Expat communities: How it can get awkward

 Last weekend I was invited by my friend Maria to an event of a well known international expat community, whose goal is to bring expats from around the world together. Before moving to Stockholm I would probably not consider joining an expat community. Nothing wrong with joining, you actually meet people in your shoes. In fact I met one of my best friends in Stockholm at an expat event. But in other places where I have lived, like London for example, I never had to join such community to meet expats. For one thing in a place like London it is hard to meet locals, not expats. People come and go all the time. There was always something to do and someone to hang out with, even if most times you never became friends with people. (Very often, the closest you would get was to become Facebook friends).

But Stockholm is another story. Much smaller and homogeneous, Stockholm can be challenging and you have to work on building a social network. Random or spontaneous hanging out is not common. In fact you need to plan your social life days ahead and preferably coordinate it with Systembolagets opening hours.  In this sense membership in expat communities in Stockholm makes more sense.

However in last week’s event something was off. It could be that there was the general blah feeling of a fabricated social event. The day and hour to start: Sunday afternoon. Sunday is the day God intended for rest. Giving the introduction speech of who you are and how you ended up in Stockholm times the people you interact is the equivalent of unpaid WORK. I am Greek, yawn. I am here with my husband double yawn. Then comes some comment about the Swedes, how expensive Sweden is, and how do we like it here, yawn, yawn, yawn. Why don’t we just skip introductions and talk about MH370 disappearance scenarios. Or about what we ate for lunch.

The nature of the event also (fika, which means short break for coffee, quick drink), which had everyone sitting in one spot and ultimately you ended up spending two hours talking to whoever was sitting next to you. Of course there were some people who attempted to mingle by changing seats but then again who mingles while sitting at a table.  What thirty- something will actually leave their seat with the naïve conviction that there is something more to be gained than if, for example, they changed seats in the metro or the bus?

Because after ninety-five minutes, (exactly the time when in silent coordination people who were not there to mate decided to leave asap), the impression was just that: you simply had a long anonymous chat with a stranger on the bus and once you reached your stop you simply got off. Only that in our case the stranger  can track you down from your online profile at the community’s site.

Why do I find that slightly weird? Some people had left their partners at home to spend their Sunday afternoon chatting with people they will probably never see again, sitting among strangers at what looks like a wedding party social arrangement .  In other events other people who took a “Me” evening away from their partner.  Scary as it may sound, they had no ulterior motives. They were not there to meet friends, hookups or professional contacts. They were simply there to have a drink and a friendly chat and disappear as soon as the clock strikes 12.

Or perhaps they were there for the same reason I was:  they thought they needed a break.

“The guy sitting next to you was very hot” my friend Maria told me on our way out. “Then why did you spent the last two hours talking to the bald one with the glasses? “

I didn’t mind really” she said.

That’s what I am talking about.

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