Posts Tagged ‘friends’

I knew the minute I decided to move to Australia that it would alter the friendships I had in the UK; how could it not? But I had high hopes of maintaining most of the relationships I’d built in Preston and Bristol, albeit from a distance. I left Britain with a selection of VOIP providers installed on my computer, and looked forward to taking advantage of the technology that makes emigrating so much more feasible for those susceptible to homesickness. For months my emails back to Blighty would be signed off with a cheery ‘Get Skype!’.

But not many people did. While I fire up Skype and Messenger most evenings and weekends, the truth is they’re not used that often outside of the regular Sunday night call to my parents. Most contact from British friends is restricted to a few emails a year, the odd comment on Facebook or Twitter and the very occasional Skype conversation, organised meticulously weeks in advance to work round the time difference and other commitments.

There are some real stars – one friend in Bristol emails me religiously every Monday morning, which I appreciate so much, and an ex-boss of mine is great at responding to the pleas for conversation I make on Facebook from time to time when I tire of talking to my husband. I really do value each and every contact, no matter how brief or infrequent.

But I have accepted that people back home have moved on without me. Who can blame them? I’m the one who decided to leave, and let’s face it, I probably wasn’t the best friend in the world even when I lived in the same town. The eight-hour time difference is a pain, and if you’re not online most of the time like me, it probably is a bit of a faff to get on Skype.

In terms of making friends here, I am definitely past the must-say-yes-to-everything-or spend-every-non-working-hour-at-home stage, so Mum, if you are reading this, don’t worry – I’m fine. But my confidence was knocked by a couple of potential pals moving away within months of our meeting (although one may be coming back – yay!) and when I do meet someone I think I might get on with I often hold back rather than suggest doing something in case of rejection.

In that, at least, I am not alone; I stumbled across this blog post and as you’ll see from the comment I left, it really struck a chord with me. Like my fellow blogger, I’d really like to make one or two friendships here that would last the distance. Unfortunately, as I have mentioned before, I suspect it may not happen – although I remain hopeful. It’s number one on my list of new year’s resolutions.

And while I am working on that, I will keep waiting for those calls on Skype, and will be grateful for the friendships I do have, here or overseas, for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

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Pic from sallischandler.co.ukPerthites are great home entertainers. In such a spread-out city, where the centre has never been the main attraction, and where the weather is reliable, it makes perfect sense. Why force your friends and family to travel to a restaurant when you can simply fire up the barbeque, open a slab of beer and have a party at home? I suspect it’s another reason why immigrants like myself have difficulty making friends. In most places you can get to know someone in the pub before they even need to know where you live. Here, you’d want to be pretty sure they weren’t a weirdo before letting them into your house.

And of course, even although things are changing, there are still plenty of big houses with big gardens here, and plenty of people with a lot of money. So it’s not surprising that outdoor furniture shops cater for the hostess with the mostess. Dining tables for 10 people, massive modular sofas for 12, outdoor kitchens that Heston Blumenthal would be proud of, high tables with bar stools and every conceivable form of storage for your booze.

As I wandered round one of these places on Friday, all I could think was ‘how do these people fill all these seats?’. The people I know well enough to invite for dinner al fresco could easily fit round the small six-seater I eventually purchased. In fact, there might even be a couple of chairs free. I suddenly felt very, very alone.

Fortunately such loneliness can be easily hidden. My desire to live a relatively low-impact life (in terms of the environment) and my refusal to go after the serious money that working in the private sector in Perth can offer mean I will never have a huge garden, and if I did, I would probably fill it with chickens and compost heaps instead of the latest in all-weather wicker.

But it would be nice to think that at some point in the future, I will need to squeeze more seats round my little table, not least because being struck by a sudden loneliness in Segals Outdoor Furniture is just a bit weird.

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A year ago yesterday, I landed in Perth from the UK to start my new life. I’d only visited Perth once before, and only very briefly as part of a two-month trip through New Zealand and Australia. A surf life saving competition meant every hotel in the city was booked up so my husband and I stayed in a guest house in Quinns Rocks for two nights and just passed through to the centre en route to Fremantle. The city made no real impression on me and if you’d told me then that within six months I’d be packing up my perfectly nice life in Bristol to move here, well, frankly I would have laughed.

