This past weekend I traveled to London to make merry in honor of a friend’s 40th birthday. It was a celebration, not just of the birthday girl and her milestone, but of friendship. Old friends and new, those from close by and those from far away. For many of us, it was also a mini expat reunion. A contingent flew in from Copenhagen, another friend came in from Germany, and still another friend made the long trip from the US. Several friends who’ve re-patted back to the UK were there. There was food and wine, pots of tea and plates of scones. Too many, many bottles of bubbly to count, and, perhaps the most telling sign of our advancing ages, copious pitchers of water at the dance club.
There were enough good things about the weekend to make Martha Stewart proud. One of the best though was picking up where we left off with those friends we don’t see everyday. If it takes a funeral to make you realize how close you become to your friends when living abroad, perhaps it takes a celebration to make you realize how resilient those friendships are. Call it Four Re-Pats and a Birthday, if you will.
As one friend pointed out, it’s nice to know that the friendships and bonds we make abroad hold up once you are outside of the specific time and place that brought you together. It’s one thing to feel secure in a friendship when you’re both moaning about the same things or helping each other out with cultural quirks and supermarket translations. It’s another thing when one of you moves again or on or back and the bond that held you together in the first place is no longer there. Will you be able to find a common ground when you’re not in a common place? Are there things to talk about if you’re not gossiping about the class mom* or kvetching about the cost of a haircut or guffawing at gaffs?
The answer, I found out this weekend, is a definitive and resounding “Yes”.
Sure, there was a lot of catching up and reacquainting. There were conversations about how the settling or resettling was going. Were the kids behind in school? Have you made friends? Is it nice to be home? There were questions about the ones left behind. Is X still there? They haven’t changed that yet??? Is so and so still doing such and such? But after the initial Q&A there was just…normal conversation, the same kind of conversations you have over a cup of coffee in the cafeteria or a glass of wine on the weekends. We talked about the kids and our husbands and families. We talked about the future. We reassured each other that yes, it’s normal to wonder why on earth it takes your kids thirty minutes to put their shoes on and yes, it’s totally understandable why you yell at them when it takes thirty-five. We talked about what we are doing, the plans we’re making, the projects we’re working on. We had the same everyday conversations you have outside of the expat experience; the ones that are simply part of the human experience.
There were expat friends, but there were other friends as well, friends from the birthday girl’s life before the packing and the moving. There was plenty of crossover, there was mixing and mingling, there were the same conversations. The same things were laughed about, the same things complained over. We all drank champagne and toasted. Then we piled into several black cabs and went dancing.
The fact that 80s clubs are retro now is deserving of its own post so I’ll save the details. Suffice to say, more champagne was followed by lots and lots of water. Like, thirty pitchers of water. We’re old now. Hydration is important and I’m pretty sure I was having hot flashes on the dance floor. But still….toward the end of the evening, or more accurately in the early hours of the morning, after the Bon Jovi and before they hit Shania Twain, they played a medley of songs from Grease.
How many of you remember that forest green double lp with photos from Rydell High? As for you, Troy Donahue, many of us can sing along to Summer Lovin’. Some of us probably even remember the moves to Hand Jive. But even I surprised myself with my ability to recall most of the shoobop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de booms of We Go Together.
I can’t remember what I went to the fridge for, but I remember this:
We go together,
Like rama lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong
As shoobop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom
Chang chang changitty chang shoobop
That’s the way it should be, whaooohhhh, yeah
We’re for each other
Like wop baba lumop a wap bam boom
Just like my brother
Is sha na na na na na na na yippity dip de doom
Chang chang changitty chang shoobop
We’ll always be together, forever, yeah
And just like the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds of Rydell High, there we all were. Together. Sure, we weren’t in the place where we all met, we weren’t immersed in the everyday-ness of expatdom, but the bonds we made as friends transcended all of that and we were together. Shoobod she wadda wadda and all the rest.
It was perfect. (It was also a good time to go, though one of our party, who shall remain nameless, had to be dragged out. I think she would still be there, happily air lassoing to Shania Twain had we not intervened.)
I still haven’t regained my voice from all the singing. My feet ached, and despite Operation Rehydration, I was a sweaty mess. It was absolutely brilliant. Despite all of the fun, the best part was realizing that it is not necessarily the where that’s important, but the who. No matter where everyone is, or where we end up, be it Copenhagen or Stockholm, Germany, England, Hong Kong or the States, it’s nice to know we’ll always have Grease.
Chang chang channgity chang shoobop.
*I AM the class mom