We the 1950’s (expat) housewives….

While I am certainly enjoying my new life here in South Africa in the main, there are days when I feel like throwing in the proverbial towel and jumping on the first plane home. These are the days that I spend at home….waiting for the plumber, the electrician, the cushion cover man…the days when I feel that my entire role in life now is to be in the house just in case someone turns up….the days when I feel like a 1950’s housewife, trapped in my gilded cage.

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Luckily, unlike the ACTUAL 1950’s, we now have the Internet. So thanks to the power of technology I know I am not alone with these feelings. I put something on my Facebook page the other day about how boring the expat life of an expat wife can be and within minutes I was garnering sympathy from near and far. It’s hard to moan too much because basically we know how lucky we are. But when the highlight of your day is your husband buying you a new Swiffer mop (you know who you are!) then you know something isn’t entirely right.

While being at home far more than we’d like to be is one thing that unites us, the other is that many (most? all?) of us actually had a decent job, career even, and, you know, one of those brain things before we left our homeland behind in order to follow our dear partner abroad. Of course many of us even brought that brain along too and occasionaly get the chance to use it. But in many cases we’ve had to pack it away in an attic somewhere, with the winter coats and the thick British-winter duvets. We take it out from time to time to look at but who needs a brain when all you do all day is sit around waiting for a plumber?

I exaggerate of course (and don’t forget I do actually have a part-time job) but there is a point here. Living abroad without your normal support networks can make life pretty tricky if one of you isn’t in a position to be at home for quite a lot of the time. Not to mention someone to visit at least three different supermarkets to pick up enough groceries for one meal, queue up in five separate queues just to get your phone reconnected and still be around to ferry the children to their after school activities. I don’t know how dual-working families do it. Oh yes I do, it’s called a full-time nanny (at least here in South Africa).

I realise that I speak from a position of enormous privilege. Just the fact that I don’t HAVE to work puts me in a luckier position than most. But this doesn’t make it easier when I feel like I’ve slipped back 65 years in time, to an era where it was the norm for the female half of the partnership to spend her time “home making” while her husband took off to the exciting world of work every day. There are a number of us out there, many with professional qualifications (I’ve recently met doctors, lawyers, teachers and more – few of whom have been able to find paid work here). Some of us have chosen this route, some haven’t. For most it is something in between – this was the best solution for the family as a whole and while we may have wished for more in an ideal world, we know we are not living in an ideal world. But for all of us, to a greater or lesser extent, the frustration is real.

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Added to the feeling of being tied to the house is the frustration that to all intents and purposes you are only allowed in this country because you are with someone else, and that your life is basically at the whim of that someone else’s career. As it’s common to need to go through your partner’s office for even the simplist of requests for the house or even for healthcare, it isn’t suprising that you rapidly start to lose sight of yourself as an independent person. I have already touched on feeling like a hopeless child in the early days of arrival in a new country in an earlier post. Although this does get a lot easier once you have a car, bank card and know your way around a bit, it is still easy to end up feeling like the lesser person in the partnership.

There isn’t really a solution to this, except to know that if you too are feeling like a 1950’s housewife, trapped in your home while yet another utlity person may or may not arrive at some point in the day, know that you are not alone. In fact, if it really starts to get to you why not embrace it completely? Slip on those fluffy mules, tie up your pinny….and pour yourself a nice big G&T.

NOTE: Please be assured that I don’t feel like this every day – which I am sure is true of most of my fellow “expat wives”. I am managing to get out and about and making a life for myself here. Nevertheless, thanks to the peculiarities of this life, there are still days when all my intentions to return to 2015 are still thwarted by the message that the plumber is due that day……..

Do you feel like you’re stuck in another era? Are you turning into a 1950’s housewife – or even househusband? Come share your stories and sympathise!

Photo credit: woman in kitchen – Ethan.

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30 thoughts on “We the 1950’s (expat) housewives….

  1. I think I’m more or less ok with being 50s housewife at the moment, as my youngest one is just 2. Otherwise, I think, I would go mad, if I had to just stay at home. If it’s impossible to work, then a hobby or two is probably a must to stay sane.

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      • I think once you’ve been there longer and find out how everything works, things will go much quicker and you’ll have more time for other things. I found things quick in South Africa because I’d always lived there so knew where everything was but when I moved to Germany everything seemed to take ages and the simplest things became a mission. I never knew which shops to go to to buy the basics, for example, it took me forever to find out where to just to buy a towel!

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      • Agreed. I’m hoping a lot of things will get easier once we’ve been here a while and have more of a set routine. It’s always going to be a bit chaotic at the start. Although there are some things that will take longer to get used to than others. Like needing three sets of keys to leave your house!!!

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  2. My brain! Where is my brain? I’m finally getting a bank account after three years! Maybe now IΒ΄ll feel some kind of independence? I still can’t get a technician to fix the fume exhaust in the kitchen so I can’t fry anything. Well, at least we have to eat healthier! I just found your article through CaroleΒ΄s Expat Child and I’m a complete new fan! Love, Orana in Bali.

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  3. I was already a SAHM in America to our 3 small children, but feel distinctly stuck in the 1950s here in Sweden. All the moms here work because of the fantastic child care system…except me. And I don’t have a dryer. Nothing throws you back to Donna Reed like a daily appointment with clothes pins.