While we had often talked about retiring overseas (New Zealand and for some unknown reason Costa Rica being the destinations of choice) my husband and I hadn’t ever really considered Australia, at least while we were still working.

So the speed and the ease with which our emigration from the UK happened was a bit of a surprise. Someone mentioned that an ex-colleague of my husband had moved to Oz. We googled him, his name came up as the contact on a job advert, my husband said: ‘I could do that’, he applied, and got it. Within a few weeks our house was sold, we were getting quotes for shipping containers and flights, and were too busy to really think about what emigrating would actually mean.

It was certainly very different to the experience of many immigrants here. For a lot of people, moving to Australia is a lifelong dream. And while you’ll be hard pushed to hear anything other than a British accent in large swathes of the northern suburbs, not that many Brits actually manage to make the move. For those over 30 who want to live here permanently, Australian visas are a bit like passes to an exclusive nightclub. If your name – or at least your profession – isn’t on the list, you’re not coming in. We were lucky.

For me, the timing was good. I’d recently instigated a review of my section at work that I knew would lead to my own job disappearing, probably to be replaced with a more senior post that I wouldn’t get. I’d become disillusioned with a job that I enjoyed, but that was so stressful at times that it damaged my physical and mental health. The dance group that had been so crucial in helping me settle in Bristol, and which had provided me with a great set of friends, had disbanded and my social life had taken a blow.

I needed a change – and had I stopped to really think about what I was doing, I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to make it.

But the decision was made, however rashly, and now I have survived the first year. I’ve even enjoyed it most of the time. Every day brings a new challenge, whether it’s meeting new people or working out what shoe size I am. I rant a lot (I always did), but in reality the list of issues I’ve faced is pretty pathetic. I had a job I didn’t like for a while and I once went to a party where everybody ignored me. Oh, and I’ve found it really hard to find decent baking potatoes. True, I’ve not made any close friendships yet, but I seem to know an alarming number of people in this big country town already so I am sure that will come in time.

Of course I still get homesick, or more accurately, people-sick and shop-sick. I’d kill for a curry at the Sheesh Mahal with Katie and Marc, and I find myself fantasising about walking through Debenhams in Broadmead: in through the cosmetics section, up the escalator to ladieswear, Red Herring straight ahead, Dorothy Perkins through to the right, Top Shop and Oasis to the left…

But I’ve survived this far, and discovered I’m much braver and much more resilient than I realised. So this weekend I will be raising a glass of Margaret River’s finest SSB to a spur of the moment decision that has (mostly) worked out. Cheers!

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I’ve written here before about the difficulties of making friends in a new town, so an article in The Guardian caught my eye this week.

Apparently, in the US you can now rent friends by the hour. Of course in Japan, where you can buy almost anything, rentable friends are nothing new. According to this story, there are 10 rent-a-friend agencies there (although you are yet to be able to get them from vending machines). And elsewhere in the world, even ‘relatives’ are available by the hour.

I suspect most of us would say we were horrified by the idea of renting a pal for the day. But the truth is, a new city can be a very, very lonely place. Even if you have a partner, or friendly work colleagues, the desire to talk to someone else can be quite overwhelming. And when everyone else in the office is chatting about their exciting plans for the weekend, and you know you’re going home to a bottle of sauvignon blanc and yet another re-run of Back to the Future on the TV, it can make you rather depressed – even when a bottle of Marlborough’s finest and Michael J Fox on a skateboard is your idea of the perfect evening’s entertainment.

So this is a plea to anyone who meets a newcomer to their town/city/country: invite them out for a drink/coffee/lunch. Yes, I know you’re busy and that frankly, you’ve got enough friends already, and that you don’t need some homesick billy no-mates hanging on your coat-tails.

