

“You will have contact with people in a bank, or insurance firm, or authority. If someone there speaks English and you find you get on, befriend them if you can as there help will be invaluable as you settle in and feel you are floundering. We have become lifelong family friends of our insurance lady; she provided amazing support when we first wrestled with importing our car, getting ÖGK health cover, etc,” he told us.

Meet other internationals

Part of the frustrations readers shared stemmed from wanting to integrate into Austrian society and get to know locals, as well as foreign residents. A large number of the readers who spoke to The Local said that the vast majority (in many cases, all) of their friends were fellow foreigners.

“Meet internationals! Meet ups, Internationals events, Facebook groups. International people struggle as much as you to make friends here so they crave new connections,” said a 33-year-old who works with content and NGOs.

FOR MEMBERS: Just how good does your German have to be to gain residency and citizenship?

Have children

While we wouldn’t necessarily recommend procreating to boost your social life, if you do have children, don’t underestimate the opportunities to expand your connections through parenting circles.

“Have kids! That was the time I really became integrated through Elki (parent and child groups), Kindergarten, etc.,” said Katie, a musician in Lower Austria.

READ ALSO: 11 surefire signs your kids are becoming Austrian

Be patient (and realistic)

Building close ties takes time wherever you are in the world, and even if Austria might have its own specific challenges, patience will always help.

“Don’t try too hard. Just be there and do ordinary things. Shop in the village, spend time in the garden if you have one and take an interest. Otherwise, it just takes time! Just be who you are and don’t try to do stuff you don’t enjoy!” was a response from a couple in Burgenland. 

A British retiree in the Salzburg region also shared some words of wisdom for any foreign residents feeling frustrated or lonely. 

“I would always hold onto the reason you wanted to come to Austria in the first place. It is a beautiful place, and so keep that fire alight for your decision. Don’t try and force friendship. But go to events, and festivals and join in; be seen, so that people see you are supporting local activities,” he said.

“Accept that over time you will build up a circle of friends and acquaintances, but you will always be a bit of an Ausländer (foreigner). Go with the flow, you can still contribute and be a strong member of your community if you are prepared to join in.”

Who did we speak to?

Our survey was open to any foreign residents living in Austria, and we received 69 responses. We heard from people in each of Austria’s nine regions (though just over half were in Vienna) who had lived in Austria from between one and 40 years, including people who had moved for work, studies, love, adventure, and as a refugee. It wasn’t compulsory for respondents to share information about their age or nationality, but from those who gave this info, respondents were aged between 19 and 74 and came from at least 23 different countries on six continents.

Groups for meeting people in Austria

InterNations

Meetup

Women of Vienna (Facebook)

English Speakers in Austria (Facebook)

English Speakers in Salzburg (Facebook)


Member comments

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.