Making friends is never easy, we all know that. I am sorry to say it gets harder as you get older. As time goes on your standards change and it’s no longer simply about whether the girl next to you also likes pink, or can consistently colour inside the lines or wants to join the Michael Jackson fan club that you are currently running out of your parents’ garage. You become picky and start looking for complex, intangible things like integrity, values and the ever elusive ‘good sense of humour’. Although most of us will naturally gravitate towards those with talents, likes or dislikes similar to our own, the criteria for friendship naturally broadens a bit as time goes on. But just between you and me, I will confess to a continuing fondness for those who know all the lyrics to “Thriller” by heart. Bonus points if you include the Vincent Price bit.
Moving to Stavanger and facing the prospect of making new friends at age 40 was, and sometimes still is, a daunting prospect. While it is true that I don’t generally have problems meeting people and inflicting my friendship upon them, in the back of mind I always have a fear that THIS time will be different. This time I won’t meet anyone I like, or worse, no one will like me. I become 16 all over again, full of all the angst and anxiety but with a few less pimples and way more wrinkles. It doesn’t seem to matter that I have been doing this expat thing for the better part of 12 years, and that this is at least the seventh time in my adult life that I have had to start all over again in the friendship department. In my head I am still somewhat convinced that there are a finite amount of friendships to go around and that I have to get in there quickly and impress someone or I am never going to get invited to the prom. Instead, I will be left standing by the gym wall swaying back and forth to some Celine Dion song while everyone else gazes lovingly into their partner’s eyes.
It all sounds so frantic and slightly desperate, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. It’s like blind dating for months on end. Frantic, slightly desperate AND exhausting.
In all the cities I have lived in, there has always been an expat circuit, and Stavanger is no exception. If you are the temporarily jobless, accompanying partner, you have to do the rounds. The events organized for us are often similar to going on a cruise or package holiday except that sadly there is no free nightly Viking musical show and the drinks are reaaaalllly expensive. The purpose of this circuit is to create a sense of community among the community-less, and for the most part they achieve that aim. Pub quizzes, coffee mornings, mum’s groups, they are all about trying to get us to meet as many people as possible rather than throw our hands up in the air and admit social defeat.
If you are lucky, you meet your friendship soul mate in the first few weeks of this circuit, after which you can just sit back and watch all the other poor souls drift aimlessly about, clutching their expensive drink while the love theme from Titanic plays wistfully in the background. If you are unfortunate, or have special friendship needs, you could be hanging about for months waiting for that certain someone to come along.
But we must not lose heart. The flip side of this whole situation is that we are in a town full of comings and goings. Yes, it can be heart-wrenching when your new found BFF suddenly decides that they are moving to Azerbaijan or Alaska, but if someone is leaving, someone else is just arriving. And you can bet your bottom Kroner that they will be looking for friends, too. It’s like having an eternal, self-replenishing dating pool at your fingertips. Even New York can’t claim that.
Despite our individual needs and relatively small numbers, there is a diverse and social expat community here. Stavanger may not have the non-stop excitement of a Bangkok or London, but there are always new people to meet if you are willing to make the effort. As for my new-found friendships, well, I suppose I can modify my criteria on the Michael Jackson thing a little. As long as you don’t listen to Celine Dion. That, my friend, is out of the question.
So, can I buy you a drink?