Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Expat friendships, two years on

Littleboy 2 shortly before we left New York
It's almost two years since we left the U.S.

It doesn't seem like that kind of time at all, of course - it seems like yesterday that I was packing up our house and and saying goodbye to my American friend, bidding farewell to the boys' school and doing everything we enjoyed in Long Island for the "last" time.

I was thinking the other day about expat friendships and whether or not they last a lifetime. My parents met many of their lifelong friends as expats in Hong Kong, some of whom I still keep in touch with today. But things are different now - social media has replaced the long letter and Christmas cards, long a method of keeping in touch, now seem to have fallen out of fashion with more and more people.

So what are my thoughts now that I can put my expat friendships in perspective?

Firstly, that it's interesting who you stay in touch with. Facebook of course makes it very easy to stay in touch with a lot of people but in a fairly superficial way. I have a bit of email contact with those people to whom I was closer but in the main, I do rely on social media.

One experience has been having a dear friend in America go through a terrible time, with her eight year old daughter diagnosed with leukaemia last autumn. Thankfully she is now in remission but it has been the most horribly tough year for her and for her whole family. This friend was lovely to me when I was having my own health issues, and I really felt it that I couldn't be there for her in person. I have been emailing her and sending cards, but it does make you realise that whatever the power of social media, being physically there is a whole different matter.

Then there are the people who are not on social media. In the case of my very good German friend, we've made a real effort to email, Skype and have even managed to see each other twice in the past year. I have a feeling this friendship will now be for life.

But others haven't been so easy.  There was one neighbour whom I got to know very well in the U.S. - we were always chatting at the school bus stop or in each other's houses. She's not on Facebook and I would love to know what's happening with her and her family.  But since being back, whenever I've tried to email her (apart from the very first time, when she replied warmly) I've been met with a wall of silence. I'm fairly certain nothing awful has happened to her, having asked other people, so I'm wondering if she just can't deal with long distance friendships, or (paranoia setting in) whether she never really liked me that much.

Others neighbours have made a real effort to look us up on trips to London - in fact we're due to see one family next week. And, later this year, we'll be heading back to Long Island as part of a U.S. holiday, so we'll get to see everybody again. I'm still debating whether to knock on Mrs. Email Silence's door, but I'm hoping others will be pleased to see us.

More interesting will be seeing whether the boys still gel with their old best friends, now that they've lost their American accents and think and act more like little English boys. I'm guessing yes, because kids seem to re-bond easily, and as long as they're all on the latest version of Minecraft they'll have something in common. But who knows?


Expat mum said...

I can't quite work it out. It might be that as expats, we're not part of their old friendship groups, but I'm often surprised at someone I thought I was close to, moving and completely dropping the friendship.

MsCaroline said...

Some people are just awful about staying in touch - but sometimes that's the way you tell the chaff from the wheat, I think. I've found there are quite a few people who maintain Radio Silence when you're gone but who are genuinely overjoyed to see you in person- I've no doubt you will find this when you head back to the USA and will be really interested to hear your take on it. I really think for some people the notion of maintaining a relationship over distance is extremely difficult - maybe it has something to do with their own upbringing? On a completely different note, we'll be in the Big Apple to install #2 in his University dormitories in late August - can't imagine a less comfortable time to be trekking about NYC. ; )

Mwa said...

It's funny sometimes how the ones you don't expect to last, are the best friendships in the end. I'm always surprised which ones survived my many moves. Not many, but good ones. Never as far as the States, though... Although one friend is now in New Zealand.

Iota said...

I think people vary hugely in their expectations of friendships. I've discovered this in quite painful ways - and therefore I suspect I've been quite painful to other people. Some people are very "out of sight, out of mind". I think you should knock on her door, if you have time and feel like it - but don't expect too much from it. There'll be plenty of other people to catch up with.

Iota said...

Birthday cards. That's another one where expectations differ. I have a very few university friends (3 or 4) who I exchange birthday cards with, and others who I know a lot better still, who I don't. Seems a bit random. I expect it's that once you've done so for years and years with someone, giving up seems a big deal.

Muddling Along said...

I think even when you aren't trying to maintain friendships long distance it has hard when you move on and into different spheres - we seem to have lost touch with a lot of our 'baby' friends as our children have got older and moved into new schools

DD's Diary said...

Strange, isn't it? I had very close friendships in Brussels that seemed to founder as soon as we left, whereas others have really endured ... a lot of it depends on how much effort you can put in yourself I find (not much sometimes!!)

Morag said...

I might be like your radio silence friend, as I rarely keep in touch with friends who have moved, old work friends, old clients or the like. Although I may have been very fond or even loved them, and love them still, it just seems better to me to let the relationship go once the reason for it has ended. We both move on. It doesn't mean they don't have a special place in my heart forever. It just means that time in both our lives is over. Stop and say hi if you have time, but don't expect a lot.

Anonymous said...

I bet Mrs RAdio Silence will be really happy to see you - but is just awful at responding to email when it's not to do with something that's immediate, or to do with friends you know you'll see in 2 days so you have to get on it. I have several friends like that, and our relationship is just the same (ie as if we'd never been away) when we go back to the UK and see them (we live in the US). I am ashamed to say that I am also that silent person for an old French friend - I left it so long since our last email that now it's harder and harder to write.