Friendships when you live abroad

In the beginning, I wanted to talk about departures. How do you deal with it ? How do you protect yourself from it ? And… impossible for me to write about it. Because… you can’t deal with it and you can’t protect yourself from it. You just get used to it. But I often talked about friendships with my friends in France and my family. Even if the friends I’ve met here. What kind of friendships do you create when you live abroad ?

Expats or locals ?

When I arrived in Kuwait, I first looked for French people. I was looking for common references, same humor, a lookalike past. I also didn’t speak English so I needed people who speak the same language.

And I met a French who introduced me to other Frenchs. And I suddenly realized that I will never find the same person as the friends I had in Paris. I didn’t meet a lot of person from Paris and nobody from my suburb area. Not the same past, different cultural and social background and at the end, we only had the language in common. I understood that I had to adapt no matter what.

So, if I had to adapt, I thought “let’s do the adaptation to the maximum.” I basically left my comfort zone and learned English with a Koweiti woman who is ten years older than me. And now, I speak French at school and English outside. Most of my friends are born and raised in Kuwait. 

Friendships in a foreign language

It’s weird to be friend with someone who doesn’t speak the same language. It’s already hard for me in French because I love to be really precise. And to choose my words carefully. I can spend hours and hours talking about the same topic just to be sure that I am well understood.

So, in English, I don’t have all the shades of the language. My vocabulary is not as rich as it is in French. I am struggling with the tenses and after three hours only speaking in English… my sentences don’t make any sense anymore ! It’s more sounds than words.

And the people I talk to also have to deal with two or three languages. So conversations are sometimes unreal, trying to explain things, using Google Translate, talking with hands. But my English is now better than when I arrived ! Sometimes it’s hard for me to switch from English to French, I mix up everything and my accent is a nightmare ! It’s a mix of Arabic-Indian and French accent. It’s a really nice picture of my surrounding.

And we can’t drink alcohol to speak. a perfect English 😉

Different cultures = taboo topics

The cultural differences force us to not talk about some topics. For example, I can’t talk about feminism because I have a real French vision of the feminism. So I am often in front of situations I don’t get. And it’s the same for my interlocutor.

If you want a proper example. My ex-boyfriend who was a Kuwaiti once told me he won’t go to the cashier with me because I insisted to pay. For him, it was a shame to leave his wife to pay anything. And me, I can’t handle to have everything paid for me. Honestly, he never understood my point of view and I never accepted his. It’s one of the reasons it didn’t work out between us.

I never talk about religion. I don’t say what I think about it, I keep it for myself. The only thing I say is that religion is personal and it’s only between God and me. Here, religion is everywhere, even in the language. And in France, people are wondering if we should keep celebrate Christmas because it’s a religious thing… Two visions really different.

And it’s like this with… everything ! It’s hard to adapt and not hurt.

Perpetual misunderstandings…

Ok, let’s be honest ! You have to always explain everything, you need to tell everything and try to understand every single word. It’s really hard to have a smooth conversation because we have such a different education and background !

Our past is different : to be a kid in Kuwait is not the same as to be a kid in France. I met people who lived during the invasion of Kuwait. It’s a bit naif but it’s the first time of my life I can speak to people who lived in a country in war.

Even when it’s about daily topics. If I want to talk about the environment, I always have to remember that I am in front of someone without any education about it. So I always to start from scratch and not be judgmental.

And about relationships…. it’s an endless source of misunderstandings and everything has to be explained because it’s really different. And nothing goes the same way in Kuwait and in France.

… but a better communication …

Because of all of this, the strong friendships I built are based on a huge communication. In Kuwait, I learned how to talk, explain what I feel. Sometimes I can’t do it well but I am always in progress.

I don’t leave misunderstandings anywhere. The friendships I built in English taught me how to apply one of the Four Agreements : don’t make assumptions. Sometimes, I think the difference cultural created the misunderstandings.

So I take time to understand and make my interlocutor understand. Sometimes I am in front of people who plays the game and sometimes I am not. For people who don’t try to understand, bad for them. But we have long and deep conversations to explain and understand each other. To not hurt and why we had this feeling. Honestly speaking, it’s fascinating.

… and daily learnings.

I am in Kuwait for four years now. I met a lot of Kuwaitis and I shared coffees, dinners, walks … Kuwaitis who gave me some of their time and I gave them some of mine.

I decided to live abroad four years ago and it’s been four years that I am learning every day something new. About me : my body can handle 50 degrees. About the country : did you know there is a law about the falafel sandwichs ? The price will never increase. And about Kuwaitis themselves : I think I’ve never met such confident persons !

I also learned how to drive an automatic car, to live under the AC, few words in Kuwaiti, the arabic alphabet, to count in arab, how to eat with my hands.

Complicated friendships but beautiful ones.

When you decided to move alone, I think we learn how to deal with loneliness. Because we can be surrounded by thousands of people, it will be hard to find people with the same values, the same principles, and the same background. I think it gets harder when we get older. 

If I want to be really honest, I don’t know if the person I met here would have been my friends in France. Maybe one or two persons. For the others, I would never have done the efforts I put today to understand them and to stay quiet about some topics.

But it’s my most beautiful social experiences. I learned so much, I forgot all the fake ideas I had in mind. I went beyond my prejudices. I learned how to accept things I would never have accepted before. To see things I didn’t want to see. It opened my mind a lot.

So, the curious me, eager for new things and to learn is really happy to live this every day. I am happy with everything I see, everything I taste and everything people shows me.

Kuwait is full of flaws but, definitely, I couldn’t dream about a better place to learn and grow !


Something to say ? :)