It is hard to move to a new country. On top of the excitement and the new adventure side of it there is the cold hard reality of various items, for example not having a home phone for nearly three months and not knowing where to get those specific items that you could put your hand on at Kmart or IKEA ‘at home’. As well there are practical but important things like, which will be my favourite new local sav blanc (no need to worry there, what a selection they have here in SA!) and what does the local chocolate taste like and which one will be your new favourite (Cadbury Whispers hands down)?
One of the hardest things about moving is making new friends, and I think it gets harder as you get older. I have been trying to remember all the times I had to make new friends in my life – I am guessing it started in pre-school and primary school – not that I remember too much of it. High school was a definite for me as I went to boarding school with not a soul from my primary school in sight. That in turn (along with my HSC marks) may have then influenced my University decision to attend the same Uni as three of my fellow boarders (four in total made 25% of the group I had just lived with for the last six years). But Uni and college life was a big bad world and I still had to make new friends – that is the first time I really remember the process, making nice with people and taking baby steps to see if you have things in common that may lead to friendship and aborting if it becomes obvious you don’t. OK most of my friends were made down at the ‘Pink Pub’ I agree but I do remember meeting and discarding or being discarded by some people, for the better in all cases because you do have to draw a line somewhere on friendship. You can’t be ‘besties’ with everyone or share yourself around every single different group in college – so you choose one or two groups and then go from there.
Then after Uni came the first overseas stint – I went to live and work in a tiny village in Germany, while it was quite different environment again, the whole friends thing was easy because 1. When you are living overseas especially in a small German village you are viewed as a novelty and pretty much everyone wants to be your friend 2. There were only about 30 people in the + / – 20-year zone around my age so beggars can’t be choosers!
When I returned from my travels and settled down in Sydney to work I didn’t NEED to make any new friends. I had my Uni friends and a work environment always offers up one or two new buddies that you can form outside workplace friendship with. If someone had just walked in and told me they had moved to Sydney, didn’t know a soul and were looking for mates I would have said – ‘Gosh, that sounds really tough. I hope that you find some.’ Seriously – that’s what I would have said when I was 23, what an ass. But no – not so silly from someone living and working in their own hometown, where they feel totally at home and have enough friends to feel safe and secure because that is effectively what was said to me last week at a Grade 1 mothers dinner for my son’s class, and these ladies were well out of their 20’s despite their perky chests and creaseless brows I can tell you. Obviously I may have just blown my chances of ever being friends with them so I can take some blame on from this point on – and to be fair they haven’t all been down the surgery path (however it needs to be said there is absolutely no stigma to the fake boobs here – everyone is pretty loud and proud about it so I am actually not being too naughty in saying that).
Yes – basically what was said to me, paraphrased in a way that makes it more dramatic to include here was – ‘Durban is cliquey – if you’re only here for four or so years its unlikely you will make any friends. Good luck’
NOT – Oh you live in MY STREET and our children are IN THE SAME CLASS – maybe we should organize a playdate or you could come over for a braai or a glass of wine…..none of that at all! They didn’t even say it and not mean it –which I kinda respect. I know I can make an effort too – and I did with a couple of mums (although they say ‘mom’ here) whose children that I know my son is interested in being buddies with but tended to get the ‘that’s nice’ smile look so I gave up and started throwing random ridiculous comments into the conversation that will more or less have me branded from now on as ‘that strange Aussie’ – which they kind of already had me pegged as, because as one of them said to me – ‘Isn’t Australia just South Africa but without help?’
Didn’t they know what I had done prior to this dinner- the witty repartee I had pre-thought in case it was needed, the six wardrobe changes, the at least additional three minutes on make up application? Don’t they know that when you are trying to make new friends in a new country you constantly feel like you are on a first date? The worst thing about it is that – no one really notices or cares, which makes you feel like the whole date was a failure.
Don’t get me wrong – I have taken up their challenge and I will not leave this country without a screaming, howling group of locals who will mourn my departure to brighter shores – whenever that future event occurs. I will make friends of the locals, perhaps these very same mothers – I will, in a few months time I’ll try again, maybe, in the next school year. I see the café on the school grounds is up for management – maybe I should take that on and hold all their latte’s hostage until they promise to be my friend.
In the meantime I will stick to my newly found expat community, where I have actually made a few friends and am working on a few more – however it has its own quirks and issues and story for another time, maybe tomorrow.