Each time we move, I am confronted with the task of re-identifying myself. What does your husband do? Where are you from? What ages are your children? These are the questions polite people ask. If you get beyond these, then you start to cover territory like: school, common interests, backgrounds. Of course if you get that far, then for all intents and purposes, you’re friends.
In some cases I’ve managed to make a friend in less than five minutes. For example, one woman I met in downtown Lidingo heard my English and stopped me…I was new, she’d been here a year, she had three kids, I have four, blah, blah blah…before five minutes were up we were exchanging contact information. All we really needed to know is that we both spoke English—right then and there a friendship was born.
As luck would have it, a week later we discovered her daughter and Micah were in the same class at school. Because of that chance meeting, (or maybe not chance), we both had each other as emergency contacts. Now I get it, three weeks is a little strange for a relationship of trust, but for me moving every two years that’s the norm.
Which got me thinking…about how living abroad brings people of the same culture together, it just does. We all crave something familiar, kids too. I took Maggie to tour a preschool yesterday and it was, let’s just say, very “Swedish.” Unstructured by American standards, the children can choose which of the 7 rooms they want to play in and for how long (don’t you wish we could all live like that?). They had rooms for painting, a colorful room for gymnastics, a large area for games and so on…but Maggie’s favorite room was the “pretend” room. Here you could dress up, work in a play kitchen and wear grown-up shoes! So much fun! Maggie was captivated. Of course she was. It took some prodding to get her to leave but the director said this was normal. “Foreign kids often start off in this room,” she explained, “because it’s familiar. It’s what they know and it reminds them of home.” After a few days, she assured, the children begin to explore other rooms.
Having a “safe base” from which to explore is important for anyone’s psyche, no matter the age. But what I’ve learned is that you’ve got to move out of the “pretend room,” you’ve got to force yourself into places and spaces you might not be comfortable with…hmmm…that’s the tough part. But it’s also fun, right? Trying something new.
When I went to the library to look for materials to learn Swedish I happened across a woman from Australia doing the same thing. We began talking and well, you guessed it, we’re friends now. We exchanged numbers and a few days later she and some other English speakers met for Fika, (the Swedish term for going out for a snack/coffee/tea). It was lovely. The six of us couldn’t stop talking. Suddenly all of the stories I’ve told a million times were interesting again and my jokes were funny (and my jokes are never funny). The food was eaten and our drinks gone, but none of us wanted to leave. I think that day we each, in our own way, stepped out to explore, gave something new a chance. It always feels like a risk, but it shouldn’t. It’s been proven to me time and time again, we’re all more alike than different. We each have something to offer and something to learn. That’s how we grow. It’s only when we venture, that something is gained.