But here’s the thing. It’s only an hour. Half an hour, even. And in that short time, the newbie will have been introduced to a new bar/cafe/restaurant where they can go when they eventually make some ‘proper’ friends, and it’s long enough for them to learn a bit about their new home that only an insider like you could tell them. They’ll feel warmer towards their new town, knowing there are people who are making an effort to make them feel welcome.

They’re unlikely to start stalking you (particularly if they’re British; it’s hard enough for us to chat to someone at the bus stop, never mind plot a campaign to get into someone’s life). In fact, they might not even LIKE you, and will spend the rest of their time in your city hoping they don’t bump into you in the supermarket.

Truly, the worst thing that could happen is that you go out, decide you’ve not got much in common and leave it at that. And unless you’ve signed up to one of the aforementioned agencies, you won’t get paid. But you’ll have done the right thing, by your hometown (which I bet prides itself on its friendliness – most places do) and by society. You might even enjoy yourself.

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Thanks to http://socialhoneycomb.com/So I’m in Australia. I have a permanent visa. I have a job I like. I am about to move into a rather nice apartment, where I hope to stay for several years. So it’s probably about time I made some friends.

Perth is a friendly city – it’s one of the reasons I wanted to move here. I’ve had more conversations with random strangers on buses here than in my whole life in the UK. But I’m a married woman in her late(ish) 30s, with no children and a tendency to pretend I’m 10 years younger – which apparently means I am not a mate-magnet.

Child-free – so no chance of me meeting other mums in the playground. Too irresponsible (and neurotic about hygiene) to have a dog – so no chats with other pet owners in the park. A husband – so people tend to assume your evenings and weekends are already booked up. And while Perthites are friendly, at the end of the day most people drive home to their detached houses and do their own thing. Distances between suburbs are huge and there isn’t a focus on the city centre like there is in most places, so people socialise in a variety of suburbs.

I do actually have a semblance of a social life that occasionally involves people other than my husband. I made one good friend within weeks of arriving, and although she’s now gone overseas, she’s left behind a few nice people who I’m now getting to know. But I am conscious of the need to widen my circle of friends. Oddly enough, those few nice people are all immigrants to Perth, or have lived overseas at some point, and who knows? They could decide to try another city or country at any time. Besides, I want to meet some locals, who can show me parts of Perth I might not discover on my own.

In the chaos of moving, finding friends was not a particular priority. As new arrivals, my husband and I did get a few, very welcome, invitations. Nearly eight months in, we are expected to be finding our own way.

I know the best way to meet people is to join a group doing something you’re interested in. It worked for me in Bristol. Practically all my friends there I met through dance. It’s not been so successful here. I’ve tried a couple of dance classes. Hip hop was full of REALLY young people wondering who the old bird was; tap, while providing the requisite number of kooky, verging-on-middle-aged women (hair in bunches – CHECK; wacky socks – CHECK), didn’t offer enough opportunities for interaction with the rest of the group…and frankly I didn’t enjoy the class much, which didn’t help.

Here I am doing a lot of cycling – but most cycling groups take it a lot more seriously than I do. It’s a similar story with kayaking, or to more accurately describe what I do, drifting around on the river trying to remember which way to paddle to turn round. Pilates is doing wonders for my flexibility, but so far zero for friendships. Websites directed at new immigrants organise meet-ups, but they don’t appeal – I’m desperate to integrate and while it can be comforting to speak to others in a similar situation, I don’t think it’s necessarily the best thing in the long run.

So I’m now looking for something else that will bring me into contact with like-minded people. A cause for which I can volunteer, or a course I can do. What really appeals is something that is focussed on making Perth the groovy state capital it deserves to be, but a trawl of t’interweb hasn’t thrown anything up just yet. I found out about PERTHour too late for this time, although I hope to make it to the next.

And I’ve just got to be careful not to appear too desperate – as one of my (old, UK-based) friends pointed out, there’s always the risk you’ll ring someone in another office to get a piece of information and before you’ve hung up you’ve invited them round to dinner and to stay for the weekend.

So if anyone has any ideas, I’d be glad to hear them.

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