Finding Friendship in a Transient Town

Geneva may be full of bankers, but “investment” can take on an entirely different meaning here. If you’re new in town and have been to the various newcomer apéros, Thursday night afterworks, or Glocals events, you know what I’m talking about. The first couple of questions are of the standard stock variety, the “Where are you from?” and “How long have you been here?” rolling off the tongue with an ease familiar to expats the world over. But the next question can take on slightly different forms, depending on the dexterity of the person asking it.

“So….how long do you plan to stay in Geneva?” is often the way to solicit the desired information, but if met with a look of confusion, the question could become more direct. “So….are you on a temporary or permanent contract?” This gets to the heart of the question: whether you’ll be here long enough to be worth the (personal) investment.

Some of the things I love most about Geneva — the cultural diversity stemming from a population consisting of more than 40% “foreigners”, its high salaries and central location within Europe  — can also be some of its downfalls. Jetting off to a different city in Europe every weekend is easy-breezy, and thrilling for those of us from outside the Continent, but it makes pinning down potential friends for a coffee or drink an exercise in patience. Geneva can be a stopover for many of the people here on short-term contracts, rendering this town into a social revolving door.

Thus, “the Question” is something of a requirement when first sizing up someone’s friendship potential. After all, why use up one of the few precious weekends you’re actually in town for someone you can’t possibly expect an ROI from? They might be gone by the time you get back from your week-long holiday in Portugal!

But is this the right attitude to take? Does keeping potential friends at bay because of their perceived lack of commitment really protect one from friendship-heartbreak, or does it just make you lonely and miserable in the present?

Especially during these post-apocalyptic times, perhaps it’s best to remember all the moments we have been on the receiving end of kindness and hospitality and simply pay it forward. We are often made to believe that random acts of kindness are on the verge of extinction, but anyone who has moved around a bit or traveled has likely been witness to or recipient of warmth and generosity that might have felt undeserved, or at least premature. It could have been something as simple as someone going out of their way to give you directions, or a friend of a friend of a friend welcoming you into their home when you were essentially just a stranger in a strange land, or a work acquaintance inviting you to a K-pop concert at a stadium filled to capacity (true story). Maybe it was some other heartfelt human interaction with a stranger in passing or one that went on to become a boss or a lifelong friend.

So when we find ourselves growing cynical, it’s worth thinking beyond any immediate rewards of friendship or favor, rather aspiring to give thanks to those who have helped us in the past by committing acts of kindness of our own.

Yes, even in a place as transient as Geneva.

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