We all know how important friends are. These are people that we “resonate” with, whom we enjoy spending time with. We meet for lunch, coffee, or a movie; we go on walks together; and sometimes we just enjoy hanging out. Long-time friends have been with us as we have grown and developed, and have witnessed our life journey, as we have witnessed theirs. Good friends are people you rely on for emotional support.
For expats, friendship takes on important additional dimensions.
- Our expat friends are usually people with whom we have a shared language and culture. They are people who understand something about where we have come from—the politics, history, and food. Our friends here in Girona include North Americans, British, and some Catalans and Spaniards with shared interests. Several of our friends don’t speak English and we communicate in Spanish.
- A friend visiting us here said that she would only be friends with people she would be friends with at home. We looked at her with astonishment. Didn’t she know that our pool of potential friends is rather limited here? The good part of this is that we get to know people we probably would not encounter in our social or work circles in the States. The bad part is that it is a somewhat limited pool if you have arcane or unusual interests (dreamwork, felting, geomancy, etc).
- One way we can find potential English-speaking friends is through groups such as Girona Grapevine, which hosts regular MeetUp at coffee shops or other venues. There are also a number of other Girona Meetups for special interests such as writing, sampling local food, and conversation with locals learning English.
- Expats here in Spain share some of the same problems and issues. We often seek advice from our friends and give advice to others about dealing with local bureaucracies, phone companies, internet providers, health care professionals, the Spanish Customs agency, etc. For example, Elyn had a number of her felt artworks shipped from the US for a show here in Girona. They got stopped by Spanish Customs in Madrid, which wanted a “bill of lading” showing the retail value of the items so they could charge customs duty on them. Elyn got nowhere trying to explain that these were her own works of art, so she turned it over to one of our Catalan friends to unravel. It took Cristina over one month to get the package freed from Customs, by which time the pieces were ruined. They had been stored either outdoors or in an unheated, bug infested warehouse in Madrid. Spanish Customs has an infamous reputation.
- The offices that deal with renewing our Spanish residency often present labyrinthian mysteries, particularly for US citizens. Those who have already negotiated the system know that you will need three copies of every document and that photos in certain sizes are required. Government offices never handle cash, so you must take your stamped paperwork to a bank and do a bank transfer to pay up. And, by the way, checkbooks are unknown in Spain.
- As expats we tend to travel more than most locals, and so we have specific needs with regard to mail, package delivery, and apartment security. For example, we are presently holding the keys to several friends’ apartments, and we check their places when they are travelling to make sure that everything is OK. When we travel, we often leave photocopies of our residency IDs and a letter giving a friend permission to pick up items at the post office for us. The post office holds packages for a maximum of two weeks, and often we are on the road for longer periods of time.
The advice of friends has been a precious resource for us as we became familiar with our new surroundings, and we have returned the favor on numerous occasions. Friendships abroad are a kind of safety network and mutual support system. “So, we get by with a little help from our friends . . .”