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  4. I know my mum struggled with this, my Dad was a diplomat, and she moved with him. Ironically, she gave up her higher profiled job than his to get married, because it was expected that a female spouse would, in those days. She was very intelligent and used to get frustrated until she settled into a place. I think I would feel the same too. My husband is from SA, but we have no plans to move back there, although I do think it is an amazing country. Good rant. #EffitFriday

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    • Same with my mum, she didn’t give up a career as they were very young when they first went overseas but she got a better degree than him from the university where they met and then never got to use it. I’m sure she found it frustrating but I also know she enjoyed the life they led immensely. Life is all about swings and roundabouts…I often remind myself that yes there are boring days but in a couple of weeks we are off to Cape Town, we’ve got two safari trips booked before the end of the year and we are going to Namibia in December! Ps nice to meet another diplobrat πŸ˜ƒ

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  5. Totally understand those feelings! I have given up my career due to our new life overseas and being unable to use my qualification here. I am working at the school this year as we worried that I would be too isolated at home on my own all day now all 3 children are at school. Some days it is fine, others I feel like crying at the fact that I am not doing what I trained to do and am not being a proper housewife either (usually a day when I realise I have forgotten to pack the children a snack or they have no clean clothes left!

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    • Me too. I worked as a diplomat for a few years, I was so proud of my job. No one ever asks me about it now, they’re more likely to ask about my father who was an ambassador at the end of his career. But you know and I know that what we are doing is actually a lot harder and needs a lot more ingenuity than many 9-5 day jobs…..

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  6. Thought you might be interested in this article. http://www.nationalpost.com/m/wp/blog.html?b=news.nationalpost.com%2F%2Fnews%2Fworld%2Fchildren-dont-ruin-womens-careers-husbands-do-harvard-study-finds. On some level, I guess for us women who have put careers on hold to move overseas, many of us are consciously or not sustaining a culture that says our husbands’ careers come first. The challenge becomes that when you get to the next decision point, unless you’ve got a clear agreement between you about going home/prioritising your own career, the decision compounds itself because you are already not working and the choice to prioritise your partner’s career again is the obvious choice. It’s a challenge though. I love all that my family and I have got out of living internationally. On some level I wouldn’t have it any other way and I know that it would not have been possible without the career sacrifices I made but I do feel nostalgic for the career I could have had.

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  7. Yes all round. What with feeling like I lost much of my brain becoming a mum (pregnancy brain has been superceeded by just being tired most of the time), being a housewife just frustrates me at times despite the fact that I love being able to spend so much time with my toddler. It’s difficult to complain about it, but I often feel I want to!

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  8. I think that not having kids or much to occupy my time drove me crazy during my first expat months where I was not working and essentially a house “wife”. The feeling of dependency, even for the most basic needs is SO FRUSTRATING, and it was really hard not to be bitter about what I’d given up. It does get better, so good luck adjusting!

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  9. Amen pretty much to all of this, Clara! And it’s not only to do with being an expat, though that often precipitates it because you have to give up your job to move abroad. But I think it’s also a feeling you get at a certain time in life when you’ve been the trailing spouse. It bothered me much less in South Africa than it does now back home, even though everything was much more different and new there. Maybe BECAUSE it was different and new. Here, I wake up thinking, I’ve GOT to get out of here and get a job. Of course “here” being the United States, I could technically actually do that, except a life of trailing-spousedom has left my resume looking very very blank (I put “moved household 7 times” on there – would probably only resonate if another expat wife was hiring:-)
    BTW, maybe you haven’t seen it yet as it’s older, but this was my take on the expat wife thing a few years ago when newly in Johannesburg: http://www.joburgexpat.com/2012/05/my-glamorous-life-as-expat-wife.html

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    • He he he – actualy, sadly, one of the things I am planning to do next week is get a pedicure but only because my toe nails are really in a state (and because I can afford it here). Maybe I should do a post about that to balance out the other one! You are right though, in some ways I feel like my life is a little on hold here (although I do have a job that I do from home) – I am already panicking about going home and we’ve only just arrived!

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  10. I can totally relate. I live here in South Africa as well and while I love it and think I have found a lot of ways to keep myself busy and useful, it does seem like I spend an extraordinary amount of time at home waiting for people to come over to fix things. I can’t really figure out why. Are things breaking more frequently than in the past? Did I ignore broken things in the past? Oh I know, in the past I said I had to work from home that day and the annoying waiting for plumber etc, actually ended up being a positive as working from home was a nice change from commuting into the office.

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    • That’s so true! I think one of the frustrations of being stuck at home here is the feeling that you have come all this way to this amazing place and you can’t get out and explore it! I am determined to try and see something new every couple of weeks, even if it is just a new shop!

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    • I know exactly what the problem is. The problem is “Just Now.” You wait around all the time because no one actually shows up when they say they will. They will come “Just Now” and that might be anytime (except usually NOT now), meaning you sit there and sit there and wait. We waited for our container to arrive for 3 days and didn’t dare leave the house because of course didn’t want to miss it. Those early days, I didn’t have a cell phone, so couldn’t just up and leave and wait for security to call me.

      On the plus side, you can sit there and wait by the nice pool you probably have, sipping that expat-wife cappuccino and reading your book…

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  11. Pingback: Some of the Quirky things I “love” about South Africa |

  12. πŸ˜€ so true
    The worst being when the plumber finally shows up only to hear him say that he can’t fix it and has to come back again! And the nightmare of grocery shopping in 3 different shops only to get the basics. The mantra here is Buy it while you see it because it will be gone next week and no shop manager will bother to restock and 99% of products are imported!
    Being totally dependent on my husband for everything is very frustrating. It’s not the financial dependence that bothers me most (I don’t have to work either and appreciate the time I get to spend with my daughter) it’s the fact that my whole life and even legal status in this country depends on my working husband. It’s basically being a subordinate and I try not to think about it much because I simply can’t change it or do anything about it…

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