Lipstick and Laptop: Expat bonding at its best
Reaching out to an expat-in-need can be the ideal medicine for newcomers: 'Girlie Breakfasts' for American expat Karen were just that, and she intends to pay it forward.
About once a month, I eagerly run the kids off to school, kiss the hubby goodbye, and race out the door dressed up pretty for 'Girlie Breakfast'. This morning was one such occasion.
But it was special, because the expat bonding celebrated at these gatherings was extended to a new girl, and in a way, it was for me an example of friendship coming full-circle.
Less than a year ago, I was the lost and lonely 'new girl' in town. Then I was invited to my first Girlie Breakfast. Nothing in the world could have done me more good at the time, as I was wallowing in the overwhelmed-new-expat blues.
It started with Rachel, a lovely British woman I met at an Expat Quiz Night (via MeetUp). Rachel reached out to me, the newcomer, and welcomed me to join her and a group of her friends the next morning at a beautiful little cafe very close to my home (Villa Landleben). I was a bit apprehensive about going but also desperately in need of connecting with other women, especially anyone who could relate to my experiences as a mum in a foreign country. So I went.
And it was one of the best things I ever did! During the two or more hours we lingered over lattes and a splendid breakfast buffet. We talked and laughed like I hadn't done in months.
I left that first Girlie Breakfast feeling, for the very first time since moving to Germany, like everything was going to be ok. I was so grateful for the warmth and easy friendship of this group of near-strangers. They made me feel like part of a family and gave me perspective and hope.
Over the next half year or so, I learned their individual stories, the reasons they came to Germany, and the reasons they stayed. Each month the group in attendance may vary between five and eight ladies who manage to get there between jobs, kids' appointments, household repairs, etc. In total, there are about a dozen women in the group. Each one is very different – who knows if we would even be friends in other circumstances. But here in this little corner of Germany, being expat mums is a pretty powerful common bond.
My new girlfriends, who hail mostly from the UK and US, all call this country 'home'. None of the women in this particular circle of expats is here on a temporary basis. Some, like me, are married to Germans. Others have expat spouses, too, but their children were either born here or have lived here long enough that it is the only place the kids feel at home; so the parents have put down roots and decided to stay for the long-term. I think that makes this group unique from many expat communities. And it makes it the perfect fit for me. I feel enormously blessed to have found them!
Then I was able to 'pay forward' the tremendous gift Rachel gave me, when she extended that first invitation to breakfast.
Last night I was at a German parent-teacher meeting for my son's eight grade class. It was the first one I attended at his new school and I didn't know anyone. But then I realised the woman sitting behind me (the only one who had brought her child to the meeting) was whispering in English with her daughter. My son had mentioned a new girl from South Africa had just joined their class, and that she didn't speak any German. Over the last week he'd mentioned the new girl and her family a few times and I was already feeling a bit sorry for their apparent struggles, having never met them.
I leaned over and asked them if they were new to the school. Bingo. I introduced myself as the American whose son had just come to school mid-way through last year, and we proceeded to chat and pass notes in the back of class like 'bad kids'.
I couldn't help but invite her to breakfast. I knew exactly how she felt. So this morning, I swung by her apartment on my way to Girlie Breakfast and took her to meet the expat group. And just like they had done for me, they welcomed her with open arms. By the end of breakfast there were hugs for the new girl and offers for any help she needed. She was so grateful. So relieved. And I know exactly how that felt for her, too.
She has a very tough year ahead for herself and her family. But every month or so, at least we've got Girlie Breakfast. In between, we've got good old-fashioned girlfriends, and quiz night, and book club, and birthday cocktails, and lots of other excuses for getting together!
And like they did for me, these girlfriends will do for the new girl: We've got your back. Welcome to the Girlie Breakfast Club!
New Yorker Karen Maduschke first travelled to Germany on a high school exchange in the 1980s. Falling in love with more than just the landscape, she returned 25 years later to live with her German-born husband and their four school-aged children. Passionate supporters of youth exchange, Karen's family has hosted many students from around the world. Have Lipstick and Laptop Will Travel is a blog that chronicles the joys and frustrations of expat life from a parent's perspective and also shares recipes, books and inspiration for living. You can follow Karen's bilingual musings on Twitter as well.
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