After publishing my previous post I had an email chat with my friend Andrea and somewhere during the conversation she typed the phrase “expat persona”.
Now if I was Oprah I would say that was a “lightbulb moment” but I’m not Oprah (duh!) so I will say that it crystallised my thoughts on expat friendships and why I’ve struggled with them.
I think to a certain extent expats are acting, or putting on a brave face. We (and I absolutely do this myself) erect an artifice of “expat life is so great!” and “it’s such a great opportunity for the kids!”, while inside all the negatives of expat life lay unspoken. No-one puts voice to just how hard expat living is and no amount of pre-move cultural training or reading of books can quite prepare you for the reality of living in an environment where very little is familiar. We all carry on with our struggles contained inside our heads, plastering a smile on our dial when we leave the house and never EVER mention our internal dilemmas when speaking to friends and family at home, out of fear of burdening them.
So the friendship barrier I feel I’ve encountered here is, I believe, the protective wall we build around ourselves in public.
Whilst I can’t change other people’s behaviour/coping mechanisms I can change my own so I plan to let my “happy expat persona” drop every now and then.
(PS: Just so you all know – I’m fine! I’m not down in the doldrums – although I was a few weeks ago – this is just my observations and internal thoughts on what I’ve noticed whilst trying to make friends here!)