I have always prided myself on being a good friend, loyal, committed and invested in making people part of my life. I am lucky enough to have a group of friends who have been part of my life since that first day at school. We met in the book corner and established that we had mutual admiration for Care Bears and Rainbow Bright and have successfully cultivated our relationship over the last 30 years (wow that really makes us sound feel old, sorry girls). We have been there for each other through the good times, the bad times crying in toilets at parties because a certain boy won’t speak to us but we have remained constant even as our lives have evolved and physical distance has come between us, we can pick up were we left off, the same group of 5 year olds huddled round the play dough table, although this time it usually involves coffee or wine.
That’s not to say that making friends comes easy to me, it doesn’t, and moving away has only piled on the pressure to rebuild my social circle, but it dawned on me that my friendships abroad are vastly different from the ones made back home. This aspect to life abroad I found hard to adjust to, I have previously commented that it is tough putting yourself out there and meeting new people, but sitting at home with a Netflix marathon is not going to help, so I put down the remote and get out there.
30 something seeks like-minded person for friendship. Must have a GSOH, love food especially breakfast, preferably a coffee drinker, doesn’t mind regular contact and available for during working hours for tanning, shopping, eating and coffee.
Social gatherings are either engineered by Hubby’s new boss or HR, strategically bringing the newbies together to welcome them to the country and aid the settling in process. They shove like-minded people or other newbies together and in the hope that friendships may blossom. I have been on both sides of this group date scenario, as the newbie shyly accompanying Hubby to a lunch at one of Prague’s iconic establishments, where 4 couples huddled round the table welcome us and dissect our situation, flooding us with tips and anecdotes about our new life. With the shoe on the other foot I was one of the couples huddled, this time round a bar at the Opera, to welcome the recent newbies on the block. Approach it like speed dating; work the room, quickly work out whether anyone round this table actually has friend potential, do they match your criteria, have similar life goals and well quite frankly can you spend time with this person without wanting to run for the hills screaming.
My expat life differs from those living abroad due to emigration or a long-term plan to be in one place, that is not to say that Hubby and I go anywhere with a set time limit, but we both know this isn’t forever and so we are fairly transient in our life. Most people I have come across in expat land are of a similar notion or on limited work contracts, sending them around the globe every three years, so we are all here for the now but who knows for how long. This makes the need for friends high on the list, as you don’t have time to let the grass grow under your feet, you need to get out there almost as you step off the plane. After speed dating round coffee mornings and ladies groups, you have some potential suitors and coffee dates are made and you have hope.
Expat friendships are like holiday romances, intense, deep, accelerated and with a time limit. Once you have had that first meet under the sun, you may follow it up with a one to one lunch. You tend to know within the first 10 minutes whether this is going to be great or an eat and run kind of scenario. Now I’m not going to lie, I can chat, once I’m comfortable I will natter away and I hope that my fellow diner will join me on this journey and we end up talking for hours. It’s as if we have known each other for years, sharing personal details that would normally take years to unfold, but you don’t have years, this person maybe gone in a year or two so you have to work fast. Lay yourself bare and hope that other person can too. You make the bold move of asking if they wish to meet up again and when you see they are as enthusiastic as you, you know you have secured a fellow traveler to experience this life with you.
It’s not always this successful. I have come across the serial dater, the one that wants her phone filled with contacts but doesn’t actually want to get to know anyone on any kind of level. They have even said to me, after what I thought was a lovely coffee chat, that they would only be happy to meet once a month, as we both know that expat friendships are on a time limit, so what is the point of getting close.
Let’s have the occasional coffee, catch each other up on life in a short 30 minute cappuccino. I’m not that kinda gal
I found myself have conversations, with my friends abroad, that I wouldn’t in any other situation. We are all in agreement that this is a friendship like no other, we are different to our “back home”personas, we have to open up and lean on each other, even if its outside our usual comfort zone. You quickly get up close and personal, because they are all you have outside of the loved ones, in this strange and distand land. They have to be able to ease your fears when you have a bad day, you need to be able to say “girls I’m not doing so well” and know they get it. Only a few weeks ago I had to call a friend to come get me dressed, my back was out and I got stuck! This is stuff I wouldn’t ask my family let alone someone I’ve known a year! You need people to laugh with (oh we laughed about me getting stuck), talk about random stuff with and who give it to you straight when you need it.
I know I have been there for them too, repaying their support. I have turned up at the door holding cupcakes when someone is out of hospital, I have stood crying in a supermarket aisle with a grieving friend, I have been there hours after the birth of your miracle baby, I have been there at a loss of a baby. Its intense, it deep and it is unique. I don’t have the luxury of time, I need to make the friendships meaningful and supportive to assist me in my life away. This makes the people I meet aboard special and whether we stay in touch after we move or not, they have had an impact on my life, like no one else, we have a shared experience that only we can understand, it bonds you stronger than many realise.
I have gone through some major things in my life and it is at those moments you know who your friends are, the late night pick ups when teenage arguments at home have ensued, looking up at my father’s funeral and seeing your faces bought me comfort that I can never be more grateful for. Supporting me abroad when sadness hits my family back home, being my workout buddy for bridesmaid bootcamp, making me God Mother, letting me cry after too many shots and believing I could make this move abroad, when even I didn’t think I was brave enough. Thank you to you back on the Rock, my special Prague couple and my desert gals. Friends change your life in ways you never thought possible.