Monday, February 15, 2010

How to Keep Your Ex-pat Sanity, Part II

 I promised to answer two more questions for those Trailing Spouses out there that are tearing their hair out.  1)  How does one make friends and 2) How do you force yourself to leave the house when you have absolutely not one thing on your agenda?

Well.  Depending upon which country to which you have been transferred, making native friends will either be a breeze, require a small amount of effort, be a chore, or, in the case of Switzerland, be like doing quadratic equations in your head, i.e. painfully impossible.    Some countries are just friendlier than others.  Take Americans.  Compared to other countries, Americans are extremely friendly, trusting, outgoing people.  Look at Facebook.  Facebook is one of the most popular websites in America, second only to Google.  It is not unheard of for Americans on Facebook to have 800, 900 or upwards of a thousand “friends”.  The average Swiss person on Facebook has eleven.  (Kidding, I really don’t know how many they have.  It might only be like, seven.)

If you have been transferred to Australia or America or another really “smiley” place, you are lucky.  New friends will come to you.  They will arrive on your doorstep with homemade goodies and invite you places and take you to their favorite bars or pubs and this will occur within 48 hours of your arrival.  It’s called being friendly.  Crazy, I know.

So far, I have met one completely Swiss man.  By that I mean, he is actually from here, not just living here.  I have been studying him like he is a lab animal.  I met him through his fiancée, whom I met on  She and I started walking in the mornings for exercise but now we meet for coffee, shopping, etc.  Anyway, she is engaged to a Swiss guy whom I find infinitely fascinating.  She is Turkish by heritage, German by birth, but has been living in Amsterdam for many years where she met Swiss Guy.  She is fun and crazy.  He is a whole ‘nother piece of work, buddy.  She likes to host impromptu dinner parties, get a group together on a whim, make new friends at her yoga class, etc.  In other words, she is fun and normal.  Swiss Guy is, um, Swiss.  The first time she wanted to have people over to their apartment for dinner, it was a Wednesday.  Swiss Guy went postal.  No, no, no.  It is unheard of to have people to one’s home during the week.  Not done.  Intrepid Girlfriend was like, well, it’s done now, brothah.  Once the two (2!!) guests arrived, she discovered that Swiss Guy had no corkscrew in the apartment.  Intrepid Girlfriend asked Swiss Guy to go borrow one from the neighbor.  Keep in mind, Swiss Guy has lived in this apartment for three (3!!) years.  And he’s Swiss.  And he speaks French.  No, no, no, I do not know the neighbors and it is just not done to ask for a corkscrew.  Can there be any doubt who went to borrow a corkscrew and who had to use sign language to mime the turning of said corkscrew so that the neighbor would understand.  Here’s a hint.  It was not Swiss Guy.

This past week I have been at Intrepid Girlfriend’s apartment twice because I am getting a week-long Swiss facial treatment, and, no it does not involve sheep’s placentas.  Intrepid Girlfriend has gotten herself involved in a pyramid scheme/makeup conglomerate but I am too nice to tell her that that is what she has gotten herself involved in.  She thinks she is going to make a million dollars.  I am just doing it for the free facial.  (I am going back to the States tomorrow for a very short visit.  If even one person tells me that my face looks better, I am going to buy Intrepid Girlfriends’s entire line.  If no one notices, well, you know.)  Anyway, I have been able to observe Swiss Guy up front and personal.  Of course, both times I have met him I have had had my hair up in a headband with gook slathered all over me, but that is beside the point.  The first time I met him, he came home for lunch.  He comes home for lunch every day.  It is the Swiss way.  So, here I am all greased up like a Thanksgiving turkey and we are shaking hands and “Enchante-ing”, (which means “Enchanted” which is what you say when you meet someone for the first time).  He eats his lunch at the kitchen counter because we three beauty queens have completely appropriated the dining room table with creams and machines and whatnot.  As he’s leaving and the other two are saying “Au Revoire” and “Bonne Journee”, I trill out “Bye, honey, have a good day at work”.  I guess this is a bad thing to say in Switzerland.  Apparently, even Intrepid Girlfriend would never even consider saying that to him.  It is too personal.

Of course, the next time I saw him, again sporting a natty headband and no makeup, I asked, “Well, hi there, honey, how was your day?”  They all think I am crazy.

I have made friends.  They just don’t happen to be Swiss.  Make friends with your spouse’s colleagues at work.  Make friends on ex-pat websites in your town.  Join an ex-pat book group or sign up for yoga classes or language courses.  People with children will automatically make friends with other parents through the schools.  If you are planning on staying in your new country indefinitely or forever, you have to go to a much greater effort.  If, like me, you are only here for a specific period of time, you can get by with a much smaller group of friends.

I’m going upstairs to pack for the States.  I am refusing to pack one single scarf, one pair of gloves, one coat or one pair of snow boots, just on principal.  I am bringing a jean jacket and a black sweater.  Those are my only two warm clothing items.  I don’t care if I freeze for the next 8 days.  I have packed a spaghetti strap dress for Valentine’s dinner with a little brown shrug on top which I have every intention of taking off immediately once my ass hits the chair.  OH GLORY!  I am going to a warm place!  Hallelujah!

And, please, everyone back in South Carolina, please let me know what you think of the wrinkle situation.  Intrepid Girlfriends’ month-end numbers may depend on it.

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