It’s my birthday weekend, so here’s a treat! I’m sharing my fortnightly email this week with anyone who wants to read it! If you like it, get more about connection, expat insights, and creative living resources by signing up here.
I had two meals in a row this week that fed my soul, as well as satisfying my palate in the way only Paris can. Read on to pull up a chair and join us, and scroll to the end for general updates and birthday chat.
Earlier in the week I got a very promising DM. ‘Are you in Paris?’
I was in Glasgow at the time, but an old friend from our first posting was visiting her in-laws, who live, as it turned out, just across the Seine from us here in the western suburbs. By the time my flight landed the next day, we had made a date for MT and I to meet her for dinner before she left again at the weekend (the stars so aligned that we wouldn’t even have to call a babysitter, since my mum came back with me).
Even through WhatsApp, I could feel her pain of trying to juggle a family holiday, with excusing herself from in-laws, with the desire to connect with someone the rest of the family doesn’t really have a relationship with while she had the chance. (Have you been there?)
But she made it work for herself. Something special happened as we settled down at a terrasse table and ordered a bottle of sud-ouest wine to remind us of our Pau days. Actually, I think something special had been happening over the decade since we lived in the same place. We’d seen each other since, but rarely: her wedding, a visit to London…not enough. But any guilt we might have felt about not keeping in better touch melted away as we returned to the people we once were.
We all got to be 10-years-ago us for a few hours, not feeling masked by small talk or dutifully cycling through the getting-to-know-you questions that constitute so many conversations for serial expats. We could get straight to how we feel about life now, about how it measures up to life then.
And MT and I also got to be the couple we were 10 years ago, with a friend who knew us as newlyweds, two friends together in the same group that was our child-free expat family at the time. So we saw each other again with 10-years-ago eyes and felt refreshed and energised by it.
Then there was the fun reminiscing, and talking about those friends, the family still connected around the world. Not gossiping, but caring, concerned for their challenges and celebrating their wins. We felt known and seen. ‘You were always so…’ ‘I used to really admire your…’
It was a nourishing energy we took home with us that night. Perhaps you get to do that every week, if you live surrounded by people who’ve known all the versions you’ve been along the way. Appreciate it! If not, I hope you have the chance to find one of these friends and bring your paths together for an hour or two very soon.
The next morning, I got an American(ish – ask Kacie why) breakfast with a side of some of the new connection energy that expat life has served up again and again.
I had wanted to cross IRL paths with my IG friend Kacie since we moved to Paris last year; now that she is preparing to move from here, it focussed my motivation and we made it happen.
This time there were certainly some getting-to-know-you questions as we sat down over coffee and pancakes. Yet it didn’t feel like small talk. After at least a couple of years of social media connection, we got straight to the side questions we’d always been genuinely curious about.
I mentioned on Instagram last week that one way my (Gen X) perspective has shifted is that I no longer separate online life from real life. Seeing the tangible connections that happen in the #MayontheMove community is one big reason. You can read more about that here.
Another big lesson from the online and in-person international community is that there’s always room for more connections. I would once have decided that since someone was leaving the city where I live there wasn’t much point in meeting up with them. I have plenty friends who are staying here anyway, don’t need more.
That’s a mindset I hear from a lot of people: ‘I have all the friends I need, no room for new connections.’
I don’t think that any more, and I doubt I ever will.
Certainly, there are seasons when life is full enough, when we have to protect our energy and our priorities. We can’t say yes to every event or activity, can’t give all of ourselves to whoever crosses our path – unless we are on the extreme extrovert end of the scale, perhaps. As an introvert, I definitely have to retreat for a bit when my social energy is used up.
But in principle, I’m open to every possible connection. Here’s why:
Kacie and I talked about her move, and her upcoming repatriation, the challenges repats have faced, and the strategies that might help. We talked about what happens to the days and years when you’re a serial expat, recognising and seeing in each other shared experiences, the ‘seeing mirror’ that is validating and vindicating for us all. An added bonus: a new person’s way of expressing these experiences can open up new ways of understanding them.
But that’s not all!
The Icing on the (Birthday) Cake
Another thing that had brought us together online is exploring creativity. We talked about how we use IG and what we’ve learned about the platform, and about blogging, how it works for us, and our ambitions for our blogs.
By the time we left the cafe, the words ‘blogging’ and ‘mastermind’ were together in a sentence, repeated several times…
In all likelihood, we may never share coffee and pancakes again (you never know!) but we have sparked a whole new thing together that just might continue across continents!
(Comment ‘blogging mastermind’ if you’re curious to know where that spark goes next!)
Hope you enjoyed the treat! Remember, if you want more you can sign up here and get emails with the best of my words every other Friday.