'Friends helped my English': Fans on the show's legacy as they mourn Matthew Perry

His character Chandler Bing was loved for his wit, sarcasm and emotional depth

Friends began in 1994 and became one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. Photo: Warner Bros
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Throughout its 10-season run, hit show Friends captured audiences around the world, across different cultures and backgrounds – even many who didn’t speak English as a first language.

“In [South] Korea back then there was an English learning centre called Hakwon that taught Friends as a course,” Ewha Kim, who lives in Abu Dhabi, tells The National.

“I attended there and watched and learnt grammar, words, expressions and slang from Friends.”

Kim, who is from Seoul, says she also bought the videos of the series and replayed them over and over again so she could learn to speak like the characters in the show.

“I even bought the script and learnt them line by line,” she adds.

Kim also credits the series for introducing her to more western perspectives when it came to friendships and relationships. She was inspired by New York, where the show is set, and felt like her “dream came true” when she headed there for an internship after she graduated from university.

Cinderella Nabil, who lives in Dubai, says watching the show helped her improve her English.

Friends helped my English so much,” she says.

“At school, we were told that in order to improve our English we should watch movies or listen to songs. Friends was the most popular thing to watch for that. The words, the accents, the slang, the idioms, all of these were used very lightly and on point, especially by Chandler Bing.”

The death of Matthew Perry, who played the beloved Chandler Bing, on Saturday at the age of 54, has left many fans, including those in the Middle East, shocked and saddened.

“I actually cried when I learnt that Matthew had passed away,” Nabil says.

“I reached out to my old friends who I used to watch Friends with and told them 'Chandler has died, our friend has died'. It doesn't feel like just Matthew with all his beautiful aspects as a human being has died, but it feels like Chandler also died.

“Chandler Bing made a lot of difficult moments lighter for me, he taught me how to laugh in the face of hardship or difficult situations.”

Kim also expressed her shock at the star's death, feeling as though he wasn't a complete stranger her.

“I was really shocked and sad when I first found that Matthew Perry had died,” Kim says.

“I felt like I lost an old friend who I'd lost contact with for a long time.”

From catchphrases, memes and specific scenarios, Friends, which premiered in September 1994, had a significant impact on popular culture. The series, about a group of single friends living in Manhattan, New York, captured, defined and introduced a particular era of American culture to many people around the world.

The series also illustrated that, despite language and culture differences, friendship and the human experience are universal.

“The most interesting thing about Friends is that it’s still very relevant,” says Haneen Shaheen, who lives in Cairo.

“They are facing the same things that we are facing as people. The relationships, the break-ups, the stupidity, the goofiness, everything is very similar to how our lives look like now.”

The premise of six friends – Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Phoebe and Joey – navigating life through their 20s and 30s, searching for success in their careers and relationships, struck a chord with people in a powerful way that no one could have predicted.

Chandler Bing was a character full of wit, sarcasm, emotional depth and reliability – many characteristics that Perry himself possessed, as seen in his interviews.

Perry played Chandler with brilliant comedic timing, and was able, within a scene, to display both humour and vulnerability in equal measure. It was a portrayal that not only earned him critical praise but the love of many audiences.

“The death of Matthew Perry was horrible,” Shaheen adds.

“Because of what is happening in Gaza, I'm watching a lot of Friends right now. I was at work and didn't know he’d died because my timeline is full of Gaza news, and then my colleague who knows that I love them so much called me and told me. I was like, 'No, not now, not on top of everything happening in the world. This is too hard'.”

Throughout the series, it's Chandler Bing’s character arc that arguably goes through the most change. Audiences meet a sarcastic, immature young man who hates his job and is afraid of commitment and then watched him grow into a man who reconciles with his complicated family past, forges a new career for himself, falls in love and then marries his best friend.

He does all this while still maintaining his distinctive wit and humour throughout.

“Chandler is the best character, he's very real,” Shaheen says.

“Matthew Perry played this character, as if it were him, a real person. Every person has a Chandler Bing moment. His life phases, the development of his character, and what a great friend he is, what an amazing boyfriend and great husband. He’s the best character ever.”

Despite the series finale airing in 2004, Friends is still a show many of the original fans continue to watch on streaming platforms today.

Nabil described Friends as a “pacifier for a lot of people in my generation.” Due to its familiarity, its positive messaging and the characters themselves, Friends acts as a soothing mechanism that helps end her day on a high note.

“During the Egyptian revolution, Friends was one of the main elements that helped me fall asleep without feeling the terrors of what was going on at the time,” she says.

Updated: October 31, 2023, 3:15 PM