I finished the great clean out of my first UK flat and turned over the keys. Really, I ask you, is there a more thankless task than cleaning out a former residence? You are leaving it clean and shiny for someone else, when it was probably dusty and at least somewhat more dirty when you actually lived there.* You have to buy specialist products that don’t normally appear in regular useage,* like oven cleaner and — my favorite this weekend — lime-scale remover. That was, for me, over the course of two days, nine hours of serious scrubbing. And do you know what I kept thinking while cleaning? “If only I had an English friend, one with a vacuum cleaner that I could borrow and it would be even better if they had a car to bring the Hoover here and could help me clear out the last remaining stuff.” How sad is that? I cleaned that entire floor on my hands and knees, again, a most thankless task, and carried the last stuff in tote bags walking down the street from my old flat to my current one. Pity the poor expat and her startling apparent inability to make local friends. Sigh–choke–sob…
*unless you’re my mother, that is.
My lack of English friends also came up at the grocery store the other day. I was buying a bag of clementines that were marked “buy one, get one free” and I had just taken the one bag up to the register. See, I knew that it was unlikely that I would eat two whole bags of clementines in the few days following that transaction. So rather than take two bags and throw some fruit out, I decided just to take the one bag. But this was not sufficient for the grocery store clerk, who (I’m not kidding) engaged me in this little exchange:
Clerk: Don’t you want the free bag?
Me: Nah, I can’t possibly finish them all fast enough.
Clerk: Don’t you have any friends you could given them to?
Me: (laughing nervously) no I couldn’t think of an obvious target. I’m not from around here and I don’t know that many people.
Clerk: How long have you been here?
Me: about nine months
Clerk: Seriously? And you haven’t made any friends?
Me: Not to whom I could give fruit.
I have to laugh a bit at the clerk’s clear discomfort at my not wanting the free give-away. This is, after all, the land of the free give-away and normally I’m quite keen. I love my Prince CD that was free with a Sunday newspaper. I have two pairs of flip-flop sandles that came with magazines, and countless free cloth shopping bags. But sometimes you just don’t NEED more than 30 pieces of fruit in a week — like when you’re living alone in a foreign country.
Now it’s also true that I have made some friends in the time I’ve been here… in fact, I did not tell the clerk that one of my good friends — who might normally have appreciated a gift of fruit — was out of town and this factored in my thinking on the subject. But it is true that I do not have a whole long list of friends to whom I might give a bag of tiny oranges. Nor could I think of someone to help with the floor-dust-removal process at that silly flat. This is clearly something I’m going to have to work on.