You Had Me at Goodbye


6227a97fe3550a5b219be22356bb38b8June is a rough month for expats, whether you’re coming or going or staying put. As June rolls around you’ll catch me doling out 100 Kroner notes like candy to cover the cost of leaving gifts; books, flowers, keepsakes and mementoes. June sees me squeezing in tea times here and coffee mornings there and drinks…where? Where were the drinks?

Is it stressful? Hell, yes. Do I complain about it? Sometimes. Would I refuse to do it? Never. Do you know why?


That’s right…YOU.

It doesn’t matter if you are the one staying or if you are the one going. You have been a part of something, something bigger than just yourself. Whether it was for six months or five years, whether you played a starring role or a cameo, what you shared was specific to a time and place, to a group of people. It was unique. Sure, for every one missing, someone else will arrive. For every one going, two will stay. But don’t be fooled. Numbers don’t make up the entire story. It will never be exactly the same because the dynamic has changed.

Take the time to say goodbye.

Goodbyes can seem a dime a dozen to expats. Adios, shalom, au revoir. June, chock-a-block with assemblies and leaving parties, with farewell events and bon voyages is practically an expat rite of passage. Saying “so long” to friends is a given. “Farewell” becomes familiar, “Auf Wiedershen” expected.


But just because it’s familiar or expected or anticipated doesn’t make it any easier. To those going or those staying.

If you’re leaving, you owe it to yourself to say good-bye, but you also owe it to those people who took the time to get to know you while you were here or there. If you’re leaving, let the ones staying buy you the coffee table book or the traditional parting gift. Let them host a coffee or a dinner or a drinks night in your honor. Let them wave a flag in your face. Hell, let them throw a freaking party if they want to.

If you’re the one staying, take the time to search out the folks leaving and wish them well. Dole out the Kroner or the Euro or the Francs. Squeeze in the coffee. Clear a few weeks on your calendar for drinks and dinners and picnics.

Expat goodbyes are goodbyes on an entirely different level. In Pokemon terms, they’re Goodbye Full Potential. When you leave an expat posting, you’re not just leaving a place or a home, you’re leaving a chunk of yourself. A chunk that belonged to a distinct time and place and people. And you leave knowing it’s likely you won’t see the place, the people, or that chunk of yourself again. Expat good-byes are not à bientôt, they’re not temporary. Even if you do come back, it’s likely others will have left, said their own goodbyes and moved on.

It will never be the same as it was.

It is difficult to explain the feeling of bidding farewell to people you’ve cried with and laughed with, people who know you better than you could have imagined, all the while knowing there is a good chance you will never see them again. I understand why it may seem easier to sneak out, avoid a scene, avoid the tears.


Say goodbye. It’s important. For a sense of closure, to tie it with a bow, to leave it finished.

c--users-scott_bell-desktop-documents-stewardess-1950sI know folks who don’t want to make a big deal of their departures for a myriad of reasons. They don’t like to be the center of attention, they haven’t wrapped their own thoughts around leaving, they don’t want to make a fuss or put anyone out of their way. They would rather slip away: unnoticed, un-feted, un-celebrated. They want to walk away without a goodbye.

Don’t. That’s cheating.

It’s important to say goodbye, in whatever language you choose, in whatever language you’re comfortable in, in whatever language you have come to love or hate. Maybe you won’t see those people again, but that fact doesn’t negate the time you had with them. Honor that. Say goodbye.

You..yes, YOU…you may not think you’ve made an impact, but you have, whether it was on a small level or a big one, for a long time or short. Whether you’re coming or going or staying put.

So adieu, adieu to you and you and YOU.

21 Comments Add yours

  1. Elyse says:

    Oh, I hated saying good bye. I wanted to slink off, but you will be proud of me that I didn’t. But I HATE those parties. Well, I hate the ones for me, anyway.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      It is hard, but I do think it’s important. I AM proud of you! They’re tough, and unlike anything I’ve experienced with the exception of maybe high school graduation, but the joy of finishing and getting out of my small town overshadowed everything. How ironic that I look forward to going back there every summer now!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ellen Corrie says:

    Yes, you do have to say good-bye but the idea of never seeing those people who bonded with you in countries other than your own doesn’t happen as much as you think. Every country we have lived in, England, Germany, Greece and Denmark, we have kept up with a sprinkling of our favorite people. Our paths have crossed often and the reunions are sweet. Friends you make when abroad whether you overlap months or years know the intimate you. In life, you meet someone and they just get you and they are keepers. I cheer myself up by calling friends in Athens or Basel or Cambridge. They made the time away from the USA richer by far…..ellen


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Keepers are good. I honestly think there’s nothing like living abroad to teach you about friendship, from the types of people you end up bonding with to the intensity to the lengths you will go to to keep those people in your lives. It’s an amazing and beautiful thing–or has been in my experience so far. I’m glad you’ve had one too.


  3. Stacy says:

    After this many years of expat life, I don’t say goodbye, but “see you soon!” It may be that you don’t actually want to see some of the people but then, that is soon enough. 🙂 For the rest, those you really will miss, “see you soon” gives hope. As I have always said to my girls over these many, many years of moves, the important people – those who are important to us – we’ll keep in touch with. Thank God for the internet, Skype and FaceTime! When I was an expat child, even long distance calls were few and far between and mail took weeks.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      I believe too that those that are meant to stay in your life will–and am also thoroughly thankful for Skype and FB–I’m not sure how everyone did this before. AS much as I complain about social media, this is the sort of thing it’s made for. It’s just odd to spend a few years of your life someplace and get on a plane and wonder if you’ll ever go back!


