I don’t move; I’m stunned. I am being told that expat life is superficial!
Annelie and I have just met at a coffee morning for the Dutch mum’s at the International School here in Holland. We’ve discovered that her youngest step-son and my son are in the same grade! We seem to have even more in common, we’re both graduates from the same university but from there on we differ. My life has taken me to various postings overseas and I am currently on a home posting back in the Netherlands, whereas she has always lived here. She tells me that her husband is Danish and asks me where I’m from because she detects a slight accent in my Dutch. Admittedly, this initiated a rather lengthy answer on my part. I have lived in eleven countries throughout my life, so it’s hard to say exactly where I’m from.
I have taken umbrage because she had initiated the conversation, she had disclosed that her husband’s an expat and we were in an international environment so this should have been a safe haven.
‘I think that you are a shallow person and quite frankly a bit of a bitch,‘ I wish I had said, but hadn’t.
Instead, I let her comment telfon-slide down my back onto the floor and I squish it with a pointy heel.
Any expat worth his salt knows that once back on native soil no one is really deeply interested in our lives in Ouagadougou or Riyadh. Family and friends consider any mention of hardship as wingeing and references to any sort of housemaid as showing off. So we don’t.
I happen to really like my nomadic life and I love sharing funny stories and amazing experiences with fellow expats. But not so with my more sedentary friends because I know that there’s nothing more mind-numbing than someone who keeps yapping on about something you cannot relate to. I once sat next to a potato expert at an embassy dinner who decided to tell me everything about potato rot which I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about and it was an excruciatingly long dinner. So I do get it, those stories about wild camel rides through scorpion invested deserts and picnicking in the shade of a Pharaonic temple are tedious to have to listen to unless you were there yourself; it’s nearly as bad as having to watch other people’s boring holiday videos.
So why is it that we, more often than not, get the wet flannel treatment the minute we tell anyone that we globe trot? I let the potato farmer bare his heart to me and I left him feeling good about himself, what’s wrong with that?
I think that we should stop being so accommodating and, like the potato man, bore everyone to bits with the nitty gritty details of our fascinating lives, because, just maybe, it’s our own fault that the others have made up their own version.
But where does this pre-conception stem from? You cannot tell me it’s because we generally live bigger and better when abroad, usually have a maid and often a swimming pool etc. etc. These are the perks and the attractive side of life overseas but there’s no such thing as a free lunch. There is always a flip side to every coin, always a price to pay. We often live in countries that have high crime rates and the big house will be hidden behind a soaring metal fence decorated with barbed wire for good measure to keep out any unwanted guests. In many African countries homes have rape- gates, which are heavy iron doors that separate the sleeping quarters from the rest of the house, they are locked from the inside at night, again for our safety. In other places driving is not allowed or strongly discouraged so you hire a driver. Yes, our children may attend fabulous schools but, they have to make and then leave friends behind with each new move. And we have to start our social lives, in each post from scratch. Of course each country brings with it its advantages and challenges and yes, we do drink our G & Ts under palm trees!
‘Seriously, Annelie. I am shocked by the ignorance of your remark, and amazed that you know so little about expats. After all, you’re married to one!’