90: Amies, On and Offline

90: Amies, On and Offline

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

Amies, On and Offline

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.

~Marcel Proust

“Are you Crystal Goes to Europe?” asks a smiling blond woman who has come up to me on the sidewalk. I smile back and nod my head. “Travelling Amber?” We laugh and embrace like old friends, when in reality, this is the first time I’ve ever seen her face to face. Until now, Amber has been “Travelling Amber,” one of my expatriate online friends who “met” me thanks to my blog — a blog I began on a whim almost eight years ago, in 2005, just before moving from Ontario, Canada to a small town in the north of France to teach English at a high school.

I had just graduated from university with an Honors English Literature and French Linguistics degree and was ready for some real life experience. I left the comfort of my parents’ house and my tight-knit circle of friends with a suitcase, a plane ticket, and a work visa valid for eight months. I initially started my blog, “Crystal Goes to Europe,” as a way to keep in touch with my friends and family back in Canada while I was away in France. I wanted a way to share my experiences and feel connected to them despite the distance. What I hadn’t planned on were all the new connections I’d make, or just how my silly little travel blog would impact my life for the better in the years to come.

Amber and I take a seat at a terrasse, one of France’s charming sidewalk cafés with solid wicker chairs and checkered tablecloths. There’s no need for introductions — we’ve been reading each other’s blogs for years and she knows just about everything about me already. Like me, American Amber came to France temporarily and then stayed permanently for a “Frenchie” — the nickname many expats give their French boyfriends and husbands. In a lot of ways, our personal and professional lives are strangely parallel, and it is friends like her who have kept me grounded, kept me sane, and at times, convinced me not to give up on my marriage and return to Canada when the homesickness got really bad. I know that when I write about the hardships of being in a multicultural couple, or not always understanding why the French do things the way they do, Amber and the others get it. Most of them have been there and offer up valuable advice and support when I feel like I’m losing my mind.

“How long will you continue to blog, do you think?” Amber wants to know as the waiter sets down our kirs. We both love the white wine and crème de cassis drink.

“Who knows?” I answer honestly because I realize now I’m not just writing for myself and my family anymore; I’m writing for the all the other expat women who read my blog and find comfort and connection in a girl living a life much like their own. I may not be able to sit down with all of them at a café, but we have woven tight bonds of friendship through the comments left on each other’s blogs as we navigate the world of French men, French bureaucracy, and French idiosyncrasies. Eight years ago, I started making new friends without really even knowing it.

“I thought this might be weird, but it isn’t!” Amber laughs as we order another kir. It may be our first time meeting from out behind our computer screens, but we chat as though we’ve known each other forever, and we both don’t want the moment to end. Here we are, two young expat women far from home, giggling like teenagers as we compare our thoughts on the French and the challenges we face as immigrants. She may be a “new friend” in the sense that I’m just now meeting her in person, but she’s been a treasured old friend for some time now.

The bill comes and Amber snatches it up. She’s pulled out her French bankcard to pay even before I can get to my wallet. I know all about her giving, yet take-no-nonsense personality, so I let her. A sudden wave of sadness rushes over me as I realize we are saying goodbye. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to see her again because I’m moving 200 kilometers away for my husband’s job.

“So are you going to blog about meeting up with me?” she asks with a twinkle in her hazel eyes. “Of course!” I laugh and snap a photo of us together with my mobile phone. The sun is shining in the north of France for once and our lips part into toothy grins as we press our cheeks together and capture the moment on film.

Since meeting Amber in person, we have continued to grow as friends despite living further and further apart. She’s welcomed a Franco-American baby into her life, which has made for some interesting posts on her blog, and I’ve been able to move all around France thanks to my Frenchie’s military job. When a few days go by without a blog post, we shake figurative fingers at each other, and when something really good or really bad happens, I know one of my first blog comments will be from her.

I can’t really explain how happy I am that I started a blog. I’m making new online friends all the time, and with each new comment or follower, I get the same thrill of connecting with someone through my words and photos. Each time I have to move to follow my husband, I’m often lucky enough to have some blogging friends ready and waiting to meet me in person. My “new old friends” as I like to call them.

As Amber walks away and I head to the train station, I realize I can’t wait to get home and write all about our day together. I can’t wait to tell all my friends.

~Crystal Gibson

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