Luxury Problem #78: Making and keeping friends as an Expat

>> Thursday, 2 February 2012

We've been in Moscow over two years now. I can hardly believe it, to be honest; it seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. I wouldn't change having had this experience for anything. As you get older it can become harder to shake things up a bit, to push yourself out of your comfort zone, to experience a grittier reality than you've become used to now that you have a mortgage, the kids are settled into school, and you're surrounded by people you've known for a while.

Moving somewhere like Russia provides a 'grittier reality' in spades.

This is, I tell myself frequently, a Good Thing. Life here is just so damned entertaining. From the jams, to the bureaucracy, to the queues (or rather, the lack of them), to the glorious winter days and the long summer evenings, to the black-humoured locals and the host of oh-so-foreign experiences hanging like ripe fruit waiting to be picked whenever you can pull yourself out of the daily routine, it's rarely boring.

But there's always a price to pay, and part of this is turnover. Turnover of people, that is. I remember when I arrived, I heard new acquaintances say that whilst they loved being in Moscow, they were ready to move on/go home. From my perspective, flushed with the novelty of living in an interesting town surrounded by interesting people, their lives seemed full and exciting. They and their families were happy, and they were reaping the rewards of their expat life-style. Why on earth, I wondered, would they want to leave?

But then they did, by which time they had become good friends - and I began to understand. It can be lonely being an expat in this town. The majority of foreigners move on within 2 - 4 years, and whilst there are the stayers, even they - unless married to a Russian - are unlikely to stay forever. Hell, I don't want to stay forever, why should they?

I learned recently that yet another good friend may be leaving this summer (in addition to those that I already knew of). For some reason this new news is hitting me hard. Of course we'll stay in touch. No doubt we will even meet up from time to time, on holiday or short trips. But they won't be here, going through the daily ups and downs of life in the same place at the same time, and I'll feel the lack of them.

I will, of course, pick myself up, meet new friends, have new shared experiences. But a little of the shine wears off each time I print out yet another photo for a friend who's leaving and I contemplate rejoining the expat dance, putting myself out there and building new connections in the full knowledge that at some point - probably before too long - I will have do the whole thing all over again.

It's a luxury problem, I know, and it's all about me*. But that knowledge doesn't make this aspect of my 'entertaining' life any more welcome...

* But then this is a blog post for goodness' sake - what did you expect?


Muddling Along 2 February 2012 at 16:36  

Expat friends have always said that one of the hardest things is that continual roundabout of people leaving and arriving - a lack of permenance that takes you out of your comfort zone far more than it would if you had stayed at home

Both a good thing and a bad thing I guess

nappy valley girl 2 February 2012 at 17:12  

This was always a real problem when I was growing up in Hong Kong. You got so used to people coming and going. It's not quite the same being expat in the US, but the person I have become most close to here is about to leave and return to Germany, so I know exactly how you feel!

I'm glad you are pleased you made the move to Moscow, though.

Circles in the Sand 3 February 2012 at 14:52  

Hello Potty Mommy! I recently discovered your great blog :-) When I visited a friend in Azerbaijan, she said exactly the same thing..apparently when kids were off school with a cold, the other kids would all think they'd left! A friend here in Dubai suggested that when expats leave, they should set up a 'speed dating' session for the friends they're leaving behind so people make new friends, lol! sometimes it gets wearing making new friends all the time, so I know what u mean.

Iota 3 February 2012 at 22:44  

Your real life friends may come and go, but your bloggy friends are here forever!

Poor you. Yes, losing friends is hard. I don't suffer from that here, as it's not very expatty (we're oddities, really), but I've lost a good friend to a company move, and it's hard. I imagine it must be very wearing if that's a common occurrence.

On the positive side (Pollyanna strikes again), an American friend here who has lived mostly in London and Belgium since having a daughter, was telling me yesterday that she reckons her daughter and other kids in expat communities develop confident social skills, because they are always meeting and getting to know new friends.

Potty Mummy 4 February 2012 at 08:16  

MAM, it is - both good and bad. And wearing, sometimes.

NVG, I am definitely pleased we came. I just wish everyone I have met and liked was on the same schedule!

Circles, thanks for commenting. Speed dating for friends - that's a good idea...

Iota / Pollyanna, you're absolutely right of course. And it's not just about the kids improving their social skills - adults could use help too!

Anonymous,  4 February 2012 at 16:40  

I get it. I really do. You make friends and then you, or they, leave. It will always by hard. From my side of the fence I could say that at least you have your loving family as permanence in the turmoil. But I know that isn't enough for a complete life.

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