Most folks who have spent any time living away from home would agree that saying goodbye to friends is one of more unpleasant side effects of expat life. I am no exception.
In December we’ll celebrate our four-year anniversary here in Denmark. With that milestone, Denmark will officially become the place my children have lived the longest, pipping NYC at the post by two months. After four years here, it also means I’m now considered part of the Old Guard. There are expat families who have been here longer, but not too many.
In everyday terms staying put in a posting for this long simply means I’ve figured out most of the ins and outs, the quibbles and quirks. I know what to do with the crud that gets stuck in the cracks and the limescale that builds up in my kettle, when to shop the sales and how to piss off a Dane. In the larger sense, it means I’ve seen a lot of people come and go.
For the last few years I’ve had a fluid, yet core circle of friends. I’ve had a Mom tribe, the ones you can confess your parenting sins to without fear of judgement, the ones you can let your gut out in front of. More than that, however, we’ve had a solid group of couple friends. When you make a Mom friend and she has a husband who gets along with your husband, well, that’s pretty great. When you have a few of those combinations and you trade weekend dinners and have impromptu barbecues and celebrate birthdays together, it’s pretty darn nice.
Two Junes ago a good-sized chunk of our everyday social circle left for pastures greener, drier, colder or more distant. The dynamics shifted, but the ‘here’ was still bigger than the there or anywhere. That will change this year.
This is the year that a good number of families who have been here as long or longer than us are clipping their last Klipperkort here in CPH.
Some are friends; not just friends but good friends. Sunday dinner friends and godparent candidate kinds of friends. Friends that trust me with their children overnight and friends I wouldn’t hesitate to call in the wee hours of the morning if I needed help. Emergency contact kind of friends. Those kinds of friends.
When you’re the one leaving, it’s hard to say goodbye. It’s hard to wrap your head around the idea of starting over again. But let me tell you, over here on the other side of the fence, it’s no picnic being the last man standing either. Despite all the rain we’ve had here in Denmark, the grass doesn’t seem any greener.
A few weeks ago my husband asked me why I was going out more than normal, why my acceptance vs. decline rate was higher than usual.
“I’m investing in our future,” I said.
It’s easy to become lazy and complacent in terms of friendships, relying on the easy relationships that come after spending a few years in the same place with the same people. Soon that will change and the very idea of it makes me tired. I am exhausted simply writing about it. It means I will have to be on my best behavior. I will have to hold in all my verbal farts for a while. I don’t do particularly well with best behavior for very long. If I go too long without swearing I get bloated.
But really, what choice do I have? I’ve got to fill the empty Sunday dinner spots. I’ve got to find a new emergency contact.
Of course we can never replace the friends who are leaving, even if new bodies fill their spots at the table. Even if the new bodies become friends. Even if the acquaintances we have now become more than that. It won’t be the same. It doesn’t mean it can’t be as good or even better, but it won’t be the same.
We expats talk a lot about the ones leaving, the difficulties of re-settling, of finding new friends in a new place. What we very rarely talk about is being left behind and making new friends in the old place.
It’s like the age-old question of the chicken and the egg. Is it better to be the one to go, or the last man standing?
20 Comments Add yours
You are soooo right…..I do think it s harder to stay and see your very good friends, and emergency contacts go away…However, it s also pretty hard and so f……tyring to arrive in a new place and start from scratch and do everything all over again. YOu know that you need to meet people and get to know people well enough to fill up the week end lunches and BBQ…..but after 15 years of expat….I feel I don’t have the energy to do so.The worst as you nicely put it, is that I cant be bothered to pretend to be somebody I am not so I decided a while ago that I ll be myself….even it means to shock people. Life is too short and if new people do not get me, well it s their loss and they might not be worth being friend with me. I will carry on being myself, rude, stressed, unrespectful sometimes, and hopefully funny. Sorry Guys!!!!!
Wait a minute…are you me? ;-). I won’t hold back too much, but you know, I’ll watch the swearing for the first few minutes. First impressions and all ;-). Honestly, one (me) can’t hide one’s true self for long, can they? I mean, you don’t have to hang out with me too long to figure out where my priorities lie. Lay? Never could get that one right!
You r right the first impression is important but after 3 sec, natural comes back and then sometimes I lose it.
3 seconds is pretty good 😉
I love the concept of a “verbal fart.” 🙂
It does bring the concept of bad breath to a whole new level….
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Oh you made Me cry!! Going to miss our sunday dinners and being your emergency contact (but to be fair I think I have called on you more!!) can’t believe it is real that we are actually going. I can’t imagine not having you just over the courtyard. Xxxx
Stop. Now I’m crying!
Words of wisdom as always, Dina. It is easy to become friendship complacent in one’s hometown too!
With such a diehard citizenry, it is shocking when someone you thought would never dip a toe outside the five boroughs suddenly ups stakes for larger digs or a better school district in, as New York One calls it, “The world outside New York”. Those friends you were going to have over for dinner someday…gone. I’ve upped my acceptance rate and gone out on more “first dates” recently too vowing to make “someday” today.
Still miss you, tho..
I miss you too. We need to get our respective asses in gear and get together. When are you next coming this way? The first friend dates are rough. I asked someone out for coffee today…I think she was worried I was a bit of a serial killer…
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Looks like you can’t have any emergencies for a bit. That part might not be all bad.
To be fair I don’t/haven’t had too many…but it’s the knowing that the person is THERE just in case!
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Yes! We’ve had our contract extended by one year after completing 3 and by now, the majority of my expat friends have gone. We are comfortable here (probably too comfortable) so we aren’t pushing to leave ourselves however, we know it’s just a matter of time before we’re starting over elsewhere. I will say that there’s a sort of excitement about moving that helps. Just the logistics of packing up for another country is busy – visas, shipments, housing, etc – so there’s less time to think about those goodbyes. For me, it’s not until the dust has settled that I really start to mourn what we’ve had to leave. Being on the other side this expatriation has been difficult as I’m watching others leave without the adrenaline rush.
Great post & good luck finding new dinner partners. I’ll be in touch if we’re lucky enough to head that way 😉
It’s tough. I think the stress of moving (and the excitement) sometimes gets you through. When you’re the one that is staying though, it’s another round of same old/same old. Sometimes that’s great…sometimes…eh….not so much. If you do come our way, make sure you look us up. Sunday dinners are always a nice way to meet new friends. 🙂
The taboo of topic that you don’t talk about. Thanks for recognising it and putting the right word on !
It’s funny…we don’t talk about it much, do we? And you’ve been here even longer than us!
As always I love your blog Dina..
I am a parent of expat children and grand children, so know how hard it is to say goodbye…
A quote written in my autograph book over 50 years ago…
“Make new friends, but keep the old, The new are silver, but the old are Gold”
Expat friendships are solid gold!
…… Just think you will have a retirement with a golden pass for free accommodation in almost every country of the world.
Now that is definitely the silver (gold) lining in the clouds! I like that idea. Easy breezy retirement spent visiting friends around the world. Having the grandchildren so far away from the grandparents is one of the things I feel the worst about in this whole experience. And while I can’t say it’s the biggest factor in our decision making process, it’s definitely up there in terms of how we look at the future. Thank you for the kind words, they really make all of this worthwhile.
You nailed it again!! Tough, good life this expat thing. Hard to stay AND start over.
It’s true Trish–it’s hard saying goodbye no matter what side of the fence you’re on!