“Where do you go for a new tyre on a golf cart?”
This was one of the questions posed on a local expat forum last week. Nothing wrong with that at all, and people started adding thoughtful replies and suggestions. Hopefully whoever posted the original comment soon had her new tyre and her golfcart was once more back on the road…errr, green….
But occasionally when I see comments like this I stop and think what an absurd world we live in. Back home, how many of us would ever ask where we would need to replace a tyre on a golf cart on anything but a specialist golf forum? And how many more of us wouldn’t bat an eyelid when we saw such a question posed? Yes, it is a weird world we live in.
Many people call it the “expat bubble”, although really, given all the debate there is over the word “expat” and how it differentiates from the word “immigrant” or “migrant”, I think it is more about a certain type of expat bubble. Really, this is the bubble of those of us lucky enough to be posted on corporate or government packages which include housing and schools, and to countries in which we are able to afford to do things like play golf all day. The down-side to this, of course, is that we often also can’t work – finding a job as an expat partner in many of these countries is downright difficult thanks to the local labour market or things like visa restrictions. Hence the need to find things to do – like play golf. So long as our tyre isn’t busted!
As I read the question about the golf cart tyre I was reminded of the chapter I wrote for the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide about domestic staff. The chapter starts with a discussion on a parenting forum between women living in a country like Singapore or Hong Kong, where having a full-time nanny is normal. They talk about whether it is better to have a live-in or a live-out. Had the discussion been kept just to those expats who had experienced this way of life then it would all have been fine. As it was, they were interupted by others – others who had only ever lived in countries where in order to have a live-in nanny you would have had to be married to a hedge-funder. Or be a hedge-funder yourself. Or both.
It wasn’t a bad-natured exchange between the different groups of women but it did show the original group up for what they were – immensely privileged women living in a world where everyone else was in exactly the same situation so they possibly forgot how unusual their circumstances were. Not to say we don’t all appreciate our lives as expats – it’s hard not to when you pass men literally on their knees begging for a bit of food for a few rand at traffic lights every day. Or you donate some scuffed old shoes to your helper who tells you she will give them to the school where her granddaughter goes because there are children at the school with no shoes at all.
So it’s not that we aren’t aware or that we aren’t grateful but I do think sometimes we forget how weird it all is. That it’s normal that every single other expat I have met here has a swimming pool in their garden. That we book safari weekends away in the same way that we would book a shopping trip to London back home. And that asking about a new tyre for our golf cart is as normal as asking about where to get the half price offer on cocoa pops.
Yes, it’s a weird world we live in. But a rather wonderful one as well.
(Nanny picture: Robert of Fairfax)