There’s this saying in English that goes something like, “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” Chris never particularly liked it – he’s always like, “Look, here’s the cake, and I’m eating it, so I’ve had it and I’m eating it!” and I’m like, “But you don’t have it anymore…” and he’s like, “But I had it,” and I’m like, “Yeah – you don’t get this expression, do you?”
I, on the other hand, have always really clung to it as one of the few really and truly grown-up things I get. I don’t, for the record, stand by or even too closely to such classics as, “That’s just the way things are,” or, “Life isn’t fair.” Those are dumb. But the cake thing I get.
So it goes: living abroad has its many wonderful qualities, but there are lots of things one loses in the decision. I do love the oomph it gives to living: learning new customs, hearing a different language, learning that language, learning that the customs make a lot more sense when one has the language, etc. There’s also the different food, architecture, weather, currency, music, and just general way of going about life. And while it can be a bit tiresome after a while, I’m so unaccustomed to the norms of my place of origin by now (it’s been a few years, after all), I think I’ve become more accustomed to the not-knowing. On the other hand, particularly in my late-early thirties, particularly in a place where my native language is not widely spoken, making new friends has become a right pain in the arse. So much so, I haven’t really done it for a number of years.
Correct me if you think I’m bonkers, but I really feel like this is a 30’s phenomenon. And I don’t think it has anything to do with having kids or being responsible. I think we’re all just a bit knackered from all that trusting we had to do to get the friends we’ve got so far. Also, my best friends are all a bit nuts, and I love them and accept that – in point of fact, it’s what makes me love them – but I don’t really fancy dealing with new people’s neuroses. Does that sound terrible? We have, however, reached out to a few people to see if there’s space for friendship…and it’s true we’ve had a little luck. We made a friend in the Philippines, for example, who lives in Bordeaux, and we’ll visit her in a week or so. Also, we’ve made one friend here in Le Puy, and he has a kid, so that’s like an extra half-sized friend – admittedly, there are subjects we avoid in his company – namely sex and politics – but otherwise he’s alright. He does magic tricks.
Still, there is nothing quite like sharing time and space with a friend you know you’ll have for life. Last week a couple of friends paid us a visit, one of whom still lives in London. He was here for the week, and we didn’t do a whole lot of anything…we took long walks, talked, ate, talked, had a few drinks and talked some more. We do enjoy talking. He might say that it’s me who enjoys talking, and as my friend he takes it upon himself to listen, but if you’d been a fly on the wall, you’d know that he talks nearly as much as I do. Nearly.
Here’s the thing about really good old friends: there’s no wondering going on. That’s not to say that there won’t be difficult moments, but the fact is, with our best friends, we’ve had all the painful, trying, and/or embarrassing times already, so if there’s more ahead, we know just exactly how bad it can actually be. And there is great comfort in that knowing. As well as a bit of an edge. Particularly if you have a good memory (Remember that time when…). Good friends sometimes finish each other’s sentences (annoying), but they often know what the other thinks about something without having to ask (excellent). Between two of the world’s most awkward souls (me and A, for example), the bits shared are anything but. There are inside jokes and knowing glances and comfortable silences (although A might argue that there aren’t enough of that last one).
The other day in my French class, I told the teacher that the way French people say “I missed you” is really difficult for me to understand. They say, Tu as me manqué, which translated literally means “You’ve missed me.” Of course my teacher retorted that she found the English way quite bizarre – which I suppose is probably true, but I really think that English wins this particular battle on logic alone, but whatev’s. The point is, I was strolling through our local park with A the other day, remembering the many times we strolled through our old local park in London, and how things really do seem to come full circle with certain people, and I thought about that phrase. And it occurred to me that he had missed me. And I knew he’d missed me without him even saying so – it’s one of those things that go without saying amongst great friends.
At the time I thought it was really profound…I realize now that it actually didn’t make me understand why the French say it like that any better. At least it will help me remember. And maybe that’s what great friends do best. They help us remember.