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How to reinvent yourself

March 31, 2011

Reinvention of a criminal nature not encouraged

My estimable co-blogger Geneve Girl has recently illuminated us with how to make friends and stalk people in Geneva. Having moved cities, nay countries, hell continents, 3 times now, I can certainly relate to being friendless in a new city and the shock of having to make an effort in order to ensure human contact unmediated by Skype.  And let’s take a moment to think how the more established ex-pats must feel. With the high turnover of arrivals and departures in Geneva, the veterans have to be careful in their time allocation to proposed new BFFs. If the person in question is going to move to Brussels after 6 months (naming no names, sob) couldn’t this time be spent better elsewhere? Personally, I say no, as I like to choose my friends based on their potential for providing future mini-break destinations, but I can understand the opposing view. Making friends is time-consuming. Damn, its bloody arduous sometimes.

However, one delight I feel moved to comment on, in the awful carousel of desperate friend-seeking efforts in the expat lifestyle, is the potential for reinvention. As a borderline Miss Haversham-style social maladroit when I’m in London, wincing at the thought of spending time with anyone I’ve known for less than twenty years, I’ve been pleased to discover that I am far more open to new experiences, and even, occasionally, somewhat of a warm extrovert (well, for a Brit anyway) when living abroad.  In London I would never go for a drink with my primary school teacher’s cousin’s wife, just because we happen to live in the same city and someone has suggested we might not loathe each other…because I already have friends, and jeez, who has the time? But in Geneva – why not? (It’s not like you have plans anyway.) Friendlessness makes you more spontaneous and less cautious, in a good way: one of my most fun Geneva experiences was arranging a carshare to the South of France with 3 complete strangers via Glocals: the journey was beautiful and the company surprisingly wonderful.  Even better: two of my fellow passengers had decided to spend the weekend in Montpelier together, having literally never met before the moment they got in the car. I think they had a whale of a time.

Language-learning is also a motivating factor. If a random stranger tries to hit on me in a bar in London (who am I kidding? British men NEVER do this. The British approach to seduction involves industrial quantities of cheap lager/wine/tequila and an opportunistic encounter on a stained sofa at a house party in Hackney) I would react with disdain (unless he was Mark Ruffalo).  While living in Latin America, however, I happily entertained any such attention (nothing to do with the renowned beauty of Argentine men), using and abusing the poor gentlemen for half an hour of Spanish practice before swiftly making my excuses (or politely pointing out that the ring on their – yes – ringfinger was something of a turn-off).  I’ve yet to apply this tactic here, mainly because I don’t wish to impose my painful French on anyone, even a sleazy love rat on a business trip. But the rest of you: go for it!

Of course, the fact that expat life rewards you with very few of your oldest, nearest and dearest as neighbours is a trial. But there’s a silver lining: no one can contradict your elaborate rags-to-riches life story of having grown up in a shanty town in Huddersfield (no one here knows that there is no such thing), beating the odds and the opiate addiction to graduate top of your class in medicine from Oxford, before deciding on a life-changing, self-finding trip to Burma where you worked as PA to Aung San Suu Kyi, that in fact you wanted to dedicate your life to humanitarianism, hence the move to Geneva. My own personal back story involves a stint as a private investigator in New York. All true, I swear. A good friend here, who works in shipping for a huge international corporation, tells my NGO/UN friends he is a doctor. A paedeatrician no less.

So, take advantage of your move to Geneva; seize the opportunity to say things you wouldn’t normally say, do things you wouldn’t normally do, and meet people you wouldn’t normally meet. And hey, if you make a fool of yourself, fret not: no one back home will know.

One Comment leave one →
  1. lynn permalink
    March 31, 2011 10:11 am

    lovin’ it… but who would leave Geneva for Brussels? pffff..

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