Monday, 9 December 2013
Husband introduced me to his new colleague the other day, a very nice guy from Belgium.
I am getting to realize that expats, some nationalities more than others, tend to gravitate toward and stick with their fellow countrymen. I had seen examples of that before, in the UK, and it always amazed me when people did that; a friend from New Zealand in London used to throw parties where out of 20 people 19.9 would be from New Zealand.
So, assuming the new guy would like to know more Belgian people, I asked my compound neighbour if there were many Belgian activities and societies, perhaps, for this guy to join. Oh yes, she replied helpfully. But is he a Flemish Belgian or a French one?
Wow, I thought. Being Belgian is not enough! For some nationalities, there are not just groups but also sub-groups they divide into. Still, for the Flemish Belgian guy things will be quite simple, once his belonging to the Flemish side is successfully confirmed.
But then there are some of us, who simply do not fit in any group or sub-group this easily.
At a party this weekend, I met a lively Polish lady who recently arrived to Doha. We stood there chatting, when an Irish neighbour asked her a natural question: So, have you found other Polish people here yet? The Polish lady thought about it for a while before answering, but I knew what she was thinking straight away. You see, this Polish lady was only technically Polish. However, she lived most of her adult life in Italy. I asked if she, just like I do, finds it hard to hang out with her fellow country men now. Yes, she said. They often asked her awkward, rude questions. Rude to her, but perhaps, to majority of Polish people quite normal. Like how much her salary is, or how come she managed to secure such a great job.
And there are, thankfully, people like this Polish/Italian, or Australian/Malaysian, or Lebanese/Australian/British friends of mine, or other people I know who happened to be either married to a different nationality, or influenced by a culture different to their own due to other circumstances in their lives...so much that they would struggle to be friends with others based on nationality. I am grateful these people exist in an expat world, because, frankly, with the national categorization I see every day, I would be quite lonely.
Of course, I also occasionally try to find a friend from back home. I have to, right? Everybody else does. There must be certain comfort in it. When you are not quite British, you will never be easily accepted by the proper Brits. Neither are you properly Azeri, not anymore. Neither Russian, despite the Soviet childhood and the language I speak. But I keep hoping that one day, I would find an Azeri abroad who is more like me. Someone I would automatically click with, because we have so much in common.
So, when I accidentally found out there was an Azeri neighbour who moved in a compound next door, I walked over to introduce myself. In theory, we had a huge amount in common. Not only was she Azeri, but she also lived abroad a long time. She was also married to an English guy. She must belong, I thought, to my tiny sub-group. There she is, right next door! And the girl was nice. She was friendly and chatty, and it was quite pleasant to be talking to someone from back home, there is no doubt about that. However, in a few minutes of the conversation, she reminded me of the reasons I don't spend all my time hanging out with my fellow countrymen.
Why, I thought, why? Why are so many Azeris like this? Even those who are married into a different culture, even those who lived abroad for a long time? It happens almost immediately.
Oh, she said, so you live in that compound? We went to look at it before we moved here, and I really hated it. It is so dark!
OK, I thought, never mind. Tactless, but let's just move on. We talked about living abroad, we talked about Baku. 'Look, her mother, who was very excited to meet us, pointed out. 'If you lived in Baku right now, would you ever be seen in public looking like this?' She waved her hand in the general direction of my head, leaving me confused whether it was my tied up hair , or the lack of make-up that she found so offensive.
And then there were more comments. 'How old is your husband? Oh, funny. Same age as mine, but he looks a lot older!'
See what I mean?
I walked back home, thinking that the girl was quite nice, really. But…She was not like me. She was really not like me. Not my group, not my sub-group, not the kind of group that any of my friends belong to- wherever they happened to be born, wherever they happened to have lived before, whoever they were married to. Yet, they are all my friends, and we are a group. We are just a diverse group of people who happen to like each other. And maybe I should just realize that some of us don't easily fit anywhere, but that is okay. Because, all around me, there are people who are like me. Just not necessarily Azeri.