Saturday, May 10, 2008

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old...

Friends at home and in Switzerland often ask about Sydney's social scene. 'Are you making new friends?' is what they're really getting at. I told them before I left on this latest leg of our adventures that I felt wildly lucky to have met a number of quality friends so far. On one hand, it felt so foolish to abandon groups of friends with whom we felt comfortable and content. Why volunteer for the exhausting task of being on my best behavior for the sake of scoring new friends again?

And meeting new friends when you're grown up and married or have a partner truly is work. It's the kind of work that reminds you of dating with the same stiffness and awkwardness of getting to know each other, but without the thrill of a crush. The tricky part about making new couple friends is the compatibility factor. The guy has to get along with the guy, the girl with the girl and all four have to gel together as well.

I think this is why you see less of certain friends when your status changes from single to married or, as Facebook would say, 'in a relationship.' It's not that a significant other makes you a fundamentally different person, it might just be that your girlfriend can't relate to your friend's girlfriend when she talks incessantly about her Siamese called Muffin. Or, your husband can't bear an evening with an old college buddy who still thinks beer pong is an appropriate game for a thirtieth birthday party. And perhaps this is the real reason for upholding the tradition of a boys' night out; it's a chance to bond with the folks your wife would rather clean the toilet than visit.

Anyway, this is why making decent couple friends feels like winning the lottery. 'She doesn't have a habit of berating him in public and his social skills mask the fact that he's a software engineer,' you find yourself sighing in relief. 'Excellent, we can tolerate each other for an evening, but do we want to make this couple friendship long term?' Sadly, one of the most important factors in compatibility is money, or to be more accurate, the way you and your prospective friends prioritize spending it. If you and your partner enjoy fine dining, but your new buddies are perfectly content with Hungry Jacks (Australian Burger King) and wouldn't dream of diverting cash away from the jet ski fund, then perhaps you aren't a foursome made in heaven.

Another deal breaker is taste; it's even more critical than politics in my opinion. For example, almost everyone laughed at the film Napoleon Dynamite and those who love it have a cult fascination with it. Of course I'm in this latter group and when I showed it to a friend and she didn't love it, I questioned our friendship. I thought it was funny when Napoleon explained his drawing of a liger and Nat didn't, yet we are friends. It is indeed a mystery. Likewise, Mick and I have some couple friends who not only paid to see the Wayans Brothers 2004 movie White Chicks, but liked it as well. The reality of White Chicks being worth ten dollars opens up a world of possibilities that I just don't understand. Anyway, we haven't gone to the movies with them since.

Against the odds (one of which you must have gathered from the above paragraph is the fact that I'm a total snob), we have managed to make great couple and single friends. We adore our friends from Houston, California (including California transplants) and the UK. Do you notice anything odd about my social circle? I do; with the exception of our English friends, all our Sydney pals are... American. And for some reason, I feel I need to mention this and thus qualify our friend making success. 'Yes, Mom, I have made friends, but none of them are Australian."

Last year we were patting ourselves on the back for building a mini model UN social group with friends from Switzerland, the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Finland. And in Switzerland this makes sense because being a native English speaker provides you with an instant bond. You whinge together about how strange Swiss German is and ironically because of these friendships, you never really learn it.

Here in Australia, though, everyone speaks English so you must form the bond of friendship over something else. In our case the something else is being recent arrivals to Sydney and Australia. Being new adds grease to the wheels of an ordinarily tiring and lengthy process. There's always something to talk about: cultural differences between Oz and the home country, where to find the creamiest peanut butter, etc. And without an existing social network, you don't have anyone else to call on a Saturday night so you get to know each other quickly.

Thus, making an Australian friend is going to require some work. Bonding over our new status as Sydney-siders won't be an option and I'll have to appear interesting and charming on another level. Check back with me in a couple of months; if I've made an Australian mate, I'll give you some tips on scoring local friends, but if I haven't, you'll know how truly lazy I am. :)

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