Those of us who live in the expat world know the joys – and the struggles – of making new friends regularly. We also know the pain of saying good-bye, not knowing whether we will ever meet again.
If you’ve been on the expat circuit long enough you know it’s a bit of a crapshoot when it comes to keeping contact with the friends we make along the way. There are usually loads of promises to keep in touch, and while social media and Skype certainly make that easier it’s often the case that we lose touch. Sometimes this happens because we’re so busy settling in to a new place and trying to make new friends that we don’t make our old, left-behind friends as much of a priority as we should.Other times friends fall by the wayside slowly, as we realise that we might have only had our shared experiences in a particular location in common, and there isn’t much more to build on.
Either way, I, like most of us in the ex-pat world, have my regrets about friendships not kept up and mates lost along the way. Sometimes, though, life throws up an unexpected surprise and an old friendship is revived when you least expect it.
I first met Sam a couple of decades ago, the first time I moved to Sweden. Sam, like me, was a love refugee, landing here because he had fallen for a wonderful Swede. We met in Swedish class and bonded over our struggles to come to grips with a language that offers not just three extra letters in the alphabet but also unusual and surprising letter combinations that gave our Anglo tongues quite the workout. Tjena, anyone?
Sam excelled where I foundered, which may have had something to do with me trying to be funny in Swedish. I figured that if I could be funny in Swedish then it was job done, but as most of you probably know being funny in a new language comes well after you master said language, not before. So due to my Class Clown tendencies, Sam did well and I was, for the first time in my educational life, the bad student. We became friends anyway.
After the class came to an end I stayed in casual touch with Sam and his now wife, even after they moved away to settle in a number of countries on the other side of the globe. We ‘liked’ the odd Facebook postings and sent holiday greetings each year, and although we always made promises to meet when it looked like we’d all be in the same country for even a few days, it somehow never happened.
A few weeks ago, though, I noticed a flurry of Facebook activity from Sam’s wife, all pointing to them not just being in Sweden but also having actually moved back here. I sent her a message asking if I was reading the signs correctly and it turned out that I was: within a week I heard the dulcet Aussie tones of my old friend Sam for the first time in many years.
We quickly made plans to meet and over a long lunch of Toast Skagen we caught up with each other’s lives. It was painfully obvious that we are both bit older, with a bit more polish on our rough edges, but as we traded stories of kids, jobs, and various life-altering events that have occurred over the years the laughter came easily and the friendship was on its way to being rebooted. As we said our good-byes plans were made for getting kids and grownups together for some food, wine, and some cementing of our new/old friendship.
So sometimes, like I said, life throws up interesting surprises. The friendship you thought was more of a smoking log than a brightly burning fire can suddenly burst back to life when you least expect it. We in the expat world share unique experiences and those often bind us together in the short term. In the longterm, after all is said and done, we are often gifted with a friendship that stands the test of time and distance. Few can understand this life if they haven’t lived it, and while it sometimes takes more than those shared experiences to build a true friendship on, it’s not a bad place to start.
Judi Lembke is a writer and editor based in Europe. Her work spans the spectrum, from light humour to corporate film and pretty much everything in between. Most of her adult life has been spent as an expat, with stints in London, Sydney and, currently. Stockholm, Sweden. She finds expat life stimulating, challenging and always very interesting. Judi blogs at Judi Lembke Ink.