be family to your friends

On being family to your friends

Our Easter Feast – friends of seven nationalities who have become family…

I’ve lived outside of my home country for the last seven and a half years. And before that there was also a gap year overseas and a study abroad year. So I’m getting used to being away from everything British. (Also the fact that I seem to have completely lost my English accent and somehow picked up a mid-Atlantic mix of American, South African and Irish makes me feel even further removed from the homeland…)

I like living overseas in many ways. I like living as an immigrant, exploring these new places, figuring out how things work, learning to embrace the local culture and lifestyle. And the food!

But there is lots that is hard about being far away from home and your family. Suddenly you can’t ask the normal people for advice because they have no idea how to submit a Luxembourgish tax return or claim back your medical costs. You can’t call your mum from the supermarket about recipe ingredients because everything is named different and why the heck is the cottage cheese not next to the fromage frais and what exactly is sour cream called in French anyway? Your Dad is not around to help hang pictures on walls and you miss all the family gatherings because an airfare is just too expensive for one oh-so-wonderful day.

You experience an element of this if you’re just far away from family in the same country. But there’s a whole second level of loss experienced when you’re dealing with a different language, different culture, different social structure.

And when you throw a new baby into the mix? It’s just hard.

A year before I even got pregnant with Kaya, I wrote a mini series on “embracing life as an expat” and I said how important it was to be family to your friends.

I am doubly sure of that now.

Your friends become family when they buy you oil for your pregnant belly and raspberry leaf tea from that one shop in town. They become family when they send you long lists of links to the best shops to buy a pushchair over the border in Germany and the facebook groups you can score the second hand bargains. They become family when they throw you a beautiful baby shower that makes you want to cry (not just because of the hormones). They become family when they bring you meals three times a week for the first TWO MONTHS after the baby is born.

They become family when they knit you baby blankets and dresses and shower her with kisses and cuddles. They become family when they write her a card for Easter even though she’s not big enough to read it yet. They become family when they let you come round spontaneously just to cry over how hard it all is. They become family when they happily translate all the commune paperwork and tell you what you need to do in plain English. They become family when they let you borrow dresses for you and your little girl for the wedding you have to go to.

We become family to each other by just being a loyal presence in each others lives. And in an immigrant context that looks like going out of your way to welcome the stranger, remembering that it was once you.

It’s why I make park dates with mamas I just met who looked a little lost. It’s why I lent out our baby swing to our pregnant neighbour and helped her find people to buy second hand baby clothes from. It’s why I always sign up to take meals to the new mamas and sick people if it’s at all possible.

It’s why I’ll always say yes if someone emails me through my blog and says “I’m new here, I don’t know anyone. Can we meet?” It often feels like a stretch, to be honest. But I know how absolutely vital it is to my well being to feel connected. And so if I have the chance to connect someone else in to this community I was in turn brought into? I don’t turn it down.

It’s a practice I hope I’ll remember to take with me even if I one day end up “home” in the UK. Because there’s nothing more lonely than being in a new place with no one to call. And there’s nothing more wonderful than feeling welcomed in to a family.