Love Thursday: Expat Girlfriends

As I said last week, Cherrye Moore gave me much food for thought in her recent posts.  Well, today, I’m going to try to tackle the subject of what expat girlfriends mean to me.  I encourage you to go first and read her post, as it’s thoughtful and represents a different point of view from what I think mine might be (or maybe not – I won’t be sure until I write it out!)

Cherrye’s question to her readers was this: Why do you think someone would move to a new country and reject any connection to their home? Why would someone choose NOT to be friends with people from their home country?

I’m just going to dive in and see what I come up with.  Join me, won’t you?

As longtime readers know, I split my time between Rome and Montpellier. While Montpellier is my primary residence, Rome is my home; I spend several months a year there thanks to the endlessly patient and infinitely understanding Cal.

My friends in Rome are known to you as the Gay Mafia.  Because I moved to Rome alone, and because I’m not someone who makes new friends easily, I was perfectly happy to allow Marco to invite me into his group of friends, and there I stayed. That single decision defined my experience of living in Italy. I certainly assimilated faster than anyone I know, and I must confess I adored every minute of it.

I’m a selfish person by nature, and I love that my most precious memories of living in Italy are mine and mine alone. Without being able to put everything into a comparative context, I was able to live fully inside every moment and for me, that made all the difference. I didn’t want to meet people who could burst my bubble of Roman love, and shied away from the jaded and self-aware Americans I saw at English-language movies and bookstores.

In the same way I did with Marco in Rome, when I moved here to be with Cal I let him introduce to me to his world; his friends became my friends. And there the similarities end. Whereas in Rome my best friends are all gay Italian men my age, here they are all married English women, a bit older than I am, with children of widely varied ages. (One of the women is Scottish, I’m sure she’d want me to point out.)

Being with these strong, competent, funny women on a regular basis has defined my experience here – and, as in Rome, in the best possible way. I won’t get into exactly how or why, lest I sink into yet another rant about Montpellier; it suffices to say that I have benefitted greatly from having their perspective, both as women and as expats, as part of my world view during this time in my life.

On paper, I share nothing in common with either the Gay Mafia or the Montpel Sisterhood. But they make my life richer and more fully lived, and the bond I share with them is real and unshakable.

So, to answer Cherrye’s questions, I think perhaps the American women whom Cherrye has learned do not want to hang out with their fellow countrywomen simply don’t feel that a shared passport creates an automatic bond, although I can’t say that I have rejected people from my own country outright since moving overseas. I simply don’t feel the need to seek out American women in either city; to me, my American girlfriends are the ones I have in the States – another group of amazing women, for whom an ocean between us means nothing when it comes to our friendship.

One glorious day, when Cal and I move to Rome, he will trundle off in search of expats, as that is how he rolls.  I will be reunited once again with my Gay Mafia.  I sincerely hope I will meet the American “Italy girls” whose blogs I follow and experience the kind of friendship Cherrye values so highly.  I say, bring it on! The more the merrier.

6 thoughts on “Love Thursday: Expat Girlfriends

  1. Interesting point re: not wanting to meet people who could burst your bubble of Rome or Italy. It could be likely you’d meet an American or other English-speaking expat would would speak negatively of the country. On that note, I know many Italians who speak negatively of Italy-so be careful!😉

    Your Montpellier experience sounds similiar, though in that you have expats around you.

    Please keep in mind that MY Italian experience in Calabria is different from expat experiences in Rome or Florence or other large cities in Italy. I’m not joking when I say I know of 10 Americans in all of Calabria. I am sure there are more, but I’ve been here 2 years and have heard of 9 other people from my country. It is much more of a novelty here to meet an American than it was, for example, when I lived in Paris.

    Good post. Thanks for keeping the discussion going.

  2. I think this is definitely a fine line that depends on where you are (like Cherrye) – I find myself even dividing the types of expats I’ll be friends with – if they are just passing through (6mos -1yr), I often don’t bother. It’s such an emotional investment.

  3. I think for us down here, at least, it’s not so much a matter of bonding over a shared passport as bonding over the fact that we are women who like to make new friends and seek out potential relationships–THOSE, unfortunately, aren’t easy to find, or at least they haven’t been for me here.

    I’ve met/corresponded with many English speaking expats that I haven’t actually become (what I consider to be) friends with because we don’t have much in common or we don’t click or whatever, and it’s not worth my time or theirs to try to find something just because we speak the same first language.

    I also think it’s different for those with families; if I had moved here, married with children, I’m not sure I’d have the same interest in what others are experiencing since I’d be so focused on my own family–and I don’t think of that as a bad thing at all, just different.

  4. Very interesting.

    It’s funny there are thousands of Americans in Rome yet the expat world seems so small. Just recently I met someone who seem to know all my expat friends. My friends have been here for years and I notice they are not really interested, like Sara said, in becoming close to someone who is just passing through. This group has really put down roots here.

    One thing I really need to watch out for is not speaking Italian. I work from home (not in an office with Italians) and when I get together with expats we speak English even though all of them are fluent in Italian except for me. My Italian friends have stopped speaking to me in English and I will ask my expat friends to do the same. I can see the language issue as one reason an expat would try not to spend too much time with other expats.

  5. When I lived in the Middle East, I steered very, very clear of the expat scene because, with few exceptions, we were living completely different lives. I was an expat, but on a local salary – no housing included, no driver, no housekeeper, no six figure salary. They were so far removed from my real life, I knew I couldn’t deal with it. That being said, so were a lot of the locals with a lot of money, and I didn’t roll with them either. And the younger expat Americans — like the students — would stick out so much, while I could blend in (I always want so desperately to blend in in foreign countries) that I just made a few local friends and stuck with them.

    Through a few odd circumstances, though, and because life is ironic like that, I made the four friends – all American expat women – that I am still close with. War in Lebanon sent one into my life; a terrible job sent another two; and family connections sent me a second cousin I had never met and now adore. All down to earth, creative, spontaneous, broke expat non-students who get adrenaline rushes off of getting extra pages glued into our passports.

    I got what I wasn’t looking for and I’m so grateful for that.

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