As I was leaving the UK for Bangkok I thought a lot about friends: who I was leaving behind, how I normally made new friends and how to make them in the abnormal situation that I was going to be in when I moved to Thailand.
I’ve always felt I wasn’t very good at making friends; part of me thinks that this is simply the comparison I feel between my sister and me – she’s incredibly extrovert, outgoing and fun and everyone loves her instantly. She celebrated a big birthday a couple of years ago, and when I asked her who was coming she told me ‘just the close friends that have helped me through the last couple of years.’ I swear she had about 30 people there. It’s not that I’m exactly a shrinking violet, but by comparison, she makes me feel a bit like I am. And I quite like small groups; I’m just not a big group kind of person.
I have a good friend in the UK who I met when our daughters were at nursery school together. She’d just returned from many years as an expat in SE Asia, and I remember watching her with immense admiration as she worked the mums in the playground – not in a nasty, manipulative kind of way, but with a friendly, confident approach. We talked about it years later (we ‘worked’ the school library together, where, in between playing librarians with the children, we gossiped) and she gave me some valuable advice on being an expat. She told me coming home to the UK is as hard, if not harder than going out to the foreign posting, because everyone already has their groups of friends and infiltrating them is much more difficult. In an expat environment, she said, there are lots of groups set up to facilitate extending relationships and because everyone is in the same position, everyone is up for making friends.
This worried me a bit – not being a group kind of person. I didn’t really fancy a women’s group. Why should I have anything in common with them just because I’m British, female and my husband’s job has brought me to Bangkok? So although I joined, I remained aloof and joined in only when it suited me.
There was a lovely woman who lived downstairs from me that I met in the lift one day shortly after we’d moved in: once she’d discovered I was an expat virgin as well as new to Bangkok, she organised me, took me shopping, showed me how to do stuff, and answered all my stupid questions without judgment. She’d been in Bangkok for 4½ years, Singapore before that, and the Middle East before Singapore so she knew about being new. But she wasn’t offering friendship in the going out for coffee, pottering around the shops kind of way that I think women want/need. What she was offering was support and orientation and frankly, in those early days, it was exactly what I needed.
After a couple of weeks this lovely woman had introduced me to another newbie from my apartment block, and we had become great friends. She’d come to Bangkok at the same time as me and we pottered about, gossiped and didn’t need the women’s group. Or so I thought. I’d been here about 8 months when my friend – let’s be honest, my only friend – came to see me and told me her husband had lost his job and they were relocating back to the UK.
Before she’d even left for the UK I had to start going back to the Women’s Group coffee mornings again. It was much against my desire, but I figured if I went, someone like me might also go. Certainly if I didn’t go and they did, I wouldn’t meet them. And so that’s where I am now, joining in (a new experience for me!) and meeting different people. I didn't leave it there either, I watch the (English language) newspapers for other activities where I can meet people who have similar creative interests to me which extends my group of friends even further.