I had been in this country for a couple of weeks when my husband told me we had a double-date with a new friend from work and her husband. They were from California, one of my favorite places on earth. Sushi and a concert were the agenda. Since we were still waiting to receive our shipping crate from the States, I only had a couple of changes of clothing and they were only nice enough to walk dogs in, not really rock concert material.
I was still in shock from purchasing a t-shirt for 90 francs when we arrived at the restaurant. Our new friends hadn't arrived yet, but I remember boring my husband with complaints - I couldn't read the menu, it was cold outside, the tram had been crowded, I wasn't going to pay 13 francs for a tuna roll, yada, yada, yada. I'm sure his eyes glazed over...mine did just writing that sentence.
That's when this ridiculously adorable couple walked it. With blonde hair, huge blue eyes and a smile that instantly makes you want to be the focus of her attention, I had only a moment to decide whether to hate Casie or love her and since she spoke English, I chose to love her. And I think I intuitively knew that I would never go hungry as long as her husband Zach was around.
By the end of the meal, I had complained about virtually every aspect of Switzerland I had seen thus far. And yet still this awesome couple was willing to go to the concert with us. We had a great time seeing, singing to and yelling at Train. The home-grown San Fransisco band could not have expected to have to home-grown San Franciscans and two Kansans yelling at them in between every, single song in the city of Zürich, but that is just what we did.
Thus started a great friendship. I try not to pull the "only another ex-pat would understand" on this blog too often. But sometimes it is true. Do you know what kind of person sits through another person complaining about the helplessness, prices, culture-shock and food of another world? Another ex-pat. Who understands the pain of not being able to buy decent salsa? Another ex-pat. Who listens to you cry about home-sickness and agrees that it sucks while telling you it will get better? Yup.
Eventually, you become friends because you like each other - not just because of the shared experience. While we lived a fair ways away from each other, mr. shoe would get to see Casie during the week when she would come into Zürich for work. During my non-working year, she and I would meet up in Zürich for a drink or a lunch. Since there was about to be a new addition to her family, I would use lunch as an excuse to gorge myself so that she didn't feel bad about eating alone.
An accomplished photographer, Casie wandered around Basel for hours to take pictures of John and myself when a previously-scheduled photographer had to bail on our appointment. She was eight-months pregnant at the time. (Please do not think bad of me. I gave her every opportunity to cancel.)
When Casie and Zach welcomed their little girl to the world, it was another good excuse to travel to Basel. Zach always had an amazing spread ready to be enjoyed and I would always enjoy it. A Girl's Night In would have Zach's famous salsa waiting for me in the fridge and chocolate chip cookies waiting in the oven - even if he was on another continent.
I'm pretty sure Zach is actually my brother in another life. Zach is a hugger. I am a hugger. And he is the only cook that could get me to eat guacamole and carrot soup and drink prosecco out of a coffee mug. Separately, of course. He is just that good.
Every birthday party or bbq or baby shower was an introduction to more friends. If man can be judged by the company he keeps, C & Z are obviously warm, funny, charming and comfortable, but above all, welcoming. I am 5,000 miles from home, from family, from all I know, but when I walked into Casie and Zach's flat, I was home. I always left their place with leftovers, a full belly, a happy heart, encouragement to blog more and new friends.
We didn't live close to each other, but there was such a security in knowing C & Z were there. They are the kind of friends who don't mind if you walk into their kitchen and dig through the cabinets for what you want. Who don't mind if you steal their baby from their arms the minute you walk in the house. Who don't mind if you promptly give her back because you found the plate of sugar cookies.
Forgive me for using the dramatic past tense during this post, but my friends are leaving to go back to San Fran. Baby M gets to grow up with her cousins and her grandparents close by. C & Z get to settle back into their hometown. They get fresh Mexican food, customer service and free Coke refills. They are going home.
While scanning their flat for furniture I should make an offer on before the movers arrived, I realized I had already gotten everything I needed and more than I deserved from C & Z. They gave me self-confidence again, they gave me the perfect salsa recipe, introduced me to more friends and hugged me every time I saw them.
Making new friends is hard when you are 38. Finding new friends with whom you quickly bond is rare, no matter what your age. When it happens, you thank God for the gift of these people. You hug them, tell them you love them, wish them well and cry a little (a lot once you get to the train). And then you blog about them because that is what you can do to tell them what their friendship means to you.
Then finally you struggle to live the words of the wise Seuss: Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.