Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Expat Friendship

Having been the recipient of a couple of kind acts of service this week, I've been thinking about how expat friends demonstrate their friendship to one another.

It's different than in the States. When I lived in the States, opportunities were plentiful to help other young moms like myself. Sick? I'll bring over dinner. Jury duty? Let me take your kids for the day. Super busy? Let me give your boys a ride to cub scouts. Critical in-laws coming for a visit? I'll come help you clean your house.

These types of activities in expat life (at least in Central/South American expat life) are all covered by the "staff".

Food? Check (maid)

Childcare? Check (maid)

Errands? Child pick-up? Check (driver)

Obsessive Cleaning? Check (maid)

Of course I'm generalizing and exaggerating a bit; there are occasionally times to offer such services, but it is infrequent.

Then there are those times when "the staff" is sick (heaven forbid) and what usually ends up happening is that we offer up our "staff" in lieu of ourselves. "Sure, Sergio the Driver can pick up your kids" or "Do you need my maid for the day?" And we actually feel like we're sacrificing for our friends. Humorous and a little sad, I know.

So, how do expat friends show their love to one another?

The first way is by letting our friends vent. The majority of Ballerina Girl's and my conversations are about:

1) maid problems
2) house/appliance problems
3) school problems
4) Brazil problems

(not necessarily in that order)

Because we have similar circumstances, she , better than anyone else really gets what I'm going through. Sure, I occasionally vent here on my blog about stuff, but if I did it as much as I do in real life, you'd all think I'm a brat (which of course I'm not, but it may come across like that).

The second way is by sharing our American products. The things we bring back from the States are like GOLD and sharing them is a true act of sacrifice. I have to really like someone to share my goods with them.

This week one of my friends randomly brought me over not just one, but two bags of Reese's mix candies and a tube of Neosporin. She told me they were "extra" and would we want them? (yes please!) Nothing's "extra" around here (especially candy the week of Halloween)-there's no Target, so once you run out, you're out of luck until your next trip or your next group of visitors arrive.

It really meant a lot to me (way more than a tube of antibiotic cream would mean to me in the States :) ).

The third way is by offering suitcase space.

Suitcase space, like American products are precious in the life of an expat. We all know exactly how many bags and how much poundage we can bring in per trip. (If we travel as an entire family, we can bring in 12 bags containing 840 pounds, not including our carry-ons. If one of us flys first class we can increase that to 13 bags and 910 pounds.)

You have to be really careful offering up limited suitcase space to bring back something for a friend. You really have to trust that the person is not going to take advantage of you and have 15 Amazon boxes delivered to your house (or one of your relative's homes).

Ballerina Girl is traveling this week in the States. She emailed me and offered to bring me back whatever I needed (she knows I wouldn't take advantage). She has two kids here of her own and things she needs (she always brings in toilet paper which totally cracks me up) and for her to offer me some space in her suitcase made me feel loved :). (I ordered a book for the boys, a blueberry muffin mix and some Laffy Taffy)

I am blessed with good friends here for which I am thankful.


Janice said...

Love this post. Really gives me a feel for how you look at things in Brazil.

Mama Ava said...

One thing staff here (Beijing) and in Africa don't do well is bake. And they definitely don't bake fancy. So to bring over a plate of bars or something ooey-gooey that you know your housekeeper couldn't do justice to (even though they make killer kung-pao chicken and to-die-for dumplings) makes a big difference.

We get a LOT of American stuff in Beijing, but the suitcase space is totally regulated by: tampons, that shampoo you absolutely need, neosporin, cortaid, OTC meds for every type of problem the kids have, garlic salt, parmesan cheese...honestly, if customs ever opens our bags, what will they think? But no one minds giving up a smidge for someone else, esp. those that go home at Christmas (sometimes you need a mid-year refill on something!)

Head Nurse or Patient- you be the judge said...

It always comes down to "The Thought That Counts". Good friends know what is of most value. The perspective of antibiotic ointment is relative to need and availability, therefore- semi-liquid gold in your case.

Abby said...

Do we get extra points because we brought you two suitcases full of stuff when we came?;) This was a fun post to read.

P.S. I just ordered The Mysterious Benedict Society for my little sister (who loves to read) for Christmas because your kids loved it. I read it when it came--great story, so thanks!

Betty said...

I totally get the "suitcase space". Precious! And if someone offers you some, you know you have a friend for life! :)

Stephanie said...

Once upon a time, I had a Canadian friend here. But she went home, not to return anytime soon. I miss being able to commiserate with someone. I wished we lived in a bigger city so I had more chances at meeting "one of my own" haha

I cant wait to go home and load up! And I am missing all things Halloween...namely good candy.

Maine Mom said...

So sweet that Ballerina Girl is willing to bring you back some things. :-) I know you would do it for her, too.

Yay for Pedro's successful potty training! Look for my potty training posts in February.

Gabriela said...

Mama Ava: yes, I know what you mean about the treats, chocolate chip cookies are a huge hit in these parts.

I always wonder what the custom agents think too-like "these silly Americans can't live without tootsie rolls and marshmallows?" or, "we do have shampoo and tampons here ya know!"

Head Nurse: so true.

Abby: you totally get extra points. You guys were the best-I didn't even hear you complain ONCE about it. :)

We're about to start the second book which I hear is just as good.

Stephanie: I'm sorry, it's hard when you don't have any English speaking friends. I was in that situation in So. Mexico for 18 months and it was really hard. On the other hand, that's where my Spanish improved the most so there are trade-offs.

Are you going home for Christmas?

Maine Mom: Yes, I would bring her stuff too. :)

I am so happy to be done with potty training. He's doing so great.

Ballerina Girl said...

I am cracking up, but also a little nervous! Did you ask ME for Laffy Taffy? I feel like such a LOSER! I didn't get it!
I got the book and muffin mix :( I am so sorry!
I didn't bring back the TP this time though...nmo room, hahaha!
and you know what really makes me mad...my two suitcases are full to the brims, I couldn't fit anymore in. And do you know how much they weighed at weigh in?
49 and 47 pounds! SO FRUSTRATING!!!
Well, again, I am so sorry about the laffy taffy!

love u, and see u tomorrow :) I am on my way back!

Lucy said...

I can see why suitcase space would be such valuable currency!

Maybe you should, um... re-evaluate your friendship with BG, considering her failure to bring home the Laffy Taffy. I would. (hee hee)

Gabriela said...