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We are currently 74 days away from packing up our lives and moving to our 4th country in 5, well almost 6 years. I often reflect back on my naivety when we left NZ and I am incredibly thankful for it. Had I known how hard that first 6 months was going to be I’m pretty confident I wouldn’t have done it. The excitement of living in a foreign country has the ability to overshadow the sacrifices that inevitably have to be made. But nothing prepared me for beginning life in Europe, it was a major shock to the system leaving not only the security of life as I knew it but the family support around us, my friends, my routines, comforts, local knowledge, everything.
You take for granted little things like understanding how recycling and rubbish works, how to get the internet and phone on, figuring out how school enrolments work, driving on the other side of the road in some countries, public transport, different food brands, the stunning views like Rangitoto that I would pass every day without even looking some days, pre-school options etc etc etc.
In Europe, the end of the rugby season coincides roughly with the start of the school summer holidays which is the absolute hardest thing for me. This means finding where the best indoor / outdoor play areas are, figuring out how to do the grocery shopping, where the best coffee is (a must for this caffeine addict), sourcing stuff for the house that we left behind because I thought it would be easy enough to find when we got there – usually has to be done in the summer with all kids in tow. Usually I won’t know a single soul in the city, apart from hubby who works long hours at the start of a new job. France will obviously be the most challenging as I don’t speak the language….yet! So, moving to France will see me entertaining 3 kids for 12 weeks before the school year starts in September eeeekkkkk.
My strategy will be to rely on the foreign wives and partners that are already at the club – I’ll be putting my nicest smile on and hounding them on where to go and how to do it, or say it! I plan on throwing myself into the language even if it will be pigeon at best. I want to meet local people and previous experience has taught me that using local language / terminology is more endearing than expecting everyone to speak English to me.
Hubby was recently there for 4 days and his attitude is like mine – he loves to try new languages. While conversing with a local man who didn’t speak much english, this guy asked Hubby if he was looking forward to moving over. Hubby replied ‘Oui, Je suis tres excite!’. The man blushed. Hubby paused awkwardly. The man then told Hubby he has just told him that he was very aroused! I imagine this will not be the last faux pas either one of us makes!!
As far as low points go, the 15 hour leg from Sydney to Abu Dhabi was definitely the first one followed closely by our first 6 months in Dublin. While I grew to love the place, we moved over at the beginning of Spring in NZ and the beginning of Winter in Dublin – it was pretty miserable. About 2 months in I was at my wits end with the kids and still hadn’t managed to get them into any form of childcare. Hubby was working long hours and as games fall on the weekend, most weekends too. I really was on my own and missing family. I felt like Hubby didn’t understand and I was finding myself yelling at the kids more and more which meant they in turn started yelling at each other. It was now the middle of winter and I found myself utterly miserble. One morning, I opened my computer and booked one way tickets back to NZ for just me and the kids. My finger hovered over the ‘purchase now’ button……then the phone rang and it was my Mum. She saved me that day from making a huge mistake. No matter how much Mum wanted me home, she would never had said it – it was my life and I had to do what was best for my husband and family. She told me to just hang in there – and I did.
My dad had died a few years earlier and my Mum’s attitude to life after Dad really propelled me forward every time we moved country. Instead of sitting home and grieving she went out and joined groups, did community classes & started new hobbies. I’ll never forget Mum being invited away for a weekend not long after Dad died. Mums grief was still so raw and I know she really didn’t want to go because she was scared that she would bring the mood down and be homesick for the safety of her house when grief overwhelmed her. But she did go and yes it was hard, but her friends helped her and she even had some fun. So I decided to take a page from her book and to say ‘Yes’ to every invitation for at least the first 2 months in a new country. If anyone asked me for coffee, to go for a walk or a play date, I said yes – even though I desperately didn’t want to do it. Days after arriving in Dublin I was invited to a partners lunch before one of the games. I didn’t have any dressy clothes (as I left everything in NZ planning to start again – I wanted to shop till I dropped) but Mum convinced me to go. She reminded me that I would get to meet the Kiwi partners and that would be worth it alone. From the minute I walked in I was counting down the minutes until I could leave without seeming rude. All I will say is that I was expecting casual and comfy, I was waaaaay wrong and way out of my comfort zone. I was also still recovering from the flight and a bout of food poisoning which had halted any plans I had for shopping.
