On Being the New Girl

I went to lunch.

I didn’t know what to wear so left the bathroom festooned with tried-ons-and-discarded, the shower head wearing a flung t’shirt, the bath draped in a badshoppingday dress and trousers trampled into the floor. I arrived and felt I’d got it all wrong anyway.

My hostess was lovely, the food to die for, the ladies were kind and as lunch developed I watched them engaged in uproarious fun; the in-jokes, the familiar names; a shared history, easy, effortless, and wished I could join in, like the new girl at school, tentatively, longingly gazing into a playground that’s all Go except for her.  You want to nudge her out but she’s afraid to go lest she make a wrong and forever alienating move.

I sat like a rabbit-in-the-headlights. In my wrong clothes without the right conversation. It’s such a long time since I’ve been the Newbie that I have forgotten how. I don’t have anybody’s lifemap and they don’t have mine and so the conversation skims the surface, I’m hopeless at small-talk; it never unpicks a personality or unravels a story to satisfactory conclusion. Like going to a meal and coming home feeling less than satiated. Worrying about the choices you’d made, the things you said, the outfit you wore, hating that one lady gazed over your shoulder as you spoke in search of somebody who’d be less hard work to to talk to just because you never have to try as hard with old faces as new ones …

I’ve never been new in an expat community; I’ve drifted seamlessly from one bit of East Africa to another, where between mine and Ant’s families, we’ve trodden a familiar history for over a hundred years. This bit’s different though. This bit of slightly-southern Africa.

How long have you been here?

Um. Bout three weeks …?

And how long are you staying?

I don’t know? A year? Five? Ten? Forever? I don’t know how to be a real expat; I’ve herded my little tribe here, a nomad, in search of greener pastures. This is home now. This new place is where all our energies will concentrate without any consideration of What Next? The Here And Now is how Ant and I have always lived.

I ask Ant later, as I sniff pathetically into my glass of wine, feeling sorry for my friendless self, ‘do you find it hard, being new?’. Of course I do. Do you worry about what to say? Of course I do? Do you ask questions? (Worrying I hadn’t asked enough/the right kind/had asked too many, as I am prone to do ever since my darling mum urged me that the way to fend off social anxiety born of debilitating shyness, was to ‘ask questions; everybody loves talking about themselves’. ). Of course I do, says Ant. What do you ask, then, I want to know, ‘ I ask, do you have any children?’. He pauses, ‘yes?’ I say, encouraging him on, ‘and if they say no, I ask if they’re still a virgin.’

Perhaps I’ll try that next time then?


22 Responses to “On Being the New Girl”

  1. Carol Says:

    Ha ha – can’t believe Antony asks that – but it is one hell of an ice-breaker. You will settle in and make friends – and the woman looking over her shoulder for someone easier/more interesting to talk to will be regretting it when you have made friends/become famous! Miss you loads but glad it is all going ok (and at least you can laugh about it) – ask Ant how many virgins he has met in Zambia for me please!

  2. janelle Says:

    heh he ..! oh anthea….you get out there and show your metal girl! you’re FABULOUS and never doubt it for a minute…LOVING your posts! if anything, at least moving to lusaka is giving you delicious material. LOVE LOVE LOVE from the dusty ngorobobs. xxx

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      thanks janelle xx i will: get out there. and it is: giving me a whole swathe of new material x

  3. robyn Says:

    being new is crap sometimes. you just give your number out like a pimp and hope to meet a friend to be your true and fast friend-just one is enough-then everything gets better. but-there are always up sides-like lots of great writing material!

  4. Kit Says:

    It’s always hard being new. But I’m sure it will get easier. Easier to get to know people one on one that at a gathering where they all know each other already.
    When we arrived here my kids were small and they made it easier to push yourself into friendships. I’d blatantly invite almost strangers over if they had kids the same age. But I’d never have been so brave without them to launch into the toddler social scene.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      i agree kit, kids do make it easier. another lady arrived same time, our husbands work together, she’s sailing along because she has little ones in tow. i’ll get there 🙂 x

  5. Jackie Says:

    Being new is horrible! Pole sana! And as for the woman looking over your shoulder, her mother should have taught her better manners!!!! It will be difficult for a while, but you will get there and Ant is there to put it all in perspective – and what a perspective!!! That made me laugh! Just dropped Nico in Durham, fingers crossed and all that! Hugs. Jxx

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      oh good luck Nico. What a wonderful new adventure for him. and yes, what a perspective, certainly made me feel better. and laugh! xx

  6. Nicola Says:

    Hahah! I’m going to try that line next time I feel out of place and so obviously the foreigner. Love it!

  7. wellfedfred Says:

    I don’t know how it happens that you live so many of my MidManhattan (New York City) experiences in SortOfSouthernAfrica, but I expect some things are just universal, whether one likes it or not. I was asked to a lunch for the benefit of a charity that raises money on behalf of a pronounceable but not too disgusting disease. I would much rather have sent the innocent sufferers a chicken salad plate to go, and stayed home in person, but I went. Too many of our friends are relocating for one reason or another, and I thought a little outreach was in order. In my next life I will pick friends with more stable jobs, better health and better longevity genes. And if I get a “next husband” as part of the deal, he will be much more important than anyone else’s. That way my friends will outlast me, and if I do have to go out and meet new people I will wear a badge with a picture of the King of the World, captioned “MINE. ENVY ME.”

  8. janerowena Says:

    Very true wellfedfred. I hate leaving all my hard-fought-for friends. It’s bloody hard work to make them and find them. Next time my husband suggests moving I think I shall stay put and seduce the postman or coalman. (I need someone to reach for things.)

  9. Addy Says:

    Now you’ve got to meet them once, I’m sure it’ll be much better next time, that’s if you have the courage to go a second time!

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      i think it will addy, be easier next time. there were 50 odd of them. so perhaps rather a baptism by fire. x

  10. Elaine - I used to be indecisive Says:

    Oh dear. Being new is very difficult – I remember it myself on many occasions. It will get better though.

  11. Family Affairs Says:

    Pretend you’re at university ….. my son has just started and I’m SO jealous of all his new friends. Although, I guess, it’s gets harder as we get older and we miss our old slipper friends…..Lx

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      mine too FM – just started at uni. and loving it. i think it does get harder as we get older. i think a funny lack of confidence creeps in. but i have been fortunate to have met one or two girls who are hugely supportive and encouraging. so getting better x

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