Local Friends vs. International Friends

 In Without Category

At the beginning of living in Madrid, I had my fair share of spontaneously bursting into tears in the kitchen.

At the start, the source of most of my angst was around not having a sense of community. I was quick to make random friends here and there, as naturally I’m outgoing and love meeting new people, however, what I really missed was a friendship group… a sense of community.

I naively assumed that I would make a lot of ‘local’ friends. I couldn’t understand why this wasn’t the case. And even now, 3 years on, if I think of all of my local friends here in Madrid each of them are in relationships with someone from another country.

I don’t have any friends who are from Madrid, in relationship with someone else from Madrid, with children born and raised in Madrid… does this mean I have failed somehow?! Does this mean my local ‘authentic’ friends are not so authentically Spanish?!

As an anthropologist by training, I assumed I would find it easy to integrate and adapt to another culture. After all, I had done this in the past in Zambia and South Africa with relative ease, and Belize (well truth be known that move wasn’t so easy).

In those countries, almost all my friends there were local and I really felt like I got to experience people’s homes and families and cultural norms and feel to some degree or other, integrated.

Here in Madrid, it has been a different journey… whilst I definitely have had a taste of Spanish family life and wonderful big meals around the table until ridiculous o’clock (in my very British opinion) and crazy fun nights out with tapas, vermouth and many a cold cerveza with me understanding about only 50 to 60% of the conversations, it has, in general been much more a mix of local friends and international friends.

This brings me to the age old debate – local vs. international friends…

I have met some international people who are adamant that they only want to be friends with Spaniards. I respect that. And… personally in my opinion, wherever you are in the world, I advocate for a mix of local friends and  international.

If you are in a country with a different language to your own, by all means, making friends solely with locals is an amazing way to do a full immersion into the language. If you have gone down the ‘locals only’ friends route, you might notice moments when you want to talk about how it is to be living away from ‘home’, the amazing opportunities it brings and those moments of confusion and doubt where you might have a down day or question your decision to be far from what is familiar to you or how it feels to go ‘back home’ and to feel somehow a little different. These conversations are much easier to have with international peeps. Or local peeps who have spent time living in another country. They get it.


[Photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash ]

I love meeting a variety of people from completely different countries, sometimes we might have ten different people round the table for dinner and each person is from a different country. I think that is pretty cool! We did have a period of time where we used to host ‘international suppers’ where each person would bring a local dish from their home country and we would have an amazing potluck experience!

Another argument from the local friend only advocates is that international people leave. True.

This does happen sometimes. I remember when our dear friends Rosa (Mexican) and Michael (Danish) and their little girl Isabella left Spain. I cried like a baby more than once. I surprised myself at how much it affected me. Yet, we speak often and have a plan to see each other next month.

Then there was Coco (whose nationality I could never place as she is such a mixture), she left a Coco-shaped hole in our hearts when she fell in love with a Dutchman and moved to Holland… but hey…we’ve stayed close… my husband Stuart and I will be the celebrants at their wedding in Italy.

International friends also equal amazing international experiences, yay!

I feel that some of the international friendships I have developed overseas have been fast-tracked somehow and I get close to people pretty fast, and if they leave, it is tough, painful even.

And at the same time, it is totally worth it, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Now we have dear friends in a number of different countries that we can go and visit.

And with technology being as it is we can still speak frequently for free wherever we are in the world! Plus, there is nothing to say that your local friends won’t leave either! We are such a mobile global society these days. There really are no guarantees.


If you do feel like you might experience abandonment issues and you are just not willing to fall for another international friend and have them up sticks and leave you in the lurch then you could always do what my friend Jenn did.

On our second night out together, whilst our husbands were chatting at the bar, she took me by the arm and said something along the lines of…”what are your intentions here in Madrid?” I looked at her somewhat confused, so she clarified “how long will you be living here?” and when I said Madrid is home for us and we weren’t looking to be going anywhere, she sighed a sigh of relief and said “I just wanted to know early on whether or not I should get attached.” Respect Jenn. I love that you did that.


What about you – what are your thoughts on the local vs. international friends debate?
Have you got any stories on this to share? Please comment below, I’d love to hear from you.


With love,
K x

PS – If you have recently moved country or perhaps you have been where you are for some time and you are looking to make some changes in your life and to experience more joy, fun and happiness then you might just be interested in my free PDF guide: The Ultimate Guide to Thrive: 21 tips to help you to find your feet in a foreign land. Click on the opt in here.

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