I had in the past avoided the expat tag. It made me think of stuck up English aristocratic types in Kenya who played too much tennis at the club, treated the locals like crap and murdered each others' wives. In other words I had watched White Mischief a couple of times too many.
Bruges (Cavalier JY)
But some of the problems I have had assimilating and relating to people who give my jokes odd looks, made me start to seek out some of the trappings of the old country. I think it was this more than the lack of warm beer. The small reminders were not enough; the party down the English shop with cut outs of Wills and Kate on the day of their wedding didn't really do the trick but at least I was able to wade into a fantastic plate of sausage rolls with some old and befuddled and lost souls from Burnley.
On another occasion I sought out a nearby British shop to plunder some Jammie dodgers and real white bread. However, most of the clientele was Scottish and I sensed a small undertone of resentment to those south of the border. Don't get me wrong; the Jammie Dodgers were great.
I joined InterNations about six months ago but forgot I had joined almost as soon as I had forgotten my password. The invitations came and went but they were for nights out in DC. Then a group was set up in Norfolk. I resolved to go but still missed the first four meetings.
Then a meeting was organized at the German restaurant just 20 minutes from home. It was time to take some action and meet some people from the old world. It was time to be an expat in a non sneering way.
When I walked into the restaurant and saw a group of people on a table, I felt a sinking feeling. I think it was the dorky badges with our names and national flags on. Still something that struck me as soon as I arrived was the lack of awkwardness which is in stark contrast to meeting strangers who are American. There was no stilted conversation or small talk. Everybody was having a roaring good time in the total absence of mental mind games. There were no Brits. There was one American guy but no American women of the kind I usually run into who can easily spend two hours holding court on the virtues of the Shark cleaner against the Dyson as I find out whether or not it is possible to cut off my head with a plastic knife.
As I spoke with some ladies from Belgium, France and Sweden, I realized I had never met anyone from these countries in all the time I have been here. Everybody was drinking beer liberally without looking furtively around them for the beer police as Americans so often seem to do when confronted with the evil specter of alcohol.
I spoke to a German who had worked as a journalist in the old East Germany and a French Canadian. We spoke about Bruges, Cologne and Brussels. We spoke about drugs and old style man-woman athletes from the DDR and the way immigration has changed the old place so much. It hit me then how much of Europe I have left behind in a discarded memory pocket and how much I missed it.
The brown cafes of Amsterdam and the curious green light on the canals of Bruges suddenly seemed a long way away.
When my inflated beer and food bill arrived the organizer just smiled and said the night was on InterNations. All I had to do was spread the word and say something positive about it. Frankly that's not a hard thing to do.