9 February 2011

Finding Friends

Moving to a foreign country is scary.  Leaving the UK in 2002 was tough.  I have a small family and many friends and I knew from someone else's experience, that when you move, not only abroad but even away from your own area, although people say they will stay in touch, they don't and when you are stuck in a foreign country trying to make a new life, it can be depressing.

How things have changed.  Facebook, Friends Reunited, Skype.  There is no need to be friendless now as long as you have access to the internet, you can be in touch with friends and family all the time.  An added bonus of Skype is that if friends in the States are still up in the early hours of the morning because they are still enjoying the adrenalin kick of a performance, you can chat to them either by the message option or call them.  The old problem of time zones is a thing of the past.

In the last few years I have made contact with old schoolfriends, including two from my primary school, and girls from my High School period, old college friends, old drinking friends, work colleagues and the best bit, my lovely partner Glenn (thanks to Friends Reunited) through Facebook.

Making friends in a new country is a harder task especially if you are not in a work situation.  Where do you meet them?  How do you communicate in a foreign language?  I had a bit of a head start as I had been visiting for quite a long time and had made various portuguese friends who helped me through the early days.  Then through a contact, I met a member of The Lisbon Players - an amateur dramatic group based in Lisbon.  I worked as an Assistant Stage Manager on a production and made a lasting friendship with Laura and Kevin, who now live in America.  When I moved from Lisbon to Cascais in 2003, Laura was an absolute lifeline on where to go, where to eat, where the best markets were and she, possibly unknowingly, taught me the best routes to various places that did not involve the motorway.  Thanks Laura.

I also decided to make friends I should join a organisation for foreigners in Cascais.  They held a monthly coffee morning in Cascais so I went along to join and to hopefully meet new people.  Luckily for me, Laura was a loose end and joined me as sadly, it was not what I expected.  It was very 'cliquey' and there was no real effort in befriending newcomers. I also found that some people were not interested in me as a person when I said I was teaching English as a Foreign Language because all they wished to know about was who my husband worked for!  Also working for a living did not seem to coincide with any of the activities available as they were generally during the day or evening.  When you teach, you tend to teach at any hor of the day, mainly either mornings or evenings. When I said I was single, there was a definite feeling 'no interest to us'. I tried it once more and struck lucky when I met Pam who was and still is, involved with the English Library in Birre. For me that was worth the money I had to part with to join the organisation.  My everlasting memory is of women more interested in what other women's husbands did for a living, than trying to help a newcomer to the area. I did not fit in because I had nothing to offer them in the way of corporate gossip, one upmanship of size of villa, pool and maids.  I only taught English as a Foreign Language and was single! However, it was worth the joining fee to have met Pam. 

The library is amazing. It is situated in the annexe of a private house and keeps growing. It is held on a Wednesday morning from 11.00-13.00 and is an Alladin's cave of hardbacks, large print books, DVDs, talking tapes and CDs, with an amazing paperback section.  It is totally free and if you take out paperbacks, you can pass them on or return them, but if you take out hardbacks, DVDs and CDs you have to have your card stamped but there is no time limit on how long you have the books for.  Good job as Glenn has taken a few months to get through a biography!  Since finding it in 2003, I have been a helper and a regular visitor.  If work gets in the way, I get a bit miffed cos I can't go every week but when I go, I tend to fill up at least three bags with books to keep me going. I also found it a great way to recycle all my old paperbacks that I did not want to keep.

I then decided to join a Pilates Class (again in 2003) which was held twice a week at Hotel Atlantico in Monte Estoril.  Now that was a good move, apart from the fact Pilates was excellent for my bad back, I met my wonderful friend Ann, who again was a great source of help and guidance to me.  Ann is now back in the UK but we stay in touch and I was so pleased when she came over for my big birthday party in 2009.  Also on that day I was joined by Paul who had the great pleasure of announcing he was at my 21st and 60th - another re-connection from Friends Reunited and a link back to the happy days of living in Macclesfield.

When I moved to Cascais I started to teach English as a Foreign Language and before I knew it, most of my students had become friends.  My Spanish students kept recommending me around their friends and I loved my conversation classes with them as I learnt so much about Spain and its culture.  I really missed them when they relocated back to Madrid as their husbands' time in Portugal had finished. I then got involved with a fantastic German/Russian family who again have become friends even though they now live back in Germany.  I really miss our breakfasts together on a Saturday with the children, Katja and Timo and the lovely Leska the Husky. Through Facebook I can keep up with all my students, past and present.  I get to see the latest photographs of their children, partners or of their holidays.  I am also able to follow my youngest niece as she goes around the world on a belated Gap Year. 

I know Facebook gets a bad press where youngsters are concerned, but I think for our age group it is a fantastic way to stay in touch with family and friends and also to re-connect with friends you might have lost touch with and friends who have left Portugal and gone to pastures new.  The only difficulty I have found is that obviously when girls get married they change their names but then that's where Friends Reunited comes into play and sometimes you can find them there and then link up with Facebook. 

It's been very interesting re-connecting with schoolfriends - we all seem to have done well considering what our teachers used to say about us.  Recently five of us had a huge conversation on Facebook where we reminded each other about school days, teachers and the mischief we got up to - school trips that only occurred once due to us being 'the worst year ever!'.  Some of the stories were amazing and makes you wonder why you didn't remember them but thankfully we all have different memories to pass on our different stories and make each other laugh.

Some friends have gone into businesses late in life and in totally different areas to what they were originally involved in.  One friend, Iona, whom I met when I was working in the electricity industry,  has gone into cheese production  and has a very interesting blog on it:  http://ribblesdalecheese.wordpress.com/  Well worth a read.  It is a fascinating process and nice to hear about how she has gone about building the business in these difficult days, the fun she has with her pigs, her new shop and the cheese and chutney tastings she has started.  My only problem is that at present she is not exporting so I tend to just read it and hope that one day I can try some of the products.

Another old friend from the television and music days discovered on Facebook was Tony or Tony the Greek as the Piccadilly Radio fans know him.  He also has a blog which is highly entertaining if you are into music.  He has also written a book, The Insights Collection, which I helped him with - again the joys of the internet.  He wrote it in chunks which he emailed across to me for editing and I sent back - no time zone worries even though he is living in Florida.  Check it out if  you like a laugh:   http://engineroominsights.com/
Another schoolfriend, Deb, has a photo booth business which looks great fun for weddings, birthday parties and any other event you fancy.   You can find her at http://www.pergolaphoto.co.uk/.  Shortly she will be starting up another business with skin products - funny when you think her burning ambition at school was to be a vet and the teachers were very dismissive of her.  I think we have all done very well without the support of some of the supposed Careers Advisors of the '60s.

Since moving to Colares last year, we have made friends with a lot of local people because they are so incredibly friendly and helpful.  I also think that once the local people realise you are living here because you want to and not because you have been posted, there is a change in attitude.  My local shop has been so kind to me over the problem with my elbow.  My shopping has been carried to the car, they never fail to ask how it is healing and offering tips and recommendations on food choices, where to eat, where to buy things or even cheerfully getting my battery going after it failed in the street.  My local newsagent has even managed to order and reserve a regular magazine for me.  It's a great kiosk run by two ladies. In the laundry, I am know as Rosa the Foreigner to differentiate me from Rosa the local!  Great fun.

So, even though lots of friends are out of sight (unless you have a camera on Skype) no-one ever need feel lonely in Portugal.  The portuguese are wonderful people when you get to know them.  A sense of humour which can be just as black as the British and the added bonus is that they too discuss the weather in the same detail and dedication that we do.  You are never alone here if you can discuss the weather or football.

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