The folks you meet living abroad can be a mixed bag of nuts. Most are sane and sober, fun to be around, and generally good company. Others have issues, are clearly fleeing from their past demons, and make you wonder how they ever passed a background check. Meeting all of them, in all their various shades and personalities, is part of the experience of life abroad which should not be neglected. Being a hermit is no fun but if you happen to be abroad, take note of four types of friends that are worth keeping and four others that might be best left behind.
FOUR TO MAKE
Meeting someone who was once in your shoes but navigated their way through the expat transition is a great resource. They’ve been inconvenienced by the fine print you failed to read and generally have realistic expectations about life in your new home. Whether you want to get a local driver’s license or find your favorite treat from back home, they are usually the go-to person and can show you the ropes in the process.
Everyone needs a local resident friend for a variety of sticky situations you may encounter. Sometimes, the job is simple, like needing a translator or negotiating a reasonable buying price, but more than this, a friend who is a native of your new home can introduce you to a world that can be difficult to access without them. Invitations to their family or communal gatherings can give you cultural insight and teach you how to relate to your new neighbors. Many sincere people with good intentions have offended others or embarrassed themselves in cross-cultural interactions, and a reliable local friend can help to keep both to a minimum.
Whether you’ve suffered a headache or heartbreak, a nurturing presence can help you make it through. They bring you soup when you’re sick or pick up small gifts to make you smile and generally brighten your greyest days. After birthing my first child abroad, I was grateful to have stand-in family members visit me with gifts, cook food for our family and offer to clean our home. Their gestures helped smooth out a challenging transition, and these are the kinds of friends everyone needs in their life.
Finding a companion to enjoy your favorite hobby, pastime, or quirky indulgence with is a great ally in living abroad. While nature lovers almost always want a buddy to hike, climb, or snorkel with, even introverts can appreciate a friend or two who shares the same interests like reading, cooking, or watching episodes of your favorite sitcom series. In my little town, we’ve formed a Raw Food Club. We meet monthly to share new raw recipes and enjoy a raw meal together. While some of us have nothing else in common with each other, it’s still great to have a common point of connection that we all benefit from.
FOUR TO BREAK
This is the grumpy expat who has nothing positive to say about anything, ever. They complain about work, the weather, and everything in between. They don’t like locals or expats, going out or staying in. They can’t be pleased, and they’ll only bring you down with their gloom-and-doom outlook on life. Living away from home is difficult enough without the perpetual grey-tint the pessimist will add to the sunniest of days. Try to keep them at a distance, unless you’re planning an optimistic intervention.
Oh, the dreaded parasite. Even when you don’t have money, fame, or resources that anyone would want to extract, the parasite will mine your very being, draining your emotional and spiritual reserves bone-dry. They are always taking and never giving in their presence and will ultimately leave your battery empty. Watch for them carefully and don’t let them sink their fangs into your skin. The Middle Ages are over and blood-letting by leeches is no longer the cure-all, okay?
This special somebody is always plotting something. They can’t seem to follow the rules, no matter what the circumstances may be. If this rabble-rouser wants to keep your company, be prepared for a penalty: a night in jail, being kicked out of an establishment, or public shame. Even silly, innocent pranks have turned into avoidable melees. They get a kick out of telling outrageous stories, taking taboo pictures, and just generally being a nuisance. If you want to keep your image and repute in good standing, let the risk-taker paint the town red without you.
Unlike the Parasite, the BFF seeker is not trying to drain all that you’ve got but rather trying to bond the two of you in permanence. They make clever suggestions like matching tattoos, becoming roommates, and opening IRAs together. They’re usually innocent in their pursuit, but if you’re not in the market or on the market for being that one soul-mate-type friend that has to be anything and everything the other friends wants and needs, you might be in trouble. Research suggests that it’s harder to find a best friend after your twenties
. Mostly because people become more settled in their values and views which makes them more selective about who they befriend. Also, your time and energy may become consumed by familial relationships and obligations. This is all perfectly natural, which is why cultivating a network of friends to serve as a composite best friend may be a more efficient way to build friendships.
The nature of life, especially life abroad, is very transient. People come and go, sometimes without notice, so consider cherishing the friendships you have and what they mean to you at that given time, without a binding condition that the relationship must last ad infinitum. If you do find a friend for life in your travels, that’s great, but be prepared for friendships that may only last for a given season, circumstance, or country. Be open to the dynamic nature of life and let people flow in and out as needed.