Expat Life, Friendship

Expat Friendship: The Friend at Hand

The friend at hand is often your first expat friendship when you land on new shores. It’s an idea adopted from an African proverb of unknown provenance. The first time I came across it was printed on a patchwork quilt that I won, a quilt made by a brilliant group of expat ladies (which is a story for another time). It’s not just a proverb, it is a truth, a fact, a mantra that the seasoned expat understands well and one that new expats will learn very quickly if they are going to survive in a strange new place.

“A friend at hand is better than a far distant relative.” African Proverb, Unknown


What is a Friend at Hand?

The friend at hand is a life buoy in choppy new waters, the unexpected guardian angel who is watching over you and rescues you when you need it most. They may approach you entirely unsolicited and for no apparent reason hand you a phone number, offer you a favour or kindness, a ready smile or social invitation. There is no need to repay the kindness and it’s likely you will never become proper friends, but hopefully in the future you may pay it forward to another lost newbie.

Why you Need a Friend at Hand

When we first moved to Nigeria and my husband was writhing on the floor with toothache agony in the middle of the night, my distant relative and friends were not going to be able to a) identify a reputable after hours doctor or dentist or b) locate said after hours medical establishment in a dark and unknown megacity.

That’s the moment when I phoned the lady I met the day before for 1.3 minutes at a coffee morning and who insisted I took her number on a scrap of paper “just in case” she smiled as she pressed it into my palm before disappearing back into the hubbub. Thank flipping goodness. Yes, I called the “friend at hand”.

Mrs Fisherprice, (that’s not quite your actual name, but should you happen to read this, I’m pretty sure you’ll know it’s you I’m talking about), wherever in the world you are, thank you for so helpfully and encouragingly taking that late night distress call.

On the back of your advice, I roused the driver and we three set off into the dark hunting for the night clinic you recommended. I still remember the doctor’s surprise that we were willing to pay the higher price for the smaller needle. 3inch needle or 1cm? Yes, we paid the extra.  The Doctor’s surprise turned to all out admiration when Mr Incredible (Alpha male and long term diabetic) insisted on self administering the painkiller injection.

Thankful for the pain relief we made through the night and went to see the dentist you had also recommended as soon as they opened the following morning.

Lend a Hand, Be that Friend

Whether the friend at hand turns out to be a friend, a loose acquaintance or somebody who you have nothing in common with or perhaps don’t even particularly like, the proverb holds true. Not only is the friend at hand the one you would call in the first fumbling weeks should your car break down and your child needs picking up from school, she (or he) is also the one who will extend a much needed invitation for an awkward first coffee morning. Love them, loathe them or barely know them, you won’t ever forget the helping hand they offered when you needed it most and vice-versa.

It’s more or less that time of year on the expat circuit where the friend at hand is most crucial. So if you know the ropes, lend a hand, be that friend.

Grab that Hand, Grab that Friend

To those of you who are brand spanking new to this lifestyle, we can normally spot you, (oh yes we can), you and your initial suspicions of the friend at hand as you try to puzzle out what we want from you. There is no agenda, (unless perhaps you’ve encountered and Entrepreneurial Emma or Charity Charity) we don’t want anything, we just recognise your situation and want to help, we’ve been there, done that and got the Starbucks mug to prove it. So drop your defense and grab that hand, grab that friend.

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