Thursday, February 28, 2008

By popular request

Well, one request at least - so here is my rant about expat wives in HK.

Before I become too judgmental and insulting (be warned, I will be both), I want to make it clear that this is NOT a rant about mums who stay at home. I think anyone who looks after their children full time has the patience of a saint. I say this as someone who could not get her daughter to sleep this afternoon so caved after two hours and gave her to the nanny who got her to sleep in 5 mins (I like to think this is because I smell of milk = food but who knows). This is a rant about a completely different breed.

When I first arrived in Hong Kong I was setting up a business, and so didn't have a very wide range of friends. The Boy had been relocated with his company so when we first arrived we were invited to lots of events. These were great and we met lots of people who continue to be good friends. However, I also met a group I have never encountered before, those of expat wives - or career wives if you will. I will explain these beings by a few examples.

About 6 weeks after we arrived in HK we were invited to a birthday dinner at one of HK's more posh members clubs. Around the table only I, and one other lady, worked. It was here we met K. I never met K's husband, he always seemed to be overseas and she saw him only a couple of days each month. She had no children and had been, prior to Asia, a pretty senior brand manager. She was bright and funny, which makes the following conversation all the more bizarre. For information, the V below is the other working woman at the dinner, a very successful lawyer.

V (to K) - So what do you do?
K - I am very lucky, my husband's company has a very general spousal programme and they pay for any courses I want to do or clubs I want to join
V - So what do you do?
K - Well, I am learning to play tennis, go to yoga and pilates and am thinking of doing an interior design course
Boy - (trying, in vain, to rescue the situation) I would love not to work, I would row all the time (all turn to the Boy in silence, he goes back to his food)
V - But what do you actually DO??

The answer to this question came when my very good friend, H, was out of work for a couple of months in HK and learnt to play mah jong at the local YWCA. Here she met many expat wives and found them as strange as I did. She informed me that the topics of conversations revolved around 3 things: 1 - problems with the helper or driver 2 - holidays they had booked 3 - diamonds and/or how much their husbands earned.

What amazes me is that when we were looking to move to HK and I didn't know if I would have a job I had applied to do a post grad course at the local uni, as well as scouted for NGOs I could volunteer for. However, no expat wife I have met bar one (who is too feisty to really be an expat wife) do anything for anyone other than themselves. They are, of course, perfectly turned out at all times due to the endless spa appointments.

My final story relates to an expat husband who, at another dinner, treated the fact I ran a business as if I had a little hobby (by this point I had an office in HK and Shanghai, 12 staff and a very healthy P&L). He looked at my Gucci handbag and told me his wife had one similar she had got in Shenzhen (just over the border and a horrible place full of fake handbags and DVDs) and I should go there with her some time. I responded in my nicest voice "Why would I want to do that when I can just go shopping in Gucci in Central?". He shut up then.

To this day I can't help feeling that they are just a bit lazy and have no purpose in life. This is also an inherently dangerous strategy for the wife of anyone, let alone in Asia with all the temptations of very available young and nubile girls. It also seems that, if the experiences of myself and my girlfriends are to go by, your average husband of an expat wife is rather keen on us career girls and rather likes chatting to (hitting on?) us. If you make your whole reason to exist based on someone else, what do you have left if they decide to upgrade to a newer model?

Rant over


Grande Poobah said...

oh that's not a rant - you're being far too kind and well balanced....

i don't even feature on the radar of women like this and i imagine we would view each other with mutual distrust, lack of understanding and disdain were our paths ever to cross.

I joke sometimes about wanting to be a tai tai, but in reality could imagine little worse than having no purpose to my life other than shopping, spa-ing and moaning on about my servants. And all paid for by someone else too.

Mind you I still reckon I could have a try at it for a month or so :-)

LottieP said...

I've met some "charidee" wives - who claim to have a busier schedule than I have, and fill their days with "work" for various "charidees" which seems to consist of gracing black tie dinners and auctions (some hardworking minion behind the scenes does the organisation; they just turn up, thin, elegant, and dangling Cartier).

What I find amusing is their constant insistence on how busy they are, which underneath it all must stem from insecurity. They never have fewer than two helpers for the kids and home and cooking, so it does beg the question "what do you actually do?"

Sabina said...

Al - when you get to the 'school age' part of Eve's life, regardless of where you might be living by then, you come across the mothers/wives/slappers who also do not work, yet are 'incredibly busy' ferrying children around (music/ballet/football/drama/etc) outside of their other time-consuming pastimes, eg yoga, lunch, spa-break, lunch, golf, lunch, shopping, lunch... you get the idea.
So, not only do they look at you in HORROR when you say that you work full time (mainly to keep your sanity but also so you do not have to mix with these types of women), but you also end up suffering the (amusing) indignity of admitting you have never actually spent time "talking in the playground/outside the school/in the nearest Starbucks" as you have never dropped off your precious one at school in person.... Well, actually you have: to breakfast club at 7.30am when most of those lazy biddies are still lounging around home in their dressing gowns.

My rant for the day! xx

Mummy said...

An update - today I went to lunch with colleagues because one of our team members has got a promotion and two are leaving. I left Eve with her nanny, which broke my heart as it always does, but over lunch we discussed the sub prime issue, the results of the bank, India business licences, and Soc Gen. I realised how much I love both parts of my life.

We also talked about babies, nannies, cats and yoga!

Sabina - your kids and your great relationship with them is keeping me sane and not feeling horribly guilty about going back to work and leaving Eve. Thanks!

LottieP said...

I was reading an article in the Guardian on the plane from NY to LHR and a very sensible woman in her 60s, with four children, said that she'd always gone back to work as soon as she could after giving birth: "Of course I wanted to work, anyone with half a brain would".