Five reasons why being new is a good thing

Being new anywhere – new school, new neighbourhood, new job, new country – they all come with the same set of doubts and fears, where, given enough time to think about it, you end up creating your own dystopian fantasy of a friendless, soulless void in which you fail in your quest to ever find a way to laugh again. Generally speaking though, this is not how it goes. A few minutes/days/weeks of feeling like the village idiot and sooner or later you find your way in. Still, it can be a stressful and lonely time getting there. So I’ve been thinking about why it’s good to be new, and why you should celebrate it.

  1. You get to pick your friends. As I get older (and a little bit wiser), I realise it’s okay not to be friends with everyone you meet. There’s no need to be rude, but you don’t have to add to your circle if you don’t want to – and being new is the ideal time to be picky in order to avoid those awkward moments later where you wished you’d never engaged in a friendship you have absolutely no interest in pursuing. It’s. Okay. You are not a bitch. You just don’t gel with that person, and in truth they probably feel the same way. If you start out by being discerning, you can go about your life safe in the knowledge that you aren’t going to have to go for coffee/drinks/dinner with anyone you don’t want to, and neither are they. Win win.
  2. You get to pick your friends. Friends that reflect who you are now, rather than who you were when you were 27. This is not to say there’s no value in those friends – of course they are part of your make up, part of you. But we tend to see our friends as ageless things, as the people we met and loved for who they were at that time. Even with friendships that go the distance, we don’t always help them to nurture the thing they want to become, or have become. New friends = new you. If you tell your new friends you are a writer, for example, they believe you, and accept you as a writer, want to know about you as a writer. (And hopefully even offer to pay you as one, or at the very least introduce you to someone who can. No job too small. Reasonable rates. See my website for details). Also you get to expand your world, by meeting new, vibrant people who stimulate and energise you. Being new, and meeting new people because of that, is a way to reinvent, reinvigorate and revive parts of you that old friends and family cannot reach.
  3. You can ditch things about your life you don’t like and add in new things that you do. Like, say you’re on the PTA at your school, but you really don’t want to do it anymore. Guilt goes a long way. When you’re new, you can just not do it. (Of course, this has never happened to me). Or, vice versa. You can join a gym, get a new hobby, stop smoking, learn to cook, throw your millennial kids out of the house finally – anything really. Routine is the devil’s work, and being new means you get a window of opportunity to get out of whatever rut you previously found yourself in.
  4. You have the chance to evaluate your life. Being new means you left somewhere, to get to the new place. It’s a brilliant time to take stock of what’s important to you – family, career, marriage, health – and refocus on those things.
  5.  It makes you a stronger person. Being new anywhere is hard. It takes guts. But when you look back after a week, six weeks, six months, you realise you’ve achieved more than you thought you ever could. And suddenly, you’re not new anymore.
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New Girl in a Small World

I’m standing like the proverbial spare one at a wedding, clutching my iphone and gazing intently at the screen to hide the fact that I’m feeling just a little bit redundant and a tad insecure. People chat all around me, clutching babies and laughing and asking how the holidays went. Yep, it’s my son’s first week at a new school, and I’m back to a social square one. I don’t know the system, I don’t know the teachers, I don’t know anyone. And it’s a parent assembly today, so everyone is gathered in the foyer waiting to be allowed in to see their little ones show off their Easter hats and wondering if they did a good enough job with the eggs and straw and feather boas. (They did, by the way. I think I’m going to have to raise my game in the creative mum department). I hover near the mum I met briefly at drop off yesterday, who’s chatting to a larger group; I keep hoping she’ll notice me as I don’t really feel brave enough to just go and stand with them. I give myself a mental slap. Seriously. I’m nearly 40 years old, I’ve lived here for eight years, I go onstage every other week in front of complete strangers and I’m still as bad at making friends as ever.

But I’m saved from having to chastise myself any further because – magically – she does notice me, and introduces me to the crowd standing around. I instantly forget everyone’s names, except all the dads appear to be called Ian which is a result. But I warm to all of them and the tiniest bit of confidence begins to flow through me. I chat, briefly, and we establish who belongs to which child, before we are ushered into the hall for assembly. I sit next to one of the women, and we start to ask the usual questions. Our conversation feels strangely comfortable for two women who’ve never met before. ‘Where are you from in the UK?’ I ask. Turns out her hometown is about 20 miles from mine. Honestly, you can take the girl out of Essex, but you’ll always know when you meet one. It’s a humour thing, I think. Well I hope it is, because I’m just about to crack a joke. ‘You don’t sound like you come from Essex,’ I say. ‘Neither do you’ she replies and we smile. I suggest we can both relax and ‘get our Basildon on’ and she laughs, and suddenly – just like that – I’m not alone anymore.

