SWF, English/Spanish bilingual seeking friends for laughter, serious talks, impromptu trips to the coast, the central valley and silly-item shopping (getting lost optional), academic pursuits, patience, rollerblading, bicycling and long walks a plus. I particularly enjoy long conversations about expat life, language, families, photography and the occasional dishing on acquaintances not present. Overnights optional.
It’s that time again, folks. The great gringa diaspora continues.
I have faced this difficult transition several times already, and plainly put, it’s what happens when you have expat friends, and when you let your guard down and generar lazos (make connections with) people even though even the worst of crystal ball readers would know that it is most likely that they will one day leave.
When I tell my Chilean friends that I can’t do something “por que tengo una despedida” (because I’ve got a farewell party) they say “de soltera?” (farewell to singledom-is your friend getting married?). And I say no, “del país” (from the country). And they say, “pero vuelve, cierto“? (But they’ll be back, right?)
This idea that the main thing you say goodbye to is your bachelor days and that if you leave, you’re sure to come back are pretty telling. People in Chile love it when folks get hitched, and also really enjoy the party that goes with it. It’s also because the great proportion of Chileans that leave on their own free will have plans to one day come back.
When I had my first stint of physical therapy here in Chile after the great shoulder range of motion reduction accident of 2004, I got to talking to Marcela, my physical therapist. With my fairly limited Spanish, we’d trade anecdotes, and I learned from her, as she had a new baby, both the words for crawl and babble (gatear and balbucear, respectively). And she learned from me that I had moved to Chile and had no family here. And instead of writing it down in a small lined notebook, as I did with my new information, she looked at me, shook her head from side to side so as to make it not so, and said, “me muero, te juro que me muero” (I would die, I swear I would die).
I think this is how alot of people feel about Chile. This is where you belong. It’s where the food tastes homey and everything feels compact and correct. You don’t have your heart spread over a continent, or between continents. For the most part, your family is public transportation or car or bike or walk accessible. The butter melts on the fresh-from-the-oven marraqueta, and your mother makes the best pebre, and if you stir the nescafe and the sugar together with a small amount of water in the bottom of the cup in just the right, scrapey way before adding the rest of the water, the coffee comes out better.
People come back to Chile, they say. And many times, they do. At a friend’s recent despedida at my house, another friend of hers who is here studying, said that she’d go back to the states, to finish up her degree and then… And then I said, if you follow the pattern of many a gringo, you’ll come back here to live for a while. And we all laughed.
For a while. In general, the gringos come for a while. And this coming weekend, two of “my” gringas are leaving. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel pretty sad about it. A Chilena friend of mine said to me, “but you’ll see them again, you travel” (and one of them is moving close to my mother’s new house). And I said, I’m sure I’ll see them again, but to me, they belong here.
Except they don’t. They belong in Arizona and North Carolina, absorbing information, writing papers, studying and hanging out in their first language, relearning a culture that may have changed in the past oh, four or eight years since they last lived there. They will go to family weddings and hold nieces and pet old dogs and do a million things that it’s just time for them to do.
I started off this post with a jokey classified ad saying I was looking for new friends. But that’s only partially true. I have a great bunch of people here, Chilean and not, who will get lost with me and rollerblade and bike with me, and go great distances to see things that ultimately aren’t even really that interesting, and listen to my fallas gramaticales (grammar mistakes) and only correct me sometimes. And I hope they’ll understand that it’s not that I love them any less, but that I’m really going to miss these two friends, who I’ve seen through, and have seen me through (even unknowingly) some pretty important stuff.
Bon Voyage, chicas. Que les vaya bien. Y que vuelvan, aunque sea para puro visitar. Lo mas probable es que esté acá (Hope everything turns out great. Please come back, even just for a visit. I’ll probably still be here).
Excellent post Eileen–and oh so very true! As expats we have great opportunities to meet wonderful people–whether locals or other expats, but we also need to learn to let go more easily than those who put their roots down in one place. The bittersweet reality of expat life…
That is one of the toughest things being a long-term expat, getting attached to people and then seeing them go. But I suppose it happens everywhere, not just with expats. You sort of hope that certain people will be around forever but eventually they move on with their lives. Even though it’s difficult we should just be thankful that we had the opportunity to share those moments with them.
yep, Rob, it’s hard. It was hard in Washington, DC, because it’s a very transient place, but I find it a bit harder here. I now understand why long-term expats were loath to open their circles when I first got here. It’s easier to leave than to be left, but both are a bit jarring. And yes, I’m all for enjoying people while they’re here!
This post made me misty eyed, both because that’s the way I roll, and because of my recent trip eastward to see the people from whom I departed. As much as I love my new home, and know it was the right move for me and my family, I’m wistful over old friends whose lives have continued in my absence (as mine has, as well…) and whose kids have gotten bigger, pets have been added to, houses have been renovated, all without me there.
See you soon! (and maybe one day even in Chile!!!)
Thanks Margaret, it’s a difficult change, but then, I’m just change-averse (unless self-introduced). At least I know they’ll be happy where they’re going.
And yes, Michelle, it’s hard to keep two lives going, here and there. You’ll change and they’ll change. It’s hard, but not insurmountable. And in the end, it makes us feel. Which is tremendously better than the alternative.
