…because some thoughts are worth remembering
For the past two and a half years, my husband and I have been making new friends. After leaving Honolulu, our home for over 20 years, living in Aarhus, Denmark, where we didn’t know a single soul meant constant introduction of ourselves, hand shaking, assessment of our first impressions and deciphering what they thought of us.
Making new friends, especially when you are older, is both exciting and challenging. The Danes tend to have their set of friends from childhood already and their friend-cupboard (literal translation of their word for friendship, venskab) is full, which means that rather than spread themselves thin with superficial levels of encounters, they keep to the friends they already have. Aarhus is a university town, which has the youngest population in Denmark, and is relatively rich with foreigners. Since the foreigners all tried making friends with the Danes and didn’t get far, we bonded to each other more intensely.
Out of desperation, our survival instincts kick in to nurture these expat friendships, exchanging valuable information on how to go about our daily lives in a foreign country from differences in banking and health care procedures to where to buy certain tools or ingredients. Where professional networking events start with what industry you represent and what you do in that industry, the expat events start with what geography you are familiar with and the circumstances that brought them here. There is a whole different set of common ground one can discover beyond whether you are a doctor or not, in IT or not, when you start your conversation this way.
I was fortunate enough to experience the strong ties and friendships you build by living in one place for a long time (Honolulu) and having started my own company (small, tight-knit startup culture based on teams with shared vision), so to make new friends in a completely different way, and yet experience such strong ties in a short period of time was both refreshing and strange. Here we were, several months into the stay, and another American couple had keys to our apartment, and we had theirs.
Because social media (despite its many negative consequences) has done a decent job of communicating both the life-events and the mundane details of daily life, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I decided to visit Honolulu after 2.5 years. Everything was explained with a single laughter. In between going over similar stories about our impressions of living in Europe, I said something insignificant that didn’t contribute to the story nor was it funny. But my former coworker laughed. He laughed for a long time, because he knew me and he remembered how I said the kind of thing I said in the kind of way I said it. He knew that what I was describing would be unbearable to me, even if it didn’t affect anyone else, so he thought it was funny. I didn’t have to explain the context of who I was. I’d forgotten that feeling where you can just say something and people get what your reaction might have been because they know who you are. History. That’s what you get with old friends.
History is also what made the intense short-term friendships so precious: strangers from diverse backgrounds coming together, establishing history others wouldn’t understand in an accelerated way. I look forward to our new friends we made in Denmark becoming our old friends adding layers of new memories together, wherever we end up.
Photo: Decorative emblem under a traditional style Danish house in Viborg, the second oldest city in Denmark