Being at a new school is good for me – it makes me feel like I just arrived in Dubai all over again and reminds me to be a better, kinder person to the ones who are really new to the whole expat business. I might feel lonely for twenty minutes of a new school run but the rest of the day is filled with calls, emails and meetings with the friends I’ve made over the years here. I remember when the school run was the only part of the day I spoke with anyone, and how important it was. And it still is. I’m excited to add to my circle of friends at a time of year when traditionally I’m saying goodbye to them, excited to fill a bit more of my life with new company, to get to know them and become friends. I just hope my little boy settles in too, and isn’t left standing too long in the metaphorical foyer either, before someone helps him find his feet. But something tells me he’ll be just fine.

 

Friends and farewells

I’ve been really lucky in the past seven years. Whilst I’ve said goodbye to a few people here and there, friends have tended to drift in and out of my life as circumstances have changed, rather than be ripped from my side and onto a plane, never to be seen again. However, my time has come. This week sees me saying farewell to my oldest (okay, second oldest) and best friend in Dubai, and I am so very, very sad to see her go after so many shared years.

Good friends – really good friends, that know you and understand you  and are committed to you – are hard to come by in expatland. That’s not to say she’s been consistently brilliant – sometimes she’s been downright lousy lol… But like friends anywhere, that’s not always the thing that matters. Our friendship is about our similarities, our personalities, who we are, who we have grown into. Our shared love of laughter and honesty and housewifery skills bordering on Stepford territory. Our tendency to bury our head in the sand and close up the doors in times of personal crisis instead of asking for help or support. Our mutual experience of arriving in Dubai and making it our home. The importance, above all else, of our children.

English: Glass of White Wine shot with a bottl...

I suppose I’ll have to drink the damn thing by myself now… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I admire my friend and am proud of the woman she has grown into during the time we have known eachother. She has made wonderful friends and a beautiful home and ‘kept it real’ for her children, who are the least expat brat-like kids you will ever meet. Her Dubai journey is a different one from mine, but no less arduous. Despite the many things that have shaped her in the past seven years, in many ways she leaves as she arrived – a willowy, determined, vivacious woman who can’t take her liquor. She has never deviated from her Aussie down-to-earth no-BS attitude and is always the person who will make me laugh, make me feel comfortable, make me feel loved.

We were talking a few weeks ago about leaving (trying not to cry) and the thing she fears most about going home is not fitting in. Ironically the very thing we feared when we arrived in Dubai. Only I think going ‘home’ is worse, because as much as we haven’t changed, there are ways in which we have, irreversibly, far more than we realise at the time. I can see the attraction now, of moving ‘on’ rather than ‘back’. We are simply not the same as when we left and it’s hard to start over in a place where your brain tells you, you shouldn’t have to. Things are the same, yet different. We have seen and done things our family, friends and neighbours will never see, and we have done it alone, often without their support or guidance. We have coped with stress of being away from all that is loved and familiar, beyond the realms of many people’s imagination. As someone with childhood friends who have inexplicably ended up scattered to the four corners of the earth at one time or another, I can say with some confidence that expats the world over share this common experience, this perilous journey; to have to make your home somewhere else in the world, and then go home again. (Or not… It is never an easy or obvious choice.)

My friend will leave for Brisbane next week. And I will eventually leave for London. Of course we always knew it would happen and have often joked about who would manage to get out of here first. The chances of us seeing each other again are slim, although I hope that we will. If we do, it will be different again. Our lives will move on and we will make new friends in our new homes and reacquaint with old ones and we will use these new relationships to cope with the struggle to reintegrate. But no-one can replace the good friends you make as an expat, which is what makes returning home so daunting – on that side of the journey, they won’t be there to meet, or make friends with. And often, other expats are the only ones who ‘get it’ – who understand just what you are feeling – on the way in, while you are there, and, I’m pretty certain, on the way out as well.

So I can only wish for her what I wish for myself one day: that the landing will be soft, and that one day in the not too distant future she happens to meet a friend of a friend who suggests a glass of wine in a local bar; they talk and laugh and the company feels like putting on a pair of old shoes – familiar and comfortable. She once wrote me a card which said “you made it ‘home’ for me”. Well ditto, my lovely friend. It won’t be the same without you. x