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Archive for December, 2010

What often happens when you start again from scratch, is that you’re friendless in your new place.

The other day I was thinking of how I’ve met my friends in other places. In France, my friends are people who used to be neighbours or who I went to school with. In California, I met my friends through my lecturer’s job at UCSB. In Madrid, my friends were my flatmates and people who I worked with. In London, I met almost everybody through work.

It’s a known fact that the way one makes friends really varies according to age. Also the older you get, the more difficult it becomes to meet people, because by the time they are in their thirties, most people don’t need new friends.

When you emigrate and you’re not in the work market yet,  you need to ‘date’ again. You meet total strangers for a drink. You chat about a bit of everything avoiding platitudes as much as possible, and somehow you kind of hope they’ll like you. Then when you part, comes the time to exchange email addresses and phone numbers and you suddenly find yourself oddly nervous. It reminds me of a Seinfeld episode where Jerry is friend-dating Keith Hernandez, the baseball player.

This process seems rather unnatural, slightly forced, because we always remember our friendships as being more organic. This makes one feel rather desperate and needy. If you don’t play the ‘dating’ game, however, your social life might be close to non-existent and you’re likely to get cabin fever very quickly.

The obvious approach is ‘meetup’, it’s a friends ‘dating’ site. It is probably easier to meet like-minded people if you have a quirky pastime like Napoleonic wars re-enactment. The meetup option is quite simple in theory because you join groups based on activity, sport, or nationality. Here you’ll find mostly outdoors meetup group: snowboarding, skiing, kayaking,  diving, you name it.

Our first meetup, a week after arriving was a British expat one. You go to the overpriced imitation of an English pub, you wear the name tags, and you hold your pint trying to look cool as opposed to needy and desperate. You even make a bit of eye contact and smile, and above all you avoid being too cynical about it all – which can be a bit of a personal struggle.

In our British expat group, the organiser – a Canadian-British chap called Fil – shows some good matchmaking skills. At our first meetup, he introduced us to a Scottish couple and we ended up talking to them for most of the evening. They’ve moved here 2 years ago from Aberdeen and have had similar experiences. They also arrived in November when it was pouring with rain most days and that the job market had ground to a halt. Now they have their jobs and know the ropes, but they hadn’t forgotten the vulnerability and the uncertainty of the early days. So they are showing much patience for our new immigrant’s rants and they give us tons of little local tips.

We’ve seen them a couple of times since, and  they have invited us over for Christmas at theirs. This is the kind of thing that means the world to you when you’re a fresh immigrant. In my various emigrations, I’ve always tried to organise Christmas with the international crowd. Flights are dear around Christmas time, and not a lot of people can afford the luxury of spending the holidays at home with the family.

I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends in Europe are people who have lived abroad. We have this in common; having been uprooted and planted somewhere else. Emigrating changes you profoundly in many ways, and it’s one of the best ways to practice your adaptation skills. It’s a very humbling experience, through which you will invariably rediscover that old friend: gratitude. You learn to be more appreciative which keeps cynicism at bay – although occasionally it does feel good to scratch a sarcastic itch.

This afternoon, I’m going on a yoga date with someone I’ve met through yoga blogging. Blogging oddly enough is a great way to meet new people. It is a community where you end up finding out lots of like-minded people all around the world.

I’ve started feeling better about being here with the merest hint of a social life. Call me cheesy – and I’m prepared to take that hit – but wherever I’ve lived, what really made the place work for me was the friends I’ve made there. You really know how true this is when you leave after 1, 3, 6 years and you organise a leaving do. Aren’t they the best and the worst at the same time? All your friends are there and this is the last time you’ll see them for some while.

Who knows how long we’ll stay here, but this Christmas I will be toasting friendships old, new, and yet to be.

And again some related music:

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