No matter in which language you do this, it is a bitch. And if you are living the expat life, then it is something that you have to doÂ occasionally. I have had acquaintances come and go but today was the first time I have said farewell to a true friend. And it hurts.
So I did what I do when I hurt. I baked. I cried. I drank wine. And I sat down to write.
While I pounded the dough for the pizza we shall eat later, I considered this side of expat life. The side that no one tells you about, when they extol the fantastic lifestyle, the mind-broadening experiences, the fun and the glamour of life as an expat in Geneva. The side of expat life to which my American friend would say, “this sucks big time”.
In a city like Geneva, where over 45% of the population are not Swiss nationals, it is easy to find friends. Or at least it is easy to find acquaintances. Finding friends is slightly more difficult. Join one of the many international clubs to meet other people, head out to one of the many city bars, everywhere there is the chance to meet new people.
I recall my first evening in Geneva, when I came alone on a house hunting trip. I sat at a lakeside bar, a teeny glass of white wine in my hands, watching the boats sway gently in the breeze and listening to the soft flow of conversation around me. The United Nations building was just a couple of miles away, and I felt that the international community was all around me. French, German, English, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and dozens of other languages – I heard the babble of a thousand tongues, as I sat there, as wide eyed as a country girl on her first trip to the city.
While I picked the metaphorical straw out of my hair, I wondered at this city. So full of colour and multicultural experiences. I later found the flip side. The slightly staid, very typical Swiss reserve that explains why my French language skills are so bad.
The Swiss, it has to be said, keep themselves to themselves. The expats befriend the expats: very few of us have Swiss friends.
Today, almost 3 years later, I understand their reasoning. The constant flow of arrivals and departures is fun at first, but then you finally make good friends, and they leave after a few years. The Swiss are protecting themselves when they stay aloof and reserved. For living here permanently means that new friends come and go.
And when they go, sometimes the parting is hard. I would have liked to have spent more time in the company of my friend, but we shall have to content ourselves with emails and phone calls. And the promise of a visit in a far off country sometime in the not too distant future.