Valentine’s Yada Yada…

We can’t get away from the fact that it’s Valentine’s Day, so brace yourself for the obligatory Valentine’s post.

Early 20th century Valentine's Day card, showi...

This lady seems ecstatic about Valentine’s Day, too. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mr. R. and I do not celebrate Valentine’s Day. I’d prefer to get flowers every now and then (a fact mostly forgotten by my undoubtedly wonderful husband) and not just on February 14th when they cost a fortune anyway… The happiest people of all that day are anyway the flower vendors and Hallmark shop owners. I can’t help but notice the big smiles on their faces (probably they are just calculating how many more roses / cards they have to sell until they can buy themselves a new Mercedes). However, I do remember one Valentine, I believe it was our first, when Mr. R. sent me the most amazing bouquet to the hotel where I was working at that time. I felt like a real princess! Maybe I even felt a little happier than the flower guy that day.When I came to think of that moment, I also started thinking about how we began dating. To be honest, the whole time we were on our first date, I had no idea it even was a date. (I never said I was the smartest girl on the planet.) But first things first.

Mr. R. and I met 16 years ago at hotel management school, and apart from Hello and Good-bye, we didn’t really talk much in the beginning. I knew that he had a girlfriend and was living in one of the suburbs, while I was being a single city girl. And as I mentioned before, people from my hometown are a bit peculiar when it comes to neighbourhoods: Only people from certain neighbourhoods tend to mingle, and people from the suburbs are mostly frowned upon. Yes, we are a snobby bunch special.

File:Monchhichi doll.jpg

That looks about right – minus the body hair. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But then a new seating order was put into place according to which Mr. R. and I all of a sudden faced each other from the opposite sides of the classroom, and while he for the first time realized that I had a face, I became aware of his quiet irony that reminded me of my brother’s – a fact that scored him extra bonus points. And as of that day, even the dreariest of lessons became so much more interesting. However, since I knew about his girlfriend, I didn’t even think he might be interested in me other than platonically. And as I have always had more male friends than girlfriends, that seemed pretty normal to me. (Also I pictured him as the kind of guy who is more into the barbie kind of girl, and having just had my hair cut to half an inch length, I clearly looked more like a monchhichi doll. No joking.)

And so one day when he stopped me on the street to ask for my mobile number, I still was a completely clueless chick. Well, in my defence, he did ask in kind of a long-winded way for instead of asking for my number, he asked me whether I had a contract with provider X which I denied. “Could you still write down your number for me?” he asked, and I said Yes and forgot about it – after all, I couldn’t help him with the problems he apparently had with his cellphone provider, could I?

The following Sunday I was just having a nice cup of tea in front of my parents’ fireplace, when my phone rang: Mr. R., who wanted to ask me out that night. Nothing unusual, I thought, he needed someone to keep him company and share a glass of wine with, and we agreed to meet at a cozy wine tavern where Mr. R. gallantly shared a bottle of red wine with me – although he didn’t even like red wine at that time! But that I should not know until much later. We talked and talked, it was a very pleasant evening, and only in the end did I ask him what his girlfriend might be doing that night. He replied that they had split up quite some time ago, and suddenly, it dawned on me that we actually were on a date! Maybe it was a good thing that I hadn’t known before, for I am not sure how well the red wine would have sat with me and thousands of butterflies in my monchhichi stomach.

Never would I have believed back then that one day, we would be travelling the world together as expats! Life is full of surprises!

Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody! And whether you celebrate this day or not, I hope it may hold only pleasant surprises for you!

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Single White Female

As exciting as it can be to move from country to country, it is also challenging – especially when it comes to making friends.

In a previous post, I was talking about how easy it is for children to make friends, and how hard it is for us (or some of us) in adult life. And I even find it more difficult now that I am married.

English: friendship

English: friendship (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During my single years, I used to go out with friends and it was easy to just start chatting with somebody new which of course (in the case of a guy) very often also led to a date. So that’s no option anymore. Says my husband, and he is usually right. Friends seem to be a little bit like money: If you have some, it is just adding up to more, but getting together the first couple of bucks (or friends) is the hardest.

Recently, I mustered the energy to ask another expat wife whether she would like to go for a coffee – and boy, was that hard for me! It is just as hard as asking somebody out on a date. Or so I assume, because let’s face it: I am a girl. And being a girl, I liked to take the easy route and wait for the guy to ask me out, which always worked. Never in my life have I asked a guy out. And while asking another woman to go for a coffee is certainly not asking somebody out on a romantic date, it involves the same silly thoughts:

What if she thinks I am too needy? What if she thinks I must be weird because apparently I have no friends? What if she thinks I am really stupid but because she is so polite, she doesn’t want to say no? What if she thinks I am a creepy psychopath like Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Single White Female“?

need some coffee?

