Marta is the first and only Basque I’ve ever met. Jill, an American Jew, one of so few in our community we jokingly refer to her as our Token (which if you’re familiar with South Park you will only take slight offense to). Marta has been our go-to for all things Spanish, Jill when we need to know the right kind of pretzel sticks to make marshmallow dreidels at Hanukkah.
Both are mothers, though the ages and makeup of their families differ greatly. While Jill’s oldest was starting middle school, Marta was still changing diapers for the twin toddlers she had at home. Both are married to Americans, both have dogs. And that’s where the similarities end. In most circumstances, they’d be been like friend ships passing in the night. In fact, I have trouble imagining a scenario when Jill and Marta would have been friends.
But four years ago, they both wound up in Copenhagen.
I may doubt the likelihood of their friend ships meeting in the night, but what I cannot doubt is that over the four years they’ve shared, they have indeed become friends. Good friends. Their husbands and their kids too. They’ve shared dinners and vacations and parties and inside jokes. For most of that time, I’ve been a part of that friendship, but I’ve also had the pleasure of observing it as well.
You see, in expat life, friend ships that should simply pass in the night but instead go bump is one of the best things about what is sometimes a strange and tiring way of life.
It’s easy to assume a relationship of differences, one based primarily on the where and now would be on shakier ground than one formed on a foundation of similarities and sameness, but often the opposite is true. In my experience, the bonds that hold two different friends together tends to be even stronger. Maybe it has to be in order to get things to stick in the first place. Or maybe you work harder at it. Or maybe, as I suspect, you look after it a little bit more because you know how unlikely it was to begin with.
Jill and Marta didn’t have much in common but they found enough common ground in the cold, Danish soil which welcomed them both. They built on that ground and in doing so, proved sometimes being in the same place at the same time is the only foundation you need.
Of the many friends I’ve made on this expat journey, most have been unlikely ones. Folks with different political views, different parenting philosophies. Different religions, different ethnicities, different views on life. Sure, I gravitate toward people to whom I have things in common—that’s a part of human nature—but the fact that this experience has thrown us together in a giant melting pot—which has then fused together some freaky combos? It’s my favorite part of the whole damn thing.
Tazza, my decade younger Aussie friend, mother to only girls, who doesn’t swear or like tattoos. Somehow it doesn’t matter. Liz, who pulls a different electoral lever than I do. There are Jill and Marta, my age-tribe mates who do swear but differ from me in many other ways. There has been a bevy of Brits, more than you can shake a stick at, most of whom turn a blind eye to my loud, American ways and strange way of holding a knife and fork. Canadian, Spanish, Dutch, French, Norwegian, Irish, Indian. Many of them I have nothing in common with other than being on this damp, Danish soil together. Together we’ve scratched our heads over Danish customs and consulted Jeanet, our resident Danish expert when perplexed. She graciously indulges our curiosity and allows our exasperation.
Yet in the time we’ve spent together, we’ve learned to embrace our adopted Danish flag and wave it about. Under this red and white flag which doesn’t belong to any of us, but now belongs to all of us because it is the place we made these unlikely friendships.
I’ve spent the better part of this week saying goodbye to many of them, swallowing tears, and at times, failing rather spectacularly. But this life and these friendships–they’ve allowed me to shed the weight of should. Being an expat has allowed me the freedom to be friends with people I have absolutely nothing in common with other than this Danish flag we’re all living under. It’s allowed me the chance to explore these unlikely friendships and watch them grow.
For four years Marta’s Basque flag and Jill’s Stars and Stripes took a backseat to the red and white Dannebrog, the same way my own colors have taken a backward step to allow me to make friends. Perhaps it has been the same for you, putting aside differences to gather together under the banner you’re temporarily living under–be it Emerati or Swiss or Canadian, Thai or Scottish.
Under the banner of friendship.