By Marja

Statement: Work is the Best Medicine!


A good reason to change jobs is to find new friends! Usually one does not plan one’s career steps from the perspective of making friends, but I realise that the most precious “bonus” yielded from my previous working places consists of the human relations I concluded during my employment. In addition to numerous passing encounters with interesting personalities, I typically “harvested” from each job two to four lasting friends who remained in my life for good.


Here, I do not refer to calculated, deliberate networking, serving utilitarian purposes. Instead, my article deals with the ways of getting to know fresh faces at a mature age when school and student years are in the past.


If one treats the issue analytically, making friends with colleagues, clients or stakeholders appears logical. One tends to share a comparable educational background and professional status which, at the end of the day, may be derived from shared basic interests or inherent inclinations and affinities. Hence, there is a strong possibility to meet like-minded persons at work. Moreover, working together for joint projects and struggling with the same daily challenges builds a sense of community that connects kindred spirits like glue. Similar identities and life situation are instrumental to reaching the same wavelength.


This observation is valid irrespective of one’s country: I recognised an identical pattern every-where. Starting from the mid-1990s, I used to be employed by various multi-national organisa-tions and worked in five European countries with the result that my co-workers amounted to a number of different nationalities. Accordingly, some of my closest colleagues came from Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Spain and Italy – apart from my native country Finland.



Case Latvia as an Illustrative Example


In particular, two interrelated, subsequent jobs generated exceptionally firm, life-long friendships with marvelous memories. Perhaps the unique historic circumstances created a peerless momentum that gathered together extraordinary people who shared not only the same enthusiasm and excitement but also common values. We were absolutely dedicated to our mission while we felt being part of something great.


In May 1992, I joined the Latvian Embassy in Helsinki as a non-diplomatic legation officer. This position enabled me to observe Latvia’s state building and return to Europe, which is in close proximity. Latvia had restored her independence in August 1991; the Latvian Embassy in Helsinki had been established in December 1991. The first Latvian Ambassador to Finland was Mrs. Anna Žīgure, a charismatic culture person whose heartfelt warmth and eloquent charm soon enchanted the Finns. The receptions and the cocktail parties of the small, poor Latvian Embassy became somewhat like a salon which attracted authors, journalists, university professors, diplomats and businessmen who had contributed to the restoration of Latvia’s independence. I had the honour to become part of the clique that formed around Ambassador Anna Žīgure. Two of my best friends with whom I still keep in touch on weekly basis stem from that circle.


A few years later, I moved to Riga to work at the Latvian Investment and Development Agency. There, too, I experienced once-in-a-lifetime occurrences that laid the foundations for everlasting bonds with those Latvian friends. Because the local colleagues appreciated my genuine

commitment, they accepted me as an insider thanks to my deep knowledge of their culture and history. It facilitated mutual trust.


Those memorable times of Latvia’s transition period constituted a short but fascinating era that no longer exists. The Wild East phase brought together an exciting mixture of miscellaneous creatures from adventurers to idealists, from Russian mafia men to West European economic advisors and investors. The secret to mingle with such an international crowd was simply to be in the right place at the right time. A legendary Irish pub in the Old Town of Riga was helpful in the latter case.



Unexpected Encounters, Amazing Incidents

Despite my emphasis on coherent explanatory factors, making friends is nevertheless totally irrational and random. This leads me to advocate multi-channel communication. Below I list examples of how I got to know some of my dearest friends.


  • Helsinki, Finland: I attended an improvisation class instructed by a well-known Finnish actress. We were attending a rehearsal where we met other course participants whom we did not know beforehand. I came across a lady whom I had seen at the university when we had studied. However, we did not know each other properly but now we began talking.
  • Riga, Latvia: I had spent the night at a popular nightclub-disco with a female friend. It was 3 am and we were leaving when a local guy met us in the hallway close to the outdoors as he was just coming in. According to him, the night was still young and he tried to persuade us to stay but we were too tired. Since we declined his invitation, the tipsy chap gave me his business card and asked me to call him next day so that we could make another appointment. I hesitated to contact him but my friend encouraged me to call him anyway, and it turned out to be worth getting to know him.
  • Kiel, Germany: A new neighbour had recently moved to the flat next to mine. We had seen each other a couple of times in the staircase, saying ‘hello’, but that was all. One spring evening, we happened to enter our balconies simultaneously. Then we introduced ourselves correctly for the first time. After exchanging short standard greetings, the neighbor told me straightaway that she is diagnosed as manic-depressive (nowadays called bipolar). Normally she concealed her illness from strangers. I got immediately interested and invited her to come over and tell me more. First, we considered if she could climb over the low balcony edge between us but concluded it might be too dangerous. She came for a visit conventionally through the door and stayed for hours.
  • Hamburg, Germany: I had just moved into a high-rise with condos and was waiting for my moving boxes from Vilnius, Lithuania. The driver of the moving truck rang the wrong doorbell, addressing a neighbour from the third floor. The curious, sociable neighbour showed the right door to the lost driver but also used the opportunity to see who had moved in.
  • Berlin, Germany: I published a small ad on a widespread city magazine which had a broad circulation. I also responded to corresponding ads placed by other individuals looking for a companion. Through these two-way ads, I gained two long-term friends. (This category of ads dealt with mates for recreational activities. It was NOT a lonely heart’s club focused on dating.) At the university, I also got acquainted with German research scientists as well as foreign visiting fellows, such as postdocs from Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Vilnius, Lithuania: I attended a cocktail party in the Finnish Embassy after a seminar where I had given a presentation. I was mingling and chitchatting with a number of people. However, there was a Lithuanian lady with whom I had so much to discuss that we went to a cafeteria after the reception.
  • Hong Kong, China: Thanks to Facebook, I reunited with a school-time pen pal with whom I had corresponded for years when we were 13–18 years old. It was just an impulse of curiosity to see what she is currently doing. I managed to track her down and sent a message to her. She replied and since then we have been corresponding frequently for more than six years. In January 2013, I visited her in Hong Kong where we met face-to-face for the first time. Although we have seen each other only once, she feels like a soul mate. Originally, we came into contact through an international organisation that intermediated global pen pals for schoolchildren to strengthen their English skills. English teachers prompted us to apply for a pen pal from abroad.



Common Denominator


No matter how, where or when I learned to know my friends, one thing was always in common. We got down to business – i.e. in-depth conversation – straightaway without meaningless small talk. We immediately felt like we knew each other for ages.