The Local Expat

When I was a single twenty-something living in Spain it upset me to no end how difficult it was to make and integrate with a group of Spanish locals. I couldn’t understand why locals wouldn’t want to make a foreign friend and learn about someone’s life outside of Spain, in the same way that I was eager to learn about their lives and culture. Many expats complain of this same phenomenon here in the Czech Republic and a whole host of other places.

Now, living in Prague, just arriving into my thirties, I’m not sure if it’s an age or experience thing, but I find myself with the same mentality that used to distress me: I have no desire, interest or inclination to make friends with people who are not here for the long term. With the exception of my dear friend K. who just left Prague, once I find out someone is leaving in the nearish future I turn off and drop out. The shocking thing for me is that I don’t feel bad about it at all. In fact, it’s sort of a relief; emotional spring cleaning.

With all of my Third Culture Kid-ness I really never thought I would ever take on this common trait of locals, but here I am. The way I see it, this is my home and I’m building a life here. My husband is my best friend and my various projects fulfil me to no end. I have a lot of great friends all over the world who I barely can keep up with. I have a lifetime of crazy experiences with friends and strangers that gives my imagination the occasional boost, and all in all I am just about as content as a person can be. So when the option arises to invite someone new into my life, something I used to do at the drop of a hat, I now must consider not only if I have any energetic room to spare but also is the new friendship going to be mutually beneficial: Is the person just passing through Prague or are they a fixture? That is the big question, and its answer is my biggest determinant of a potential friendship these days.

My relationship with K. while she was here was magnificent because we could just be ourselves together. There wasn’t any drama, there wasn’t any of the childish nonsense I find myself having to deal with when it comes to younger friends. It was just love, admiration, mutual support and sisterhood. Beautiful. Spending time with her was relaxing and eye-opening and inspiring. Joyful. We gave each other all the space we needed to do our own things with no pressure. She’s a part of my heart now and always will be, even though she may not be back to town for a while. We made the permanent connection and regardless of time and space it will always be there.

Aside from the magnificence of K., what I’m finding is that I’m getting a lot of subtle flak from acquaintances who are leaving who try to make me feel bad because I’m not dropping every little thing to see them as much as possible before they go. I know what it feels like to be young and leaving a place, how an uncomfortable desperation creeps into every encounter from fear of the unknown on which you’re about to embark. I have a lot of empathy for what they’re going through. However, I no longer have the energy to hold their hands through it.

There also seems to be a lack of understanding from some of these youngsters that Prague is my home. I am not just passing through here, I am here to stay. For many, many more years. I’m building a career, I’m enjoying my marriage, and my life doesn’t exist to validate the brief moments of Prague’s visitors, many of whom I have only the most surface of connections with or whom I will likely never see again.

And I’m not the only expat who’s turned “local.” Apparently a large chunk of the even longer-standing expats who participate on Prague’s many Internet forums have also lost their patience with the steady stream of temporary residents to the point where newbies in town complain that the local expats are rude or mean. Really, we’re not meaning to be. We’re just tired of having to deal with and spend energy helping people who aren’t even going to be around this time next year. Living in Prague isn’t our holiday or escape, it is our life, our home. That’s just the reality.

On the day that was the day that K. left Prague I officially closed the borders of Sezinia. Now there are much stricter visa requirements and the main pre-condition is longevity. As sad as I am that K. isn’t living here anymore, I am so thankful that she helped me realise and effect some healthy changes in my emotional life. It’s liberating that for once in my once-perpetually open existence I am beginning the process of privatisation. Contrary to the phenomenon globally, this feels pretty damn good.

Thoughts?