The organiser of the lunch sat me in the middle of the table beside her and discreetly (not) told me that the girls to my right were the girlfriends – but not to worry about them as it was likely that we may not see them again (wtf?). She continued that the middle of the table was for long term partners or Fiance’s without kids. While the other end was for the wives or partners with kids – they are the safe ladies because they are officially tied with their man – that’s all I’m going to say about that. To top it off none of the kiwi girls were there but I wasn’t surprised, this was the last partners event that I attended – until I found the partners groups that I felt comfy with that is. The coach’s wife at the time was a kiwi and she would organise a games and nibbles night every month or so for the foreign partners of players, all management partners and also for the senior players partners. It was a blast, relaxed, comfy and right up my alley – not a fake tan bottle in sight!
There is a point to my story I promise! While I sat and grimaced my way through a bowl of soup trying desperately hard not to cry, one of the girls to my left struck up a conversation with me. She was married to one of the senior players and as it turned out she lived about 2 minutes from us. She became one of my most cherished friends in Dublin. So while it was a horrible experience, something good came out of it because I had the balls to say ‘yes’. This was a theme that happened over and over. If I’m being really honest, I hate, despise and detest meeting new people. I dislike the fake conversation as you mentally search for something you may have in common with this stranger. I’m not great at filtering my thoughts and playing the political game. I’ve never felt the need for a million friends, I prefer a small set of friends that have my back through thick and thin – whether we’ve spoken for the last 5 years or not. However, I have also come to realise that while I don’t like it, I am actually good at putting myself out there and as a result I have continued to make lifelong friends wherever we go.
In Dublin, the management partners and foreign partners were my friends and where most of my social contact came from. By the time we moved to Wales the boys were in school so it was in the schoolyard I had to again, put myself out there and strike up conversations with strangers. The tough thing about this is that I always make the assumption that these people have their own friends and family, they don’t need me like I need them. Also the rugby club here didn’t have a lot of foreigners for me to join forces and be safe with so I had to find my people elsewhere. Funnily enough my greatest friendship came through the husband of what was to become my Swansea family. He saw me standing alone (again) and started talking to me. ‘My wife will love you’ he said ‘You have to meet her, we’ll have you over to the house, she’ll love it!’. I was not convinced that this woman would love her husband forcing another woman on to her……but as it happened she did thankfully! I said ‘yes’ to a play date after bumping into her at a Christmas market and a lifelong friendship started.
Other places my friendships formed was through my local coffee house. Every morning after dropping the kids at school I would go down to my local café and read the paper just for something to do and somewhere to be (sounds so sad when I write it down!) but I just had to get out of the house. Eventually I started to recognise people and would get smiles when I walked in. The café owners learned my name and knew my drink of choice. After 3 years, I can’t walk in without knowing someone. There is no such thing as a quick coffee – I come in with the intention of listening to a french lesson or reading the NZ paper but I never ever get my iPad open. I am constantly talking to someone. When I tell Hubby I’m off for a quick coffee, he knows not to expect me back for a couple of hours!
Two more of my closest friends have come from this wonderful place. I have also been part of a Tuesday morning coffee group in this cafe for about 2 years. But this group is not made up of Mums but of retired gentleman who have mostly lived here their whole lives. The stories they tell, their brilliant humour and banter, they have been a breath of fresh air for me and I love that they welcomed this lonely foreigner.
Starting again is tough. And every place I go I need a different strategy, but as hard as it is the effort pays off. France will be my biggest challenge yet.
Much love, Jaimee Sarah oxo
Tips to making new friends:
1. Make an effort to meet locals – they tell you where all the best restaurants, beaches, shops are. They also welcome you into their homes and allow you to really experience local culture.
2. Say Yes to every invitation in the first 2 months – no matter how much you don’t want to. Something good has come from every accepted invitation I’ve had.
3. Find a local café and frequent it as often as possible. Being a foreigner that becomes a local is the best way to feel part of the community. I love that anywhere I walk in our village I always know someone. Also, its handy to have people to ask for recommendations for trade workers or where to get things etc.
4. Kids are a a great conversation starter – its something you’ll have in common with people in parks, beaches etc. Your accent will then open up the dialogue even further and you never know where that may take you!
5. If you are not working, try and meet as many mums at the school as possible. You want your kids to go on play dates and to assimilate as quickly as possible. Go to every birthday party and even though playground conversation between Mums can at times get very gossipy, these women will help you out in a heartbeat if you need your kids picked up etc. They can also tell you the best holiday programmes, day cares and babysitters! It’s also nice to just see friendly faces on a daily basis while you are getting your bearings.
6. Make yourself get out every day even if its just to walk around the local shops or along the beach or whatever– do not sit in your house where you’re safe and comfy. 7. Get out without your kids. You need time to yourself to feel human and like a real adult.
8. Be honest about what type of friends you want. You need people you can trust and that can help pick you up when things get low as well as be fun to go out with. Sharpen up your bullshit meter and look for the diamonds. My experience is that they are always there.
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