Expat Friendships: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly


Making friends as an expat is a weird experience. On the one hand, everyone has a shared experience linking them together; on the other, you’re introduced to people who you might not otherwise choose to socialise with. As many of us as there are (even in a city as big as Madrid), it can be kind of slim pickings on the friend front. Such is the life of an expat.

When someone moves abroad and begins the transformation into an expat, they follow a specific pattern. This is something I call the We’re All In This Together Mindset. But honestly, that only really works in Disney Channel Original Movies, not when it comes to building a solid foundation to base your new little expatriate life on. Sure, this theory works great at first. You arrive in a new country, nervous and second guessing yourself, and then boom… a whole bunch of other people in exactly the same situation as you. Of course you’re going to latch on. And this can be useful in the beginning when it comes to exploring your new city and figuring out the basics. But is it enough to base a long-lasting friendship on? Nah. As people become more comfortable in their new life, they begin to gradually move on. And I’m not just talking about your new found friends, you’re included in this too, Hypothetic Baby Expat Reader. It’s like the advice you always get before moving away to university: “don’t settle with your first year flatmates, there’s more people out there!” It was true at university and it’s true as an expatriate.

Obviously it’s not the case all the time, and I still have friends who I met when I very first arrived in Madrid two years ago. But for the most part, after everything settles and people feel more confident, they move onto bigger and better things. And that includes new friends. Which brings me to my next point…

You’ll meet people in the weirdest places. I’ve already spoken about how to meet new people whilst abroad, but I never really touched on the completely bizare places I struck up conversations with strangers. Trying to find my way into a locked building, searching for a bank, on an Irish pub crawl. People are everywhere. Keep your eyes open and don’t write off a way of meeting someone just because you wouldn’t do it back at home.

In a slightly related note, don’t completely dismiss people either. I’m friends with a whole bunch of people I probably wouldn’t roll with at home. If anything, my time in the expat pool has made me a less judgemental person. Of course, there have been exceptions to the rule. Times where I’ve been proved right and people have been exactly who I thought they’d be, but than can happen anywhere. At least in Spain you can dull the pain with churros.

And of course, the most obvious and painful part of any expatriate friendship: you go into it knowing it has an expiration date. It might not seem like a big deal at first, but as the months draw on it gets a little distressing knowing that L Day is approaching. The dreaded Last Day. This is especially annoying with those pesky Americans and their even peskier visas. EU friends are in it for the long haul, so stick with us. But it’s also disconcerting to know that eventually, it’s going to be you leaving one day. Everything is temporary! Time is fleeting! Aaaaaaaah!

So… expat friendships. In my two years here, I’ve experienced:

THE GOOD: Meeting a diverse group of people who have helped me grow as a person and have understood all those #expatprobs better than any family members or friends back home.

THE BAD: Finding your platonic soul mate and having them leave a year later. Then repeating the process every year until your little heart can’t take it anymore and shrivels up to die.

THE UGLY: Befriending someone you usually wouldn’t because of how tiny the expat bubble is, until they one day just completely snap and call you a “c*nt-faced bitch” for no reason and then you’re stuck in their social circle FOREVER*.

*Note: forever is only a year for expats because lol visas.

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Author: Rosanna Parrish

Brit exiled in Spain.

3 thoughts on “Expat Friendships: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”

  1. Good advice here. And yes I also like it to your first month’s at university. One of my top tips is don’t stress if you don’t immediately make a bunch of friends, this will come with time and like you say, you just can’t predict where you will meet them. Also don’t dismiss someone because you don’t think you will get on with them. One of the best things about moving abroad is discovering new things and this includes new people!

  2. I like your picture of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”! I’m an Expatriate, too, or an Immigrant or a Global Citizen or however you want to call me, but I’m pretty sure your three categories of friends can apply even if you’re still living in the same country you grew up in. 😉

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