The Do’s and Don’ts of Expat Meetups

Having moved to Amsterdam in February, we’ve decided to use the Meetup group as a forum to meet other expats or people interested in befriending internationals.

We’ve had two successful nights out (if the score is kept by number of quality people you end up meeting), and we’ve learned a few things along the way:

Do:  Take special care in who you approach.

On our first night, Uri (my boyfriend, or as they call here in the Netherlands, my “partner”) and I showed up right on time for the Meetup event (we’ve heard time and time again that the Dutch are always on time), to be reminded that this event is all internationals that like to show up late.

We sat at the bar for a bit and eventually saw two small groups form.  One was a couple sitting to the right, and the other was two couples chatting to the left.  We nervously plotted our plan (it was our first time, and we were apprehensive, feeling a bit like we were speed dating for friends). We approached couple #1, and as we pulled out our chairs to sit, we asked them if we could join them.  They seemed very uncomfortable and by the looks on their faces it seemed right to ask, “Wait.. are you here for the expat Meetup?” (“No.”)

So basically we invited ourselves to sit in on this couple’s date, appearing briefly to be swingers or something.  This story has apparently circulated, and when we went to the Meetup again, several people mentioned hearing about the time some expats sat in on a date asking to join in! Oops!

Do:  Be outgoing and ask questions.

Both times we’ve attended these events, I’ve been lucky to get friend-digits and meet some really great people.  By the end of both nights we stayed out later than expected, had a few extra drinks than planned, and felt really comfortable with the people we met.  We were often in the largest or seemingly most fun/ laughter-filled circle.

What I’ve found that works is to ask people questions; we all love to talk about ourselves, and it’s a much nicer way to get to know someone than to just prattle away with your own story.  The effect is cumulative; once you are in a group of chatty people, others will join.

Listening… what a novel idea!

Don’t:  Give out your phone number to the opposite sex without clear intention.

At our second Meetup event, we started off strong again, creating an energetic circle of laughing people.  We chatted at length with one guy, who eventually got a phone call needing to leave.  He said he was coming back and asked me for my phone number, which I thought was a bit strange. But as I was in the center of the newly formed group, I assumed he was using me as the doorway back to the crowd.  I turned and asked Uri if it was okay that I gave this strange man my number (he said yes, assuming it could only be for the same reason).  Then the guy says, “Wait, this is your boyfriend??”  With his phone still in my hand, I deleted my number and returned with, “Wait, are you hitting on me?” (I had been holding hands or standing close with Uri the entire time, and I’m pretty sure we introduced ourselves together.)  Everyone got a really big laugh out of that one.  Well, except for the guy, who seemed to bolt out of there pretty fast.  And he didn’t come back.  Oops again.

Don’t: Take yourself too seriously.

In both bumbling situations, the mishaps we had at the events ended up being great icebreakers.  It’s humanizing to remember that all of these expats are just like you: many are far from home (many for the first time), and everyone there really wants to make friends to better call this new place home.  Our little social “blunders” cut through the formalities pretty quickly and I really believe helped us to make quick connections with great people.

… as did my numerous glasses of cava, of course.

So basically, the expat Meetup is a great way to meet like minded people that are in a similar situation to you. I was pleasantly surprised that the age did not skew super young. There were plenty of young-minded 25-30-something professionals looking to meet new people.  Just make sure to remain attentive to the intentions of those around you 😉