Prosecards from the Edge (of a Continent)

A running commentary on my life in Izmir, Turkey...and other thoughts.

Monday, August 03, 2009

With Friends Like That...

"Mieux seul que mal accompagne," goes one of my favorite French sayings. Better alone than in bad company.

An interesting aspect of being a part of a country's expatriate community is the friend dynamic. Very often, one's 'best friends' turn out, with a little reflection, to be people whom one would never dream of even meeting for coffee, let alone choosing for a bridesmaid, if one were ever to escape the expat island. These unlikely pairings arise out of necessity. Our selection pools are smaller, our need to speak our mother tongue a major driving force.

I've often wondered whether this is blessing or curse. Just as spending time with the greater familia, whose varied lifestyle preferences we have no choice but to live with (they are family, after all), broadens horizons and hopefully exercises the empathy gene, so do these unlikely birds of a different feather. Instead of reading about it in a self-help book, 'working with difficult people' becomes a reality. Our patience and compassion is put to the test. We of necessity do things we would never normally do, in ways we would probably never do them. We grow...or do we?

The other possible conclusion to this associating with-people-you-don't-actually-like-that-much phenomenon is the that one becomes embittered, spiritually compromised through a gradual lowering of personal standards, and the ropes that bind us to our principles and character are hacked through with social machetes; there is a danger of becoming spiritually amorophous blobs who are willing to be anybody -- ANYBODY -- just to have a friend who understands the syllables coming out of our mouths. We are deprived the luxury of being choosy. Of course, we could heed the French saying, and choose solitude. I used to place great stock in that saying, but these days I wonder. What was the author's context? Might he have been referring to nothing more than a couple of humdrum Saturday nights in Paris? Was he ever an expatriate? Could he possibly have dreamed of a lifetime of that dichotomy? As one who loves and craves an unusual quantity of 'aloneness,' take it from me: there is a breaking point. Sometimes we've got to go for the bad company.

I like to think that if one holds on to one's roots and one's principles, repeating them like a daily mantra, these 'friends of necessity' will not do much damage to them. At most, we will live with a lingering dissatisfaction that the kind of people we'd like to be with do not exist in our current milieu. But really, even in our own worlds, aren't we always choosing from what's on offer? The ideal friend or partner has yet to be created; when life hands us lemons, might we not just as well hone our ability to politely make lemonade?


At 11:01 PM, Blogger Nomad said...

Great Observations. I was hanging with a crowd about two years ago and all they ever seemed to do was drink and smoke. It was a mighty big deal if they stayed home even one night out of seven. Cause for bragging about their sedate lifestyle. After I quit smoking and decided to limit my social drinking, those people vanished and I later wondered what on earth I ever found attractive about that crowd.

At 8:14 PM, Blogger Kate's Occasional Blog said...

Too true! I find that you either start falling into their patterns and feeling vaguely unhappy with yourself, or else you finally get a grip and realize this is not how you wish to live, at which point you wonder, 'what on earth was I thinking by hanging out with these people???' It's hard to be strong and consistently act in accordance with your true character when there is a dearth of people -- any people -- with whom to spend time, but failing to do so can have horribly destructive psychological consequences. I'mn trying to make a concerted effort not to do that any more. Thanks for your comment!


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