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those had been my exact thoughts before I scored my very first coffee date in Seattle. Almost two years had passed without me making any friends apart from colleagues of my husband’s. And that is not the same, right? It is like borrowed friends. Or second hand friends. But even meeting up with colleagues was difficult, since we were living downtown and most of his colleagues were living outside of the city. Most people our age have their families and are eager to go home after work. So our social life was non-existent. So I took up yoga class, partly because of the yoga, partly because I wanted to meet akin people. However, almost everybody stayed to him/herself (that’s very Seattleite), and I still felt quite isolated.

And then Miss N. joined the yoga studio and immediately I felt drawn towards her. So I started thinking… Maybe I should ask her to go for a coffee? And all of the above questions and many more sprang to my mind and made me hesitate and hold out – until one day I did ask her. And she said yes! (If that sounds like the beginning of a romantic love story to you, then it proves my point: it is very similar to asking somebody out on a date.)

And like on a first date, I felt a bit nervous upon meeting her for the first time, and later on she confessed that she had been struggling with the same doubts. By now we are best friends and I wouldn’t want to miss her for the world. Which is one of the reasons why I keep going back to Seattle whenever I can. It’s like a long-distance relationship, haha!

Bearing that experience in mind and deciding that at the age of 36 I should be able to make the first step towards what may become a new friendship, I now asked that nice lady out on a coffee. She said she would love to and that she was glad I had asked her. But what if she is just too polite to say no? What if she thinks I am a bore? …

…Uuh, the beauty of first dates! 🙂

Friends don’t grow on Trees

For a year now, we have been living in Mexico, and many people ask me, whether I had made any friends yet. Well, I am lucky that by now, I consider our landlady my friend, although we hardly plan any activities together. Whenever we meet, though, we are chatting away, forgetting the time and she has indeed become very dear to me.

Other than that, the answer is no, we haven’t made any friends yet. Acquaintances yes, colleagues yes, but friends? They do not grow on trees, do they?

Maybe this is one of the most challenging issues of living the expat life. When you stay in your home town or at least your home country, you stick with the same crowd more or less forever. Some may come, some may go, but you already know where to go. You have your routine, you know that some of your friends are going to the farmers’ market every Saturday, while others go to the same bar every Friday night – it is a cozy life. And you don’t really feel the urge to find new friends, do you?

So here comes the expat looking for friends and those circles are already full. You don’t belong to the market crowd, nor to the Friday night crowd and it hardly occurs to anyone to invite you to join in. Now there are a few people who ignore that and just join in anyway, being invited or not. My husband and I do not belong to this category, maybe it is because we are from the North and they say that people from the North take a little longer to warm up, don’t they?

But even if after a while you meet people to sometimes hang out with, be it for a coffee or a glass of wine or at the gym, those people do not automatically become your friends, do they? I consider people friends when I know that no matter where I live, we will stay in touch. People whom I can call upon anytime. People who are around also in not so happy times.

For children, making friends is easy.

Kids at shore

Kids at shore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We go to the same school – friends. We both don’t like our maths teacher – friends. She also wants to have a pony – friends. I remember how I met my oldest friend: I was sitting on the pavement, she came along and sat down next to me. 30 years later, we are still best friends. How easy, huh? And how often does that happen to you in grown-up life?

Later, we become a little more particular, but as long as we share the same kind of lifestyle, it’s a done deal.

Bride-to-be (center) and friends share a toast...

Bride-to-be (center) and friends share a toast at a bachelorette party (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She is also single and lives in my neighbourhood – friends. She likes the same movies, the same kind of music, the same bars – friends.

But I find that at a certain age, it is getting more and more difficult. So why is that?

I believe it has something to do with the image we want to create of ourselves. I noticed that (and I used to do the same) whenever we meet new people, everything about their life is perfect. Their relationship – happy. Their job – fulfilling. Their financial status – carefree. We all strive to project this flawless commercial image of ourselves as if admitting that something in our life lacks perfection, makes us less loveable. We believe, that success in whatever area is the only measure for our personality. Thus, our conversations become meaningless. It is quite honestly boring. Because, come on, whose life is that perfect? Who is happy 365 days a year and 24 hours a day? Whose marriage is plain sunshine all the time? And whose job is non-stop fun and excitement and highly paid at the same time?

Only after a while when we know the other person a little better and we start to trust her or him, we reveal what really makes us us. Unfortunately, very often we are deprived of that opportunity after sharing meaningless and shallow details about our oh so perfect life – and by this losing our very personal touch.

I find that I establish the most valuable contacts when I don’t shy away from sharing who I am. And sometimes, it is amazing to see how other people open up and all of a sudden, become so much more complex. In the end, what do we have to lose? If someone doesn’t like us the way we are, it is better to know straight away and to move on. Precious time can be saved. And true, long-lasting friendships can be forged!