What happens when the (desperate) expat wife goes back to work?
On and off throughout her expat (wife) years – and all of a sudden there are quite a few of them and she of course has no idea how that happened – the desperate expat wife has looked longingly into offices, missing the office chit-chat and using her head the way people in offices do.
Not that she hasn’t been using her head, in both satisfying and sometimes unexpected ways, and she will be the first to encourage anybody at any age to grab the chance to go back to school, in whatever form school takes these days. Not that she hasn’t kept busy, with her kids – and there’s no way she’s going to regret that! – and with the privilege of doing her own thing. And not that she hasn’t thumbed her nose at all the people in all the offices as she strolls by, free as a bird, on a sunny day – wait a minute, let’s say dry day, this is Luxembourg – on her way to her own thing. But somehow the office windows kept thumbing their noses right back at her.
There’s something about the office thingy
Because there’s something about getting up, getting dressed and getting out in the morning, there’s something about the workplace buzz, there’s something about the office lingo and the gathering around the coffee machine, there’s something about feeling needed. And lingering somewhere, there’s something about the good old protestant ethic of doing your share and paying your taxes. And there’s definitely something about showing your children that mums work, especially coming from a country where 9 out of 10 women do.
Now had somebody told her, all the time she was one of those nine, that she would spend years just walking by office windows, she would clearly have thumbed her nose at them. At the same time, she’ll defend her expat choices and lifestyle to anyone who dares say things like “what a waste” or “how can you live like that” or “how do you pass the time??” – because she has had her share of annoying and ignorant comments like that from working and/or childless non-expat women
Yet somehow, there’s a sneaking feeling of uselessness, of “so this was it??” that gets her down, even though she hurriedly tries to whoosh it away. And a totally silly yet real feeling of having forgotten altogether how to do any kind of work. It doesn’t take a shrink to see that this translates into a loss of mastering and self-confidence.
Get on that bike!
So, when out of the blue a suitable job suddenly comes along, what happens? Well, she’s still pretty sure she’ll stare blankly at her computer and that the computer will stare blankly back at her. And her new colleagues will speak a language she’s never heard before, so she’ll stare blankly at them too.
But she takes the job. Of course she does. And lo and behold, along comes a feeling of confidence counterbalancing her silly ideas, enhanced by her going out to buy work clothes – which is not really her style, but then again, you could always use a change of style and an excuse to buy some new clothes.
So she gets up, gets dressed and gets out in the morning. And guess what? She discovers that many things are still the same in the working world. Still an awful lot of paper. Still printers on strike. Still meetings, only some with a bit more advanced technology than she’s used to. And some things are not the same, but it’s not that scary after all. Some things she’s slower at and some things she grasps better – an age thing in both cases. And she has heard all the languages before after all.
Before long, she feels like she only quit working yesterday. It’s the bicycling thing, once you’ve learned you never forget and, although wobbly at first, you quickly get back into the steering and pedaling. And not for one single morning has she missed being able to have a cup of tea in her morning gown or crawl back into bed with a book (or…no, really, it’s fine!).
By Unni Holtedahl, January 2015