Living on a university campus as an expat is a bit like what I imagine village life must have been like before people had cars. Your neighbours are the people you work with, the people you drink with, the people you exchange tips on parenting with. There's no divide. You do everything together, and every body knows you. Of course it has its pros and cons. Among the cons, well, there's not much privacy, you can't escape from work terribly easily, and you don't get to compartmentalise your friends. The pros are: you're rarely alone on weekend nights, there's always some other kids around for your kids to play with, you rarely have to explain to colleagues that no, a work meeting in the evening isn't terribly convenient (read bloody impossible) because you've got children.
Until recently, our life was even more villagey because we had a local, the Bistro, a place we all went off to on a Friday night.
The singles crowd would turn up at the bar at their appointed hour - you'd know when to expect each one of them. Couples would arrive separately, knowing they'd find each other eventually. Families would turn up early, and - unless the kids were asleep or exceptionally well behaved - either leave early, or take turns to go home. There'd be entire departments meeting up to celebrate a publication, to make sure a guest speaker had a good time, or simply to catch up. There'd be also the odd group from outside, come to ... well, the food wasn't great and the drinks expensive, so I'm not sure what they did come for.
For ten years, we went there every week. Our daughter was a baby at first - we'd feed her - her favourite was chicken fingers - then her father would bang her in the pushchair, wheel her around the block till she fell asleep, and finally park her... outside the men's toilet! That wasn't just a convenient pushchair parking spot, it meant she was away from the noise and the smoke, but still close enough to the bar that we could see her. And, more importantly, whenever someone went to use the facilities, they'd report back to us on whether she was still sound asleep.
Once both kids were bigger, it became a matter of making sure they could entertain themselves, so we came armed with pencils and papers. They were still eating chicken fingers, and we were still meeting with friends and colleagues. One of the great villagey aspect of this was that everyone would know the kids and when they weren't drawing or eating they'd go from table to table, chatting with their grown up friends, while we relaxed, knowing they were well looked after! Then sometimes they'd fall asleep, on a couch, or on a cushion outside.
Then one day, a few months ago, I received an email: our watering hole was closing - the next day. A few of the old timers gathered round the horse shoe bar one last time, commiserating, remembering all the Christmas carols nights, the St Patrick's day sing-alongs we'd had there for the last ten years. We ate our last meal and drank our last beers. Now what?
St Patrick's day was coming up. And our friend had been planning to hold the celebration as usual, inviting as many people as possible to sing, while she played and sang beautifully herself. But we had nowhere to meet. So she and her husband instituted the 'Travelling Bistro', which met in people's homes, in a hotel bar, and when the weather became good again, on a patio near the staff accommodation buildings.
On St Patrick's day, we met at their house and sang songs. We all brought food and drinks, all wore green (my husband and I are not in the slightest Irish or American, and I've got but the vaguest idea who Patrick was, but that's the thing with village life: you share traditions). Our daughter sang with our friend, just as she had been doing the previous years.
So people still meet, still bring their kids, still drink together on a Friday night. This, to me, is the best aspect of living a quasi village life, a community that bends but does not break, the knowledge that people who are your neighbours, your colleagues, are also your friends, and that they will not disappear just because you don't have a place to meet any more.
The rumour goes that the Bistro will reopen next month. I'm looking forward to these summer evenings on the terrace!
Weekend Assignment #317: Merry Meetings
People used to socialize with each other on street corners, at cocktail parties, at club meetings, and in a later era, at shopping malls. These days, however, we seem to do most of our socializing online. Where do you go most often for face time with friends and acquaintances?
Extra Credit: Do you ever hang out with co-workers after hours?