49. Host and Helpers in 2006 I mentioned that "the only regret I have is that we never became friends". It sounds strange. I'd better qualify it.
As a college girl in France in the early sixties my idea of friendship was rather medieval in style, chivalry, loyalty, undefective support, that sort of thing. I was a fan reader of St Exupéry and I followed his line of idea re. friendship, more like mateship as I would call it now. We, girls at college in those days, used to be taught literature written by men. Things written by, say, Mme de Lafayette or Mme de Sévigné, or George Sand, or Jane Austen or George Elliott, were seen as very minor literature. So, when I was 16, my idea and practice of friendship was chivalresque. For instance I wouldn't let a 'friend' be punished on her own, I'd insist to be punished too if I had anything to do with the deed. Boyscout ethos was my type of definition for friendship.
Unfortunately once out in the big world I realised that chivalry and boyscout ethos was not on and definitely not expected of a woman. Women were seen as special creatures without any of the noble characteristics of men. I was supposed to be treacherous and unloyal.
When I made up my mind to part from my Australian husband, I wanted to be seen as a loyal friend despite the splitting as a couple. When we parted I think I said something to the effect that if he needed a hand in anyway one day, I'd be there for him. I meant it.
We parted in 1973 and I came back to France in 1974. In 1976 as I was living in a flat in Lyon, I received a letter from my husband who had joined the French Foreign Legion and was based in Corsica. He was asking me to help him deserting the Legion... (Sorry BJ if you read this, I've got to get it out of my system). So, me and my friends of the time who had a similar chivalresque idea of friendship, we mounted an expedition and my husband was smuggled out of the Legion. I hated it, I hated him for it. So many years later I still have a sour feeling in my throat. Why should I help a foreign husband get out of a French army corps? He joined. I had nothing to do with it. But of course my undefective support as a 'friend' was at stake. And so I did. My definition of friendship was somewhat altered after that.
What's a friend really? The dictionary says: "A person known well to another and regarded with liking, affection and loyalty"... 'known well to another' implies time spent in the company of each other. You can't call friend someone you met at a party and never saw again... 'regarded with liking' implies feeling positive towards that person you know well... and 'affection and loyalty' implies real support.
If a friend is 'a person known well to another', how do you become friends then? That's where I find I'm at odds with a lot of people around me. In my eyes you become friend with someone by allowing time to get to know that person, asking questions, being generally curious about his/her life, social background, family, area, history. BEING CURIOUS. Asking questions. Wanting to know.
When I was 19 and 20 I lived in Israel and that's where I learnt how to make friends fast. There in the sixties, people who arrived hurt from all over the world were in a hurry to 'make friends'. The urgency of life made you want to know other people well very quickly. I remember being shocked at first when someone, within minutes, would have asked me where I came from, what sort of family background, what language I spoke and how long I had been in Israel. Within minutes they also would have said that, for instance, they had arrived two years back, had lost their family, spoke a number of languages and were working here or there.
Later in my life I studied at university a subject called Ethnology. If you have an interest in a given group of people, you are supposed to take enough time to get to know them. You are supposed to be curious about them and to ask them questions about their way of life. I actually learnt how to 'make friend' with total strangers. It probably sounds weird to most people. But forever after that, I have felt cheated whenever people calling themselves my friend just don't bother asking me questions and show no interest in me whatsoever. It is lobsided if only one asks questions. It's an interview then, not an attempt at making friends.
Anyway what's a friend really?