Saying goodbye is one of the most difficult things about expat life. In fact, I’ve written in the past about how I never say goodbye – it’s always ‘see you later’ or ‘au revoir.’
But however you phrase it, parting is always sweet sorrow. The happiness that your paths crossed. The sadness that you are no longer going to be seeing each other every day. That this friendship has so much more mileage in it…but now it’s going to be interrupted by thousands of miles.
So, what’s the upside?
So far so crappy, right?
The upside is ‘re-bonjour’ aka hello again! The absolute joy of reconnecting with friends from different places, and knowing that you made good on that ‘see you later.’
This summer has been full of re-bonjouring. It has been balm for my soul. A summer of love.
It’s nearly seven years since we left the UK for our ‘two year overseas assignment’ (sound familiar?!). Bangkok was our first expat adventure and we made some incredible friends. We then moved to Germany…and our friends stayed in Asia.
Cue some serious FOMO on my part. Settling into a new country is never easy, but I think it’s especially hard when you loved your last location and the friends you had there. And at first Germany seemed so, well, pedestrian compared to the crazy pace of Bangkok. I missed my life there; the excitement, the weather, the food…and my friends. Who were all still able to meet up. Without me.
Yes, I hear you, tiny violins. Poor old me. But honestly, when you first move I think it’s a good idea to give social media a swerve. Seeing a newsfeed filled with friends – going to your favourite places and doing all the stuff you loved – while you wander around an empty house, ignoring the cartons of boxes waiting to be unpacked and doing your best Bridget Jones ‘All By Myself’ rendition is NOT good for your heart or your mind. Stop the scrolling, start the unpacking. (Ok tiny violins, you can stop now. This is a happy blog post).
Fast forward two moves and finally the stars aligned; in July all four of my Bangkok besties (plus families) convened in Paris. We were all only together in Bangkok for one year. But, you guessed it, it was like five minutes had passed, not five years.
The passage of time was marked by the children; my friends looked just as wonderful as they did five years ago. But the kids! The eight year olds we used to splash with in the pool are now teenagers, taller than me. The baby of the group is seven and smart as a whip. What I loved about it is how they essentially hadn’t changed – sure, they were taller, more grown up. But the personalities were how I remembered. And it did make me feel emotional…these were children we saw every day. These were the kids we’d take turns doing the school runs with. That we holidayed with. That would come and sit on my lap for a cuddle when the heat got too much. I did worry – for a fraction of a second – that they would think I was some weird crazy old lady who knew all about them when they couldn’t remember me. And I’m pretty sure they did think that, but there was an ease in the connection that shows that the bonds we make are real. The youngest of the group didn’t remember me at all. But she held my hand and chatted to me non-stop. Which shows all those cuddles paid off, right?
And then the other upside is this. Your friends live somewhere else. Which means that you get to explore ‘somewhere else’ with them.
But vacation days and monetary funds are limited.
So the second part of our ‘re-bonjouring’ was in the US. I’m not sure that this is a holiday we would have done if it weren’t for our friends living there and opening up their homes to us. And I know for certain that it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as fabulous and special without them.
First stop New York with friends from the UK. Well, we met them when they’d returned from the UK after living in Australia and before we moved to Bangkok and they left for the US. Our husbands worked together and, at the time, my friend I were both pregnant. We joked that our husbands were having a romantic gap year, travelling the world together (which they pretty much did – ok the romance was our invention, I hope, but still…they did manage to have fun along with the work) while we were left behind bringing up baby. Now they have three babies, who are no longer babies. But it was just like stepping back into a comfort zone. It helps that my friend talks almost as much as I do. And we’re both called Rebecca. And we’re both Geminis. It was meant to be, right?!
Now while I could bore you with all the details of our holiday, I won’t. Ok I will, just a little bit more. Indulge me…
We spent the rest of our time in the Carolinas with forever friends we made in Germany. Again, it was just so…easy. Not a surprise, really, as this is my ‘sister-wife’ we’re talking about; our husbands were away so much that we considered starting a commune. Our kids got on so well that one of them had the bright idea of us getting married, so they could be siblings and we could all live together (I love how her brain works; it’s never boring around this kid). She was my everyday-friend. As in, we say each other every day. Our friendship was as warm and comfortable as a favourite sweater. And yes, I did feel a bit colder, a bit more exposed when we moved and my everyday life didn’t have her in it.
This was so much more than just a holiday. I loved getting a snapshot of our friends’ lives, lived in places I never thought I’d visit. You know – the ‘beware alligators’ signs. The local outdoor pools (come on France, we need some!). Their favourite ice cream parlour. The restaurants they love to visit. The local grocery store (I can’t be the only one who loves visiting grocery stores in different countries?!). How, like a dropped thread, we picked the conversation up again and carried right on.
When we left the UK seven years ago saying goodbye to family and friends broke my heart. And all the goodbyes thereafter have been really hard.
We all know the quote: ‘Good friends are like stars. You may not always see them, but they are always there.’
But unlike stars, good expat friends can be visited. It may not be easy. It may take some saving, a lot of planning, blowing all your air miles, or putting twenty people up in your house (thank god the kids were happy to crash on the floor…on bean bags…on yoga mats!) but the effort will be worth it.
So if your heart is heavy right now with expat goodbyes, after leaving friends or having friends leave you, remember that for every au revoir there can always be a re-bonjour.