I moved to England aged 21, straight after university with pretty short notice, and didn't want any sort of big soirée or chaos. Terrified of the future and going with the intention of making my way in TV production, I left my home when Ireland was in the vice like death-grip of the recession. All of this was of course a ruse and what I really yearned for was to come out, be myself, and meet lots of queers. But how do you make friends when you move to a new country?
Well, I guess that depends on a plethora of mitigating circumstances and what you are looking for. But let me tell you, I did (and wore) all the wrong things, which helped me learn how to do the right things. Learn from your mistakes, right?
A long, lazy summer stint in New York, aged 20, was my first intro to what my life could be if I broke free of my (largely, in hindsight, self inflicted) constraints I felt living at home. Tasting that feeling of being somewhere new, minus a past that anyone knew or cared about, was like that moment when your head breaks the water's surface after you jump into the sea and you're all like "phew I'm not dead."
Using career prospects as a gossamer thin veil to my real intentions, I was lucky enough to have made some actual real Londoner friends in NYC. Them and my older brother Frank were my lifelines when I initially made the move to the UK. This certainly cushioned my fall onto cold, hard British soil, but still, I felt so eager to make queer friends.
Eight years on, I still say words or phrases that people don't use over here. For two countries super close geographically and a history as tangled up as that extension cord with innumerable plugs beside your bed, there really are a buttload of cultural and dialectic differences. Being a foreigner, people take the Mickey out of your accent a lot. I don't think I even notice it anymore or maybe people are more aware of how offensive it is to shout whatever someone says back at them in some sort of general Hollywood version of what their country's accent is. Well I hope people do anyway, because it is the absolute suckiest.
Plodding along for a year or so, feeling disillusioned by the big leap I had taken, and internship after internship where being myself seemed to be the absolute worst thing, made me realise maybe I wasn't cut out for the office environment. Then I did one thing that absolutely changed my life: I got a job in a cafe. A gay cafe.
I googled "gay cafe." No lie. I went to the now sadly defunct eatery (not naming no names), dressed to the nines in a peach coloured sexy granny- style frock and thrust my CV into the hands of the expressionless, impossibly tall, and handsome man behind the counter. He took it, I tried nervously to make conversation but would just not stop talking. He didn't say one word. I wish it didn't take me up until like, three years ago to realise that I am a nervous talker. Not the cute kind of awkward, but the annoying kind where my eyes bulge as I rant complete nonsense a mile a minute and feel like my heart is going to fall right out of my butt.
One week later, I was back there, having been called in for an interview by the boss. That mysterious bloke was there again but this time, there was a little fire in his eyes. It transpires that the fire was anger, at himself, as he had forgotten to throw away my CV. Once I worked there, he still never spoke to me. I couldn't get why he despised me and it really made me so maudlin. After a month or so, one time he closed the microwave for me and gave some sort of a meek smile and that was it. He became my best friend, and he still is. His name was Ansis he would become the gateway to a queer world I had always dreamt of. This is how I learned that slow and steady wins the race. Be less hare when it comes to friendships because not only does that tortoise win the race but like, tortoises live for ages. Ansis is my tortoise.
So, from there, I went from freelance job to freelance job, from street food trader to cafe to nanny to cafe to pub and so on. Every job, I left with at least one friend that I wanted to keep in touch with. Honestly, I say get a dang cafe job if you're trying to make friends. Or a bar job. Find a place you like and get a job there. Also you know who goes into cafes, or bars, or restaurants? Everyone.
That person serving you a flat white with some medium good latte art could be the most interesting person you might get to know. So, be polite and friendly to people who work in hospitality because they are getting paid eff all to give you every part of themselves, and if you are lucky enough, you might get to know them outside work too.
That brings us to now. Still working in cafes! After eight years, London for me was a town filled with memories of good and bad times, and it didn't feel like home anymore. So I moved again, just an hour and a half away but let me tell you it does feel like a different country compared to the beautiful, sprawling chaos of London. Again, I got a cafe job. And with that job I made friends. I made all the usual nervous wreck, horrific first impression mistakes, but I still made friends.
Moving is scary every time. The scariest move will be one day, potentially, moving back to the country I felt like I needed to escape from but the place I still call home. Thing is though, moving is the most scary and exciting thing you could ever do. A change is as good as a holiday, so they say, and everyone deserves a holiday.