Just to prick the bubble of belief that all expat women do is shop, have manicures and pedicures and enjoy overpriced lunches in artisan coffee houses, I’d like to point out that it is the primary function of the mammy to be the networker for the family.
In the Middle East it is typical that in over 95% of families that it is the husband who works and the woman who washes, a loose term, you understand. While the man is out every day bringing home the bacon, it becomes all too obvious that the meal in incomplete without social integration, the eggs and tomato so to speak, a responsibility that falls firmly into the woman’s lap. The everyday expat wife is adept at entertaining, meeting, greeting and attending all the social gatherings which provides the concrete for her family’s foundation when living abroad. As all these women are flat out playing Stepford Wives, I’m looking on in amazement ,as being Irish and adverse to accepting help and seeing ordering Pizza for dinner as an eternal black mark on my soul, I find I’m far too busy juggling housekeeping, cooking and losing my mind to spend sufficient time networking to make significant impact.
While networking is a key part of settling into life as an expat, I’m told that the routine of filter coffee and filtered platitudes can become hum drum. I rest for a while and lean heavy on the handle of the mop as I recall a saying my Grandmother, mother to fourteen and part-time dressmaker, used to bandy about whilst having tea, “A woman never looked at her elbow twice but she had a plan”.
So to beat the hum drum, along with all standard associated networking of babygroups, birthday parties and bookclubs, hundreds of expat women channel their energy, focus and flair in other directions. Some knead out a respectable second income from making birthday cakes for spoiled expat brats, whose mother wants them to have a Winnie the Pooh cake the doesn’t have Tigger wearing a headscarf. Others capitalise on their experience gained during a summer spent sweeping hair at the local hairdressers and open their own salon from home and hand out flash business cards as if they weren’t using the bath as a sink. A marketing plan so slick that even when you find yourself on your knees bending over the bath getting Pantene washed down your face, you’re still happy to pay high street prices for back street salon service. Bully for her! Another inventive little moneymaker is the second hand clothes market. In a society where the speed of a woman’s impulse buy surpasses the speed of light, offering a service to re-sell these garments is like shooting fish in a barrel. These are just of few of the services proffered by creative expat wives, card making, jewellery designing, home crafts, baby-gifts and cosmetic products are all in the mix also. I felt useless, unable to find the time to attend these crafty fairs let alone take a table and display any wares!
Downhearted and over-whelmed , I thought I had seen it all. It wasn’t until the salmon coloured flyer caught my attention in the local grocery that I found myself having to do a re-take. “Home-made dinners, everyday meals at a yummy price”. Was there actually someone you could pay to make the dinner? I quietly waited until the area was cleared and I had the chance to take a slip from the notice without anyone noticing, intent on retaining my title as a Modern –Day Martyr. Dialling the number, I learned that dinner could in fact be ordered and collected at approximately 300% of the cost price. Upon further inquiry I learned that there was a two week waiting list for Beef and Kidney Pie and Chicken and Mushroom Pie, but Spag Bol could be rustled up in as quick as three days.
My heart soared and I mentally clapped my calloused hands, these crafty women were getting their dinners delivered to the door, which in turn allowed them to say goodbye Cinders hello Miss Congeniality! Bully for the cook who hadn’t time to look at her elbow twice! And Bully for her again – she’s Irish!