Everyone wants it, craves it, needs it. We all have that look in our eyes, desperation. We will do anything to get it as the signs of withdrawal are already rearing their ugly heads; depression, tears, regret. And so, we put ourselves in situations we wouldn’t normally, sometimes several times a week to get our addiction filled. After, you walk away more frustrated than before, disgusted at how you pimped yourself out or, on a good day there is a glimmer of hope. Maybe this time, you found the one. Maybe you found a friend.
Imagine losing easy contact with almost everyone you loved, everyone who knew you, your family, your past. Those that have witnessed your child grow up, those that know small things about you. Losing your neighbor who you can always rely on for a 5 minute chat or a cup of sugar or your best friends who you can complain to or laugh so hard that you snort. When you get on a plane and leave your country, that’s what happens. Yes, there’s email and skype and FB but that is absolutely not the same, especially with a 9 hour time difference. Being in the physical presence of someone cannot be replaced.
Here in Basel, we live among a community of people who do this on a regular basis. They are employed by the big Pharma companies;Roche, Novartis, Bayer, etc. They go from country to country, wherever they are sent as they get promoted up the ladder. To say no to a move is to say no to promotion and higher salaries. Children Charlie’s age may have already lived in 3 or 4 countries. Each time it’s pack up, move and start over. The companies pay to move everything but the one thing they can’t take is their friends.
Most of the children at Charlie’s school have parents at one of the pharma companies. For the employees life does not change much but for the children and spouses life is turned upside down – new home, new language, new culture and the loss of their support group, their friends. The children muddle through, mourning the loss of their besties trying to find a new one and so do the spouses. I say spouses because there are lots of stay-at-home dads in the expat community.
The school supports all of us in our search. There is a Welcome Commitee who assigns each new family a buddy to show them the ropes and answer questions. Then there are coffees and lunches for the different nationalities and grade levels. There are American coffees, Dutch coffees, French coffees, Italian coffees, African coffees, Danish coffees and so on. There is a woman who leads hikes, there are field trips to the Swiss Army Knife factories and conferences on travel and the rules of driving. If you want to meet new people, the school does an awesome job of facilitating. But oh, it is tiring.
Meeting new people is not my forte. Maybe I overthink it. I try to figure out what to wear. Should I go casual or a little nicer? I try to think about unique conversation starters. And then once I’m there, should I be truthful when someone asks how it’s going? Or should I try to just be upbeat and positive? If I’m positive the person I’m speaking to might think “oh she’s from California, as long as there is sunshine she’s fine”. If I say exactly what is on my mind at the moment, “I just wish there was a Target and it was open on Sunday and I would kill for a bagel”, then I give off a “jeez what a whiner” air.
So I go, unsure of what to wear, or say, looking for that one person who may turn out to eventually be a friend. You can see everyone is doing the same thing, checking each other out for some clue that “she’s the one”. I join a group and start talking. Sometimes it goes well, other times, like a bad date, I wish I could just take back some stupid comment I made during a moment of nervousness. Then there’s my forehead. My forehead always gives me away – I so need Botox but I think it’s illegal here. My forehead tells the listener what I really think of what they are saying, the lines expand when I don’t agree or am bored. The efficient people go from group to group making conversation until one clicks and they have found someone. They exchange contact info and go from there. Being more of a caterpillar that a butterfly, I end up not moving. After my first conversation I am usually too exhausted trying to control my forehead and my speech that I can’t do it again.
We have been here for a month and a half. I cannot replace people who have known me for years. I have met some nice people though. My neighbor Sue is British and has a lovely Golden Retriever. We meet some mornings on the walking paths and we are beginning to share bits of our lives together. My host, Isabelle has taken me shopping and to lunch and answers all my questions and always gives me a hug when I run into her. Angie is from Tennessee and shares her frustrations and joys with me. She lives in Reinach as well so we have gone for a lunch and a walk together. She though has only committed to living here for a year no matter what her husband ends up doing. This is the other problem for the children and spouses – you make friends and then they leave.
Maybe this is not the place to make besties. Maybe it’s enough to have an occasional lunch and coffee with someone. I met a woman who told me when she left the US, that was it – she severed the cord. She said her goodbyes and didn’t intend on maintaining friendships or going back. I can’t imagine.