We had been living in Cairo about a year and a half when friends visited from Uganda. We ate at the mall food court when they asked how it has been meeting and making friends with Egyptians. I told them it’s been hard: Where do you meet people you can make friends with?
I mean, you don’t just make friends in the food court.
Minutes after this comment, I ended up talking with a woman at a nearby table, exchanging phone numbers and later getting together for coffee.
Guess sometimes you can make friends in the food court.
But this usually doesn’t happen.
Because Cities are Cities Everywhere You Go
It’s almost unbelievable that in a city of 23 million people it would be difficult to make local friends, even a handful of nationals.
But around the globe, big cities tend to be alike: people hurrying around, busy schedules, working jobs that keep them tied up, school schedules for the kids, after-school activities, bustle, bustle, bustle.
The middle class has to work hard to earn a living to keep up with societal demands. The wealthy keep their schedules full of activities because they can and modern society says to do so. And the poor survive hand to mouth every day, finding joy and hope where they can.
Cairo is no different. People do not tend to linger on their balconies, waiting for you to drop by to chat for a moment. Often we don’t even get to know our neighbors because they are rarely home– either off with family or working.
If you find yourself in a large city looking for ways to make local friends, here’s what I’ve seen that works.
6 Ways to Make LOCal Friends
1. Join a local gym.
Yes, I understand this requires a financial commitment and a time commitment and a physical fitness commitment (at least a little bit of one, wink wink). However, if this is an option for you, the result could be significant.
Gyms often have fitness classes to choose from, allowing you to join others for an hour every week, seeing the same faces time and again. Or simply create your own workout and go at roughly the same time each time and see who else is around.
2. Frequent a local coffee shop.
Again, a small financial commitment is involved. Find a coffee shop near your home or on your way to work/language class. Drop in a couple times a week.
Don’t just get your coffee and hunker over your phone in the corner. Talk with the baristas. Practice your language skills. Ask about their families or their culture. See who is interested in chatting with you.
After doing this a few times, you get to know the crew and start to make local friends. Maybe someone would want to exchange phone numbers and get together.
3. Find a shopkeeper near your home.
Most shops have certain times of day in which business is slow. Discover which time this is for this particular shop and go to visit the shopkeeper.
Introduce yourself as a neighbor. Tell him you’ve noticed that business is slow this time of day and you thought you’d drop by.
If he or she is interested in talking with you, spend some time getting to know each other.
4. Go to local gatherings.
Maybe “mom meetings” aren’t really your thing. Or the local Christmas bazaar doesn’t sound like a blast. Maybe the barbecue meal after church sounds overwhelming.
Instead of focusing on whether you like that sort of thing, think about the potential to meet people and make local friends.
At these sorts of gatherings there tends to be more people all together, hanging around or focused on a certain event together. Yes, you will probably be exhausted afterwards (unless you are a high extrovert and then you would probably have already been excited about going!).
I made several friends by going to mom meetings at the local preschool. I only understood about half the content (it was all in fast Arabic) but I made some friends afterward. Success!
5. Find a pick-up sports group.
This strategy might depend on the culture where you live. My husband was able to go play basketball at a local sports center and met lots of guys there who would want to go out with him afterward or get his number to go out another time.
Cairo has bicycling groups and rollerblading groups available to join. These are all great ways to meet people and make local friends.
6. Start a group.
Not finding something that works for you to make local friends? Consider starting something in your home, office, or at a local club.
This can be challenging if you don’t already know many people. Consider partnering with someone who already knows a lot of people.
Start a knitting group in your home or offer to host for the next big sports event. Again, this works best when you have someone with you who already has people to bring along.
To make local friends takes perseverance, courage to put yourself out there, a willingness to try new things, and readiness for your world to expand. And it’s worth it: Local friends overseas are an incredible gift.
Sarah serves in Egypt with her husband and four children. You can catch her blog here–and don’t miss her post on Go. Serve. Love about what she wishes she would have known.
Missed Sarah’s post from last week on what friendships to prioritize overseas? Grab it here.
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