      1. Trish Smith says:

        Nicely said Dina As usual….

        Liked by 1 person

  4. fizzoflife says:

    Brought a lump to my throat. I’m leaving Azerbaijan in the next few weeks and this really, really resonates with me. Thank you. I may repost it when I leave. Thank you.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      I was trying to decide if it’s easier to be the first that goes, or the last. A common chicken/egg question. Wishing you the smoothest of transitions and lots of memories to take with you. Best of luck with your move. x

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Trish Castillo says:

    This is spot on!!!! Why can’t we live in our “own” countries or island (ideally in the Mediterranean or near Fiji) with expat friends and internal schools. What should we call our expat country? I just wish I could keep all my expat friends as my neighbors forever. Saying that I can’t image not having experienced them in my life. The richness and depth can not be measured!


    1. Dina Honour says:

      That’s just it, isn’t it? Because there wouldn’t be the same type of friendship if we all lived together all the time. There is a carpe diem quality to it (oh, I see another post ;-). ) It’s just important to acknowledge the time you spend together and honor it.


  6. Carmen Goss says:

    Spot on, Dina. The friends we make while posted in another country become our family. It’s so hard to say good bye. But since they are family, I don’t really say good bye. The Hawaiians say, “until we meet again”. I know, I’ll meet them again.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Melanie says:

    Perfect! I was to be in Germany for two years (six years ago). I never thought that I would love these ‘strangers’ as much as I do. The Vera Lynn song ‘We’ll Meet Again’ keeps playing over and over in my head.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      I like Happy Trails, or the Farewell song from Sound of Music ;-). They are certainly special types of friendships. 🙂


  8. UrbanMan says:

    I was an expat in the 90s. I lived in two different locales. My experience – and many others have told me theirs was exactly the same – was that leaving was weird more than anything. Some that I considered close friends, the moment they knew I was leaving, wanted zero to do with me. Messages from me were ignored. Others who I thought of as acquaintances were super interested in squeezing in several lunches and evenings together in the last couple of weeks (including a married woman who developed a sudden physical attraction to me – but that’s a whole post of its own). Lets have a longer conversation one week before I’m leaving on a jet plane, than we have ever had? Like I said, how people processed my leaving was downright weird. And I didn’t care for going away gifts like books – I’m shedding stuff like crazy to reduce my box count, and you’re giving me a big book? Aaaack!

    Now that many years have gone by (the 90s were a long time ago now) I have lost touch with all but one person from my expat days. And even that connection is merely a once-a-year email. Which is fine, we all move on with our lives, but part of me feels it is sad that what were good times with some great people are (except for the memories) completely done and over.

    At the time I left the expat life, I was concerned about getting trapped, about what I was missing back home. Wherever these thoughts came from, they were correct. I returned just in time to re-establish my real world career. Others in my field who stayed longer, many of them saw their careers end – as in employers looked at them and said, you did that weird expat thing for 8 years, we’re not gonna hire you, you’re totally out of touch. And I also returned just in time to avoid end up having general feelings like, “omg, I missed so much by not being here for so many years!” (family, community events, variety, etc). In the end, this is much more important than whether or not everyone said goodbye to me in exactly the way I thought they should have. It may seem really important at the time, but in the end its insignificant.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      I wonder how much experiences differ if you are male/female and/or working/non-working half (if those labels can even apply). Do the friendships you make as the ‘trailing’ spouse seem more intense, more present? I guess there is no way of knowing unless you’ve experienced both? But in the end, we all have our own experiences. I have heard a lot of long-term expats mention the 10 year mark, as in ‘make sure you get home before you’ve been gone so long you don’t recognize anything” and I can see how that would apply. We are loosely following that advice ourselves, though in our case, my husband and I hail from different countries so the idea of ‘home’ to one of us is always going to be different than to the other, which complicates things exponentially. No good-bye is ever going to be perfect, no ending is ever going to be only happy, and what is for one person won’t be for another. What I was trying to get across in this particular piece though was that it is important to acknowledge that specific time in your life and to go through the ritual. Even if things are better back home or where you move to next, and even if you do end up throwing the coffee table book away ;-).


      1. UrbanMan says:

        Being single and unattached, versus attached, and especially attached w/children, makes the expat experience very different. I was single and unattached during my expat period, and I was always a tad envious of those who were not. Those who are attached have the benefit of automatically having a more full home life. The ‘freedom’ of being single was in some respects a good thing. But when you are in a place for just 1-3 of years, all your connections – which when you are single are almost exclusively with other singles – stay shallow. A shallow existence definitely has a shelf life. When I left it, I felt good to be leaving what was a type of limbo.


  9. You bring it all back. Sayonara…


  10. Reflections says:

    This is an amazing post, so true — from someone who just said goodbye and is still processing it!


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Thank you. I’ve been saying goodbye for years and it seems and it always takes a long time to process!


  11. Louise Wiles says:

    This is a great post. You capture the feeling, emotion and importance of saying goodbye so well. It is so tempting to slip away, but so important to make the time to say those goodbyes… and to allow others to do the same.


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