Thanks to you both!
Excellent post! It’s a sad reality that’s been pretty tough for me. Unlike you, I don’t really have a group of friends & the ones I did have, the ones I am sure I clicked with pretty much have all left in the last three years I’ve been here. I echo your sentiments & appreciate how you put it out there. Funny, I’ve never met Abby but through following her online, I too weirdly feel she just “belongs” in Chile!
thanks for popping in, Andrea. I don’t really have a “group” of friends so much as I have a pretty broad social circle. There a few that tend to pool together to form a grouplet from time to time, but I’m more of a one-on-one kind of pal, anyway. I’m very happy for Abby (and my other friend, Cari) for the futures they’re raveling (as opposed to unraveling) for themselves, but the confluence of factors, and the particular relationships I have with these two women make this a bit of a sucker-punch.
Also, isn’t it funny how easy it is to feel like people are friends here? I mean, I don’t think you and I have ever even met 🙂
I’m an expat in Germany & I’ve only just started making friends here. The city we live in is a college town so lots of people leave. The closest friend I’ve made here so far is from Spain (she wanted to practice her English, I wanted to practice my Spanish…yes, in Germany) & she’s lived here for 5 years. But when she finishes her program & starts looking for a job, who knows where she will end up. It was hard enough saying good-bye to my friends in the States, I’m not sure how I’ll deal with the constant send-offs like what you’re experiencing in Chile.
Hi Ali, first time you’ve commented (I think). The revolving door on friends in a college town and expat life has to be a double whammy. But what to do? Turn away friends because they won’t stay? Unthinkable. I’m too social of an animal. So I take the bumps in the road, and write about them. And sometimes make Abby cry. (sorry abby!)
Leaving Chile is so hard…two years later I still look back at it and wonder if I’ll ever make it back down. Sometimes I even want to live there again. Making ex-pat friends was hard and I felt the pain of the cycles of friends leaving and having to find more friends. But all in all I would do it again in a heartbeat.
The universe is nothing if not a mischief of coincidence. I’m off in a little over two months to try my hand at being an expat in London for a bit. Where I have no long term aim of staying, and every bit a desire to return home afterwards – though perhaps for different reasons. Butter here is a real pain in the ass to spread.
Also, your opening lines have now indelibly scarred me with recollections of the Pet Shop Boys. So I feel I should return the favour 🙂
I know you’ll find this hard to believe, Richard, but I have never heard that song! And wow, has it been that long since we’ve spoken? Last we spoke you were still in South Africa! I hope London gives you what you need and doesn’t take anything you’re not ready to part with. It’s a strange life. Hugs to you and yours!
I know what you say and maybe even how you feel. I have been left behind by very good friends because they moved out of Norway. Although I have also done it to other people, since I already left an expat circle when I decided to move from the US to Norway. What can I say? It is hard both ways. I think, that as I wrote to Abby on her blog, it is better to swallow the bullet and move on.
Now, I can guarantee you with 90% of certainty that most Chileans that have left Chile will come back to Chile one day. If not because family ties are very tight, is because after looking around and satisfying the curiosity of seeing the world, one realizes that, even with all the problems there are in Chile, it is a pretty good country to live in. In my case I still have too much snow still to be skied here in Norway before moving back to Chile, but it will happen some day in the future. At least it is in my plans to go back to Chile in the future to live there. We have been talking with my girlfriend about trying Chile for a couple of years before making any decisions, so that is on the list and waiting to be scheduled!
Sorry you’ve been through it too, Carlos. I guess we all have! And thanks for corroborating that most Chileans will come back to Chile. Not only is it a good place to live, but it’s really where Chileans feel most at home. Which is not to be taken lightly. I always enjoy your comments, so thanks for popping by!
Heads up Eileen! Sure you’ll see them again. And as far as friend matters, you don’t seem to be running low! It was really cool meeting you the other day, and I’m still waiting your ideas on the graphics 🙂
I know! graphics ideas. I’m meeting with my artistic friend who is going to help me brainstorm a bit, I hope. Then I can get back to you. It was awesome to meet you. In spite of the occasional sarcasm, I really like people. It’s sad to see some go, but yes, somewhere we will run into each other again!
It’s a constant pain in the butt making good friends and then they leave to go back home. Lot’s of good “despedidas” though and many more people to visit once you’ve won the lottery and can travel the world again!
I know, why do they do that? I guess it’s called moving on. Yes, there are many places to go and people to see. And stories to write to make the money to make the travel to see the friends to write the stories. It all comes back to telling stories for me, doesn’t it?
Wonderful post…it was very heartfelt, and I really knew what you were talking about. One of those “Yep….mmhmmm….that’s so true…!” posts. Thanks Eileen!
thanks for popping in. Yeah, it’s a rough one, that people leaving thing! good thing we have all these social networks to keep us going!
Now I have an opening too! And my circle wasn’t even that big to begin with. I might hang out with you more just to make sure I am not the one getting dished on. jaja, kidding, if only my life were that interesting.
You can come hang out anytime! I anticipate more pleasure bike riding in the spring! Remember the spring, with the sunshine? So lovely!