Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The mysteries of friendship

For years I have been irritated by the fact that Americans assume that just because someone is from the UK we will automatically want to be friends. We may have lots in common simply because we come from the same country - and then again we may not. Even if we have much in common, that doesn't mean we will become friends.

When I had my first child, the local hospital arranged a post-partum doula for me. I was living in a town I'd only just moved to, but worked 60 miles away, so didn't have any friends in town other than DH's. The doula coordinator did a brilliant job. The doula she found for me lived right around the corner - I could see her house from mine, but we had never met before. She was the same age as me and also from England. However, she had moved here at the age of 18 with her parents, had married much earlier than me (who didn't?) and had three children, the youngest of whom was 4 at the time. I would not have made it through the first few weeks of motherhood without going insane or being incredibly depressed if it had not been for her help. She was wonderful. It seemed at the time that I had found a new friend.

Yet now, over 8 years later, I have to admit I don't even remember her name. Maybe it was the circumstances under which we met - although the hospital was paying, it was a little as though she was working for me. She came to the house when I needed her, and did things like the dishes, laundry and cleaning for me as well as helping me with the baby. Maybe it was because there wasn't enough of a connection. Yes, we were both from the UK, both the same age, and both parents, but what ELSE was there? Clearly something was missing. Both our lives were already busy - hers probably even more so than mine given that she had three children already. Given my lack of friends in town, I don't know why I didn't make more effort to stay in touch, but I didn't.

I've recently added a lot of expat or bicultural blogs to the list of blogs I read regularly. I'm really enjoying reading them, which is why I listed them here. Do I enjoy them more than someone who is not also an expat or who does not share the same culture? I suspect not - good writing is good writing - but clearly the shared experiences are a powerful connection. These are not friendships though, at least not yet, though I suppose there is that potential. No one will notice if I STOP reading a blog, just as (unless I comment) no one notices when I read it. Some of these bloggers could perhaps be good friends, while others because of differences in, say, age or family situation would not. Yet that's a silly comment because one of my most valued friends is also an English expat living in the US, married but childless, and old enough to be retired already. Shared geographical location is not a requirement for friendship either - I have at least one very good online friend (not just acquaintance) whom I have never met.

So, I don't roll my eyes anymore when someone says "Have you met so-and-so? (S)he's from England too. I'm sure you'd get along!" Maybe we would, maybe we wouldn't. I hope our mutual acquaintance is thinking of other reasons we might become friends too and not just about our shared nationality, but it certainly doesn't hurt to find out. We don't have to be best friends, or friends for life. Friends for now is enough. Sometimes even just broadening your circle of acquaintances is nice. My life has been just as enriched by the people who have just been passing through like my doula (without whom I would have gone insane) as by those who stay forever, like DH. Now there's a mystery friendship - different nationalities, different ages (did I mention I'm a cradle-snatcher?), different hobbies and on and on . . . and yet it works! :-)


AliBlahBlah said...

I know exactly what you mean. When I first moved out here I was always amazed to find someone who was English too, but then the conversation always ran 'I'm from North Yorkshire', 'oh, I'm from Bath', 'I've never been there', 'no, I've never been to Harrogate'. Now I don't really bat an eyelid (plus Santa Barbara is crawling with Brits).

I do really enjoy reading expat blogs though particularly for the humour in shared experiences (case in point yours!!).

Until you tell me you're from Bath of course.

Almost American said...

Nope. Not from Bath. I'm a northerner too. (Though an ex-boyfriend from County Durham would beg to differ!)

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