Wanted: An unsociable person’s guide to making friends

by | Mar 9, 2021 | Bulgarian life | 7 comments

It’s hard to make friends later in life, isn’t it? I often wonder how people do it. So many of my longstanding friendships started in the workplace or stretch all the way back to my college and university days, so now that I work from home and am about as likely to enter an educational environment as I am a tanning salon (i.e. not very), I’m screwed.

You see, I’ve never been someone who makes friends in a social setting, like at a party or down the pub. I’ve met boyfriends and, shall we say, casual male acquaintances that way. But friends? Real friends. Not so much. I’m not sure what that says about me, but it’s not good.

I just don’t understand how people like me – so, people who are 40, verging on grumpy and don’t have to leave the house for work – ever make new friends. I presume they have actual hobbies of the sort that involve official clubs and groups. Or maybe they’ll just talk to anyone. Again, I’m screwed on both counts.

I am definitely Merlin (the grey cat) in this scenario. I’d really rather not…

Then there’s the whole ‘still not being fluent in Bulgarian’ thing, the fact that we live in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and that most of the other villagers are over 70. Screwed, screwed and screwed. I mean, we’ve integrated pretty well into our village, and are on great terms with our neighbours. But, as I said, they’re old enough to be our grandparents, and half the time we have no idea what they’re saying. They could be talking about eugenics or denying climate change or asking if we’ve accepted Satan as our lord and saviour for all we know. Meanwhile, we’re smiling and nodding along like a pair of idiots…

All of which is why, when Rob and I bother to talk about life goals, we’ll often include ‘make some actual Bulgarian friends’ on the list. You know, Bulgarians who are a bit more our age and have similar interests to us. People we can chat to about something other than the health of their kidneys or the latest person that they know (but we probably don’t) who has died.

It’s not that we’re lonely. Far from it. We’re insular and far too comfortable in our own Bulgarian bubble. Which is a big part of the problem. We make zero effort to meet new people or step outside of our comfort zone (our comfort zone being the kitchen and garden). But even if we were inclined to make an effort, and there wasn’t a global pandemic going on, where would we start? Sign up for tango lessons in Sofia? Start our own cat appreciation society? Go on a themed group holiday (‘mushroom-picking for the over-40s’. That sort of thing. Actually, I probably would go on that holiday)?

Seriously, how do people do it? Do you know? Do you have sociable friends who throw themselves into interesting activities? Have you moved to a new country or city and managed to get people to like you? How? Enlighten me. Obviously, the chances of me actually trying any of your suggestions are slim. But I’m genuinely interested.

7 Comments

  1. Katt

    I keep telling myself that I need to learn the Bulgarian language, after all I’ve plenty of time on my hands in lockdown but a whole year on I’ve still not started. I can understand some words and even say a few but I’ve not progressed. I really need to learn but tell myself that when I’m eventually living there full time I’ll go to the village school and find myself a teacher.

    Reply
    • Auntie Bulgaria

      Katt, don’t beat yourself up; lockdown has been tricky for many people. Local lessons are a good way to go. We got ourselves a teacher when we moved here and were having regular-ish lessons up to the pandemic. I can really tell the difference after a year without – we’re getting rustier by the week! If you can, before you come it’s really useful to learn things like numbers, basic foods, things you’ll need to get by in shops and restaurants. But then, as you say, just get yourself a local teacher as soon as you can. It’s so worth it.

      Reply
  2. Katt

    Will do Auntie, because I’ve stayed in the village by myself several times I know a little bit , such as bread, milk , hello and thank you our neighbours do their best but like you we really need to find a teacher when we move over permanently.

    Reply
  3. Bobby Dimitrov

    Well I’m a firm believer in situational friendship. My interests (and location) have shifted quite some distance in the last 20-some years so naturally I’ve left people behind whom I considered best of friends. Some of them I haven’t heard of for 20-some years…

    Your best bet is probably getting to know more expats in your area, I know there must be throngs of those, as they tend to cluster in cheapest areas in the country without really looking in-depth first behind the reasons of said cheap prices… 😀
    (hoping that won’t trigger a legion of expats, but one never knows)

    If you’re looking to befriend the local populace, called lovingly by imperialists “the natives”, I’d suggest looking for people online that have similar interests and possibly live nearby (probability dwindling into single digits now…)

    Last option, but probably the “best” in terms of “fun” is trying to integrate with people around in the village, even though you have almost nothing in common, except location. Sometimes weird things happen and you find a hidden gem somewhere close by… along with new habits and interests… like greyana rakia for breakfast and hunting for boar…

    Best of luck and keep us posted! 😉

    Reply
    • Auntie Bulgaria

      Luckily for us there aren’t many expats in our area (we’re on the edge of the Sofia region and a long way from Brit hubs like VT). Nothing against Brits. It’s just that, barring some very good Brit friends we have here, we just don’t want to hang out with other expats all the time.

      But I’m with you on the lots of fun to be had with the villagers. There’s always something new and eye-opening going on, like the men wearing paper boats as hats in summer. Or that time our neighbour was sat in his front garden scaring birds away from his salad seedlings with an actual shotgun.

      I think we need real hobbies. That’s probably our best bet…

      Reply
  4. Kath Thomas

    Thanks for your comments Bobby buy I have no intention of getting to know fellow expats and to the best of my knowledge theres only one other couple in the village. Contrary to your observations I first visited Bulgaria many years ago and was attracted by the hard work and self reliance of the people I met. Following my first visit I returned many times and researched not only many areas f the country but also its history. I have been lucky enough to have found an affordable house with a manageable garden in the centre of a thriving village with neighbours who are welcoming , open and willing to put up with my occasional mistakes. I work my garden when I’m able to be there, hang out my washing and dont go to the villages many bars but buy most of the things I need from the village shops, we make do with the furniture and fittings that came with the house, use local builders and follow the custom of not throwing anything out without first leaving stuff in the lane by our gate for someone else to make use of if they want to. I have been known to sit on the bench in the centre of the village with the other older ladies and amuse them with my lack of language skills but also take advice on the best bus to take if I’m meeting my husband at the airport. I fully intend to learn the language to work our garden and become if not a “model ” villager but at least not a drain on the community.
    As for “having nothing in common with the people living in the village” as a working class woman f a certain age I believe that I share common values and aspirations.

    Reply
    • Auntie Bulgaria

      I’m sure you’ll be a model villager indeed and they’ll enjoy having you around more when you finally make the move!

      Reply

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