One of the biggest issues facing most of us today is that we no longer live in tight knitted communities where we know our neighbours, our immediate family live within walking distance, our relations live close by too.
Guess this is the reason associations like Neighbourhood Watch was needed in the first place. It launched in the US in the 1960's and since then has stretched across the world. Neighbourhood Watch Australasia is a huge association doing great work; as are the ones in the UK, Ireland and other countries.
We rush in and out of our front doors, seldom with 5 minutes to spare, even IF we see a neighbour we tend to smile, wave and keep going. Mum lives in a small block of 9 units; when we first moved there nearly 40 years ago (wow!), we knew everyone in the block, and they knew us. We'd pop in for a cup of tea, a chat. Not now.
Even on our little dead-end street in Dublin, we simply smile'n'wave to neighbours.
There are exceptions of course.
MrsH and MrsS live on one of the best 'corners' of a street I've ever known! There's a group of about 6 houses, where not only do they know each other by name, they socialise together, support one another and are family. I'm very honoured to be included in their 'circle' over the years and miss them fiercely, especially when I know they are all together for a party.
Our apartment in Yokohama was very friendly (several families from school lived there which helped); our home in Dublin, Adventure 1 was in a very friendly cul-de-sac, with kids popping in and out of homes, mums sharing G&T's on a Friday in the drive ways.
But all in all, and many surveys show this, neighbourhoods and communities are very different to what they used to be in terms of friendliness, and well, simply knowing your neighbours.
Families and friends, tend to spread out these days. It's an economic fact that few of us can afford to live where we grew up - that's very true of most capital cities around the world. Our parents bought their family home 'years ago' and since then, property prices have escalated and IF we move out (so many young adults are staying home these days to 'save up' for a mortgage) we move miles away for economic reasons more than anything else.
We move interstate or overseas for job opportunities. Even moving within state or city can find us feeling isolated.
We work long hours and just want to hibernate on weekends.
So it begs the question, if you need to reach out for help, who you gunna call?????????
Who's your go-to person? Is it family? Friend? Neighbour? Or does it depend on the situation and you have different go-to people for different situations?
As an expat, we start over every time we move; we have to make friends, establish rapport, earn a few brownie points before asking for help, or rely on our partners as there's no one else.
Each of our 4 Adventures to date have offered us very different 'communities' in which we've offered support, or been supported. To be fair, Yokohama was the easiest in terms of 99% of the ladies weren't working, so we were all available to help day or night; kids were at one of only 2 schools in the area, so again, very easy to organise pick up/drop offs, and we all lived within a small radius of school (small, tight expat community)
UK wasn't as easy, and Dublin is good as there's a support network from both the local and expat groups of friends, and we've been here before so much of our community is established from before.
- Sick kids/you still need to get to the office.
- You're sick/need to get kids to and from school.
- Car brakes down - HELP!
- Husband away on business trip/you need a break from the kids for one afternoon, please!
- Husband breaks leg on holidays in Saudi Arabia, wife isn't allowed to drive/ need to get home (read this on a blog during the week)
- You're in hospital, husband on business trip/need support at home when discharged (a friends reality last few weeks)
- You need to fly 'home' asap - husbands on business trip; community rallies around to have the kids sleep over a few nights so you can go.
- You fall downstairs at 8pm, kids asleep, need to get to hospital/someone needs to look after kids (happened to us! I'm the one who fell and Mr&MrsB came to our rescue)
- Mum brakes leg falling down stairs at home while husband is away /community pitches in to help with everything (happened to an acquaintance when we were living in Yokohama. I didn't know the woman, but volunteered to be part of the cooking-team)
- Online grocery shopping is a huge benefit
- Live in help is a blessing
Like everything else, if you ask politely you're sure to get a positive response, also, choose the person you are asking to do whatever is needed wisely. Also helps to maximize the desired response. You might need several GO TO people for different reasons. Be specific in what you are asking of them so they know exactly what's expected.
For some people who are used to being in control or are more private in their dealings with others, this can be super difficult. But, sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone and ASK for help. People don't always pay attention to know you need help, and are willing to help if you ask (they may not want to seem pushy)
Offering to help is the other half of the equation. Don't offer unless you mean it. I recall one story my late Aunt told (it's probably been embellished over the years) that she offered help to a friend who's husband had passed away and her friend said 'thank you, you're so kind. My cleaning lady is away and I'd be ever so grateful if you could come over tomorrow. The place is a mess and there are still so many people coming to see me. 'My Aunt, who was always so quick, replied, I'll ask my helper when she's available to come over and help you.
Like in asking, in offering be specific, saves all sorts of drama's. Offer to cook one meal that can be frozen/thawed as opposed to offering to cook a meal that has to be eaten fresh that night; what days/times you can collect kids from school and drop them home; to go grocery shopping at a specific shop/time/day etc.
We all have our GO TO buddies, those friends we can rely on no matter what. These friendships are usually developed over time and are based on a foundation of trust. I know my GO TO friends for certain situations, do you?
In expat life, sometimes it takes a while to find that person, and sometimes, you have no choice but to nominate someone and hope that it works! Language plays a huge role in this for obvious reasons, next is the cultural environment. The first few months in a new city can be daunting enough without having a mini-drama on your hands where you need to ask for help and feel you can't ask anyone (re-read ASKING para).
A couple of friendships started by me simply asking 'are you ok? when clearly they were not, and making them feel safe and comfortable to say 'actually, no I'm not, can you please .......'
As you know, we move every 2-3 years. That's a lot of interviewing of GO TO people. It has to happen quickly, 'just in case' we need to ask for help; however, I have to admit that along the way G and I are our own GO TO team which isn't surprising as most couples are. He has to be, cos a lot of the time there isn't anyone else to ask. When he says sorry, can't do that ..... I don't take it personally, I just have to work out who to go to next. Which new friend can I reach out to for help?
I had a bad back a couple of weeks ago that kept me in bed or on the couch. Thank goodness G had a quiet week (picked a good week to be off my feet, didn't I?) and was been able to reschedule things to do school runs every day.
There was one afternoon he couldn't collect MissM and I asked MrsF. She was very happy to 'return the favour' as I had collected her daughter a few times she was unwell (also with a bad back)
As MissM gets older, and we're at school with her less, these GO TO people will be harder to find. I saw it with friends who had older kids in Yokohama, or those who were empty nesters; this is where joining an International Women's Club, or the expat club, or any club helps immensely. Again, you gotta put yourself out there which for some people isn't easy.
I was invited to a VIP function and obviously didn't go; the lady who invited me is an acquaintance more than a friend. Since she found out that I wasn't able to attend, she has rung me several times to make sure I"m ok, do I need anything, can she collect MissM for me? Seems I have a new friend ... a GO TO person who I never would have thought to ask. Because she's offered, I know now that if I ever needed anything she'd be there for me and vice versa.
I've been laid up over mid term with my back (again!) and MrsH kindly took MissM pumpkin carving and back to her place for a play and dinner. I'm back to normal now thank goodness, but it got me thinking about a few things.
It's so important to feel connected; to be part of a 'gang'; to know who you're GO TO people are and who considers you their GO TO person.
So, when the chips are down, or you just need help, who you gunna call???????????