Saturday, 16 August 2014

Friendship Is In The Air

Expats, and those living with expats, know that summer is a time of mixed feelings.

While friends leave for new adventures, potential new ones arrive while you stay put knowing that one day you'll be the one leaving for the new adventure. It'll be your turn to do the leaving and being the 'potential new one' for someone else, while wanting to make new ones.

It's also a time to be on heightened alert towards our kid/s. Depending on how old they are, there might be a romance going on (about to break up or morph into a long distance one),  or simply lots of hugs going on while they learn to deal with 'moving on', or being left behind, or resettling.

Summer should be fun, and it is, but there's a time just at the end of the school year, and around late-July, early August when it can also be the worst time of the year as people move to get to where they are going to be 'there' for the first day of the new school year.

It's getting used to NOT seeing friends at coffee or at the Club, and putting on a welcoming smile (again) to newbies and starting over. It's a bit like an annual ground-hogs day in many ways.

I firmly believe this is the reason expats make friends, real friends so quickly - there's no time to muck around getting to know one another! People come and go so quickly you have to grab 'em as soon as you find them and make the most of every day.

Depending on where you live, expats tend to live in each others pockets not by choice necessarily but by circumstance, especially if you are living in an environment where the language is not your own. Having lived in both English speaking (our mother tongue) and non-English speaking, the friendship experience is very different for all sorts of reasons.

Naturally, we gravitate to our own 'tribe' for want of a better word - it might be the families within the same organisation, or you're from the same city/country, or you've a mutual friend.

Most expat's don't juggle work with family; we don't have the demands of an extended family to consider; there are no ageing parents or relatives to care for on a daily basis. Depending on the age of your kids, you might see each other every single day at school drop off, at lunch, at the Club, at kids swimming lessons, at tennis, or the gym.

While it might sound heavenly (and for most of the time it's pretty good), it can also be boring, mind numbing, repetitive and frustrating.  You live a myopic lifestyle with a handful of people. You're always on your best behaviour so as not to offend anyone least there's a fight/disagreement and the small social group is affected. There's little 'change' in day to day life so you HAVE to make the most of it by exploring and touring, doing courses, trying to new things.  If you're lucky enough to find a BestFriend (or two) you are blessed.

Don't misunderstand - the expat friends you make are supportive and amazing; the one's you meet'n'keep once you all move on are the real deal. You learn that people come into your life, and you there's for all sorts of reasons, and leave for just as many. You learn to accept letting people go, or to have the courage to move on.

If you make, and keep a couple of friends each time you move, you're doing very well!

There's always lots of people to 'party' with but in my experience, having chatted with friends about this for years now, having someone true and faithful, who will sit and listen to you talk crap and keep your secrets, and cry is harder to find. There's always people around to party with, and hang out with.

Now, if your friends husband and kids get along with yours you have it made !!!!!!!!!!!! We've been blessed to be in this situation several times over the past 4 moves/8 years and not just with expat friends but with 'local' families too. It takes a lot more effort with locals who are apprehensive to get too close knowing you move on, or are simply busy with 'normal' lives, but it's great when it does happen.

I've chatted about my girl-dating theory before, but for those of you new to ms-havachat, let me recap.

Newbie arrives.
You are introduced thru a 3rd party (school, mutual expat friend in previous location/s)
You answer any questions they may have, offer some guidance, you chat and find out as much about them as possible with out sounding creepy.
Towards end of conversation, you make a time and place to meet for a coffee and continue chatting.
Coffee can go several ways

  • the time flies by, lots of chatting and laughing, comparing of experiences, discover you have stuff in common or 
  • time goes soooooo slowly, you play intervier/interviewee with 20 questions, there's no chemistry and both of you know it  or
  • one person connects with the other more.
Depending on how coffee goes, you.....................
  • make a date to meet up again, maybe take your new BF shopping, or to Ikea, or introduce her to a few of your friends, other mums in their kids class.
  • you simply say, call me if you have any other questions; see you on the playground; or introduce her to someone who you think she'll have a better chance of connecting with. SHE may very well do the same, thank YOU for your time, not suggest to meet again, and wander off to the next group of ladies who she see's and starts chatting with them.
  • ah! this one is tricky ........ but as an expat you soon learn to have tough skin.
Next few 'dates' go well, you learn more about each other, the kids get along well in school - do you dare invite them over for a family dinner .... or  maybe suggest a Saturday night out with partners (always hard to do this with newbies cos they might need time to sort out a sitter depending on age of children). Depending on where you live and what's on offer, a day out to a popular tourist destination is a great idea as it keeps everyone focused on something of interest, and away from the group dynamics. If everyone's getting along well, this can be a great day out! If there's tension or lots of pregnant pauses in conversation, you have the tourist attraction to talk about.

Now, husbands can make or break the girl-friendship very quickly. Best to share as much about husband/partner as possible so there's some common ground for them to meet - work is an obvious one, but golf, tennis, where you've lived, other hobbies are good too.

  • Husbands get along YEAH you have a  new friend.
  • Husbands don't get along - you're opinions may be affected and you take a step back and reconsider OR you wind the friendship back to 'girls'n'kids' only, or girls-only.

So girl dating!

For those of us who are outgoing it can be fun and challenging to constantly be 'ON', but for those of us who are of a quieter nature I've been told it's hell but something that has to be done. One very dear friend told me when we first met she was very shy, preferring her own company most of the time and that while she appreciated my company and suggestions to let her work things out in her own time, which I did. This woman ended up being a party girl, involved in tennis, karaoke parties, loved fancy dress parties and more! The past President of the international club I belong to said at her farewell speech how shy and scared she was walking into her first club meeting let alone taking on a committee role, but how much she enjoyed being part of something. There are others I've met who really truly prefer to be left alone and as hard as that is, the collective social network does, but also keeps one eye on them, just incase.

Being left behind, or doing the leaving ..... it happens to us all at some point in our expat lives.

Expat friendships are a sort of numbers game - the more you meet, the more chance you have of finding a friend (or two); the more of those you have, the more chance you have of meeting THE ONE (or two)

So, get that smiley face happening, work out your story, have a few interesting open questions ready and get out there and make a new friend or two and let me know how you go.

With friendship

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