x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

What happens overseas...

Fast friendships and temporary arrangements: the life of an expat.

It's like overnight camp for kids, only it lasts much longer and we're all adults now. The intensity of expatriate life is inescapable. Communities feel small, even when they aren't; they are insular and tight-knit, and friendships that would develop over significant periods of time back home do so on fast-forward. Zero to 60, just like that. But of course! UAE offices are overflowing with young expatriates making generous salaries in professionally accelerated positions. We work hard, we play hard. We bring energy and need - immediately upon arrival - to find like-minded people to expend it with. Many of us live in company-provided accommodation. We not only work together all day, but also go home to the same buildings, along the same routes, take the same stairs and elevators, wave to the same doormen.

It has its advantages. A cup of sugar is always available. We can be social without venturing outside. And of course, if you're curious about dirty laundry, it's all there, hanging right on the line. But because we live and work in such close quarters, because we're so far from home and removed from familiar things, the process of getting to know each other is done with an unnecessary sense of urgency. If most of our time is spent in each other's company, we will talk to each other about our days, our work, things we like and people we don't.

Spending time with new people is, of course, how we get to know them. But within expatriate communities it happens so quickly it can give a sense of false familiarity. We quickly identify people we think are most like ourselves and create a self-fulfilling illusion of dependability upon each other. So we expect of each other what we do from people we've known for significantly longer. We meet, we're best friends, we're sick of each other, we're best friends again, all in a matter of months. Or weeks.

Expat life is transitory. Does this indicate an aversion to permanence? Who knows. There is a sense among us that what happens overseas stays overseas. Most people have a deadline for how much time they will spend away from home. And we all know what we will take with us when we leave.