So you move to a new country, you’ve found a new place to live, the boxes are unpacked, you’ve managed to negotiate the aisles of the supermarket, the public transport system and even know where to get your hair cut….. what you need now is friends.
Having been through the re-location process a few times I can say from experience that making friends can potentially be the biggest minefield that you will encounter. When we first moved to Hong Kong I went from having lots of friends from a very busy work and social life to NONE.
I joined lots of expat groups in an effort to find new friends. I did manage to fill my diary but sadly those coffee/lunch/cocktail dates were with people that I was trying desperately to replace my old friends with. I didn’t put too much thought into the process for at least the first 6 months. Then after one of those lightbulb moments I stood back and thought ‘who are all these crazy people and why am I spending so much time with them?’ Then I took a good look at what I was doing.
Not all of them were crazy and I still have a couple of amazing friends I am in touch with 6 years down the line. However, many of them were really not a good ‘fit’ friendship wise. They were acquaintances, but ones I was seeing 2 or 3 times a week, and committing so much time to them that I didn’t have enough time left to meet other people who may actually be a better ‘fit’. I often found myself going to lunch and halfway throughout thinking ‘what the hell am I doing here’, not laughing and enjoying the company of someone I wanted to be with. If you find yourself looking at an appointment in your diary and thinking ‘I’d rather stay home and do the ironing’ then be honest with yourself, the person you are meeting is not going to be a lifelong friend.
I think that expats are often guilty of lowering their standards when it comes to friends, I know I was…. It sounds a bit harsh but I think its the best way of describing what happens.
As I can now take a step back and look with new eyes I can also see how this has happened to both myself and other people I have met along the expat road. The desire to feel needed, part of a group, funny, sociable, accepted are all strong urges that many people feel want to fulfil.
My advice is, and it is something I do still today is to ask a few simple questions.
If this person left the country I am living in - would I go and visit them ?
If I left the country I am living in - would they come and visit me / would I want them to visit me ?
If I had a crisis could I call them at 3am ?
Will they tell me if my ass looks big in something ? (well maybe this isn’t as important as the other three but you get the idea)
Also, If you are meeting people through Expat Groups such as Internations, British Association and the American Womens Association etc choose wisely. You may instantly click with someone who has the same sense of humour or comes from the same city/country as you, but if that doesn’t happen maybe invest your time getting to know people who share your hobbies so you have something more than coffee and cocktails in common, and the friendship will have at least a good starting point.
Its good to remember that some people are more accommodating than others and can easily find themselves being the shoulder to cry on… the reality of the situation comes when they in turn need a shoulder and find themselves surrounded by people who don’t have time, or simply don’t care enough.
Lastly, and for me most importantly, is to spend time with people who you can be yourself around. For me personally I don’t want to have to analyse everything someone has said or how I think they might of interpreted what I said, or how their anger may be a reaction to something I said after something they said after I was late for a lunch that they think I did on purpose because they were late for coffee despite them having a crisis that they think I don’t understand because I was having a more important crisis and didn’t listen to their problem bla bla bla bla bla…….
Seriously LIFE IS TOO SHORT, and its certainly too short to spend time with fake friends….
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