Monday, November 17, 2008

Self-image? Expateek blows her top!

Does that have a hyphen, "self-image"? 

Or is it just "self image"? 

No.... that's taking a photo of yourself in your own mirror, for a profile pic on Facebook. (You self-absorbed idiot, admit it, you're vain!)

Or is it "selfimage"? 

No, that looks like Selfridge's. Can't be right. 

It must be "self-image".

So what's mine? I know you were asking, I can just hear you in my head! All of you. All of the thousands hundreds tens a couple of crazy nutters who wonder about me....

So nobody then. But never mind.

What, indeed, is the word I use to define my central, essential self?

For the longest time, it was student. Brilliant student. 

OK, not brilliant. But pretty damn smart. I suppose. Or not so much, since I didn't get Phi Beta Kappa and didn't get a PhD. But good SAT scores and a super GPA. You know. Like those things actually matter.

Then I quickly segued into wife. Unemployed wife.

Until I became COBOL/Assembler programmer wife! Working wife/woman. Career woman.

Then it was .... oooh, mother. MOM! Good heavens. Then working mother.

After that... stay-at-home mom. Gradually, I became mother-of-four. As you do.

Then, homeschooling mom. Then, volunteer-in-the-public-schools mom. Then, volunteer-in-the-private-schools mom. Then nervous-breakdown-after-Africa mom. Then...

Then negligent-and-self-absorbed mom.

Well, now what? 

Now, I define myself as an expat. 

And what a frackin' can of worms that is.

Let's face it. I totally woke up on the wrong goddamn side of the bed this morning. Everyone's all worried about the economy and jobs and the world financial crisis and all the rest of that crap. As they should be. Some people, like the saintly Mr D, are out there busting butt, working the best way they know how. The rest are surfing the internet at the office and updating their blogs on company time and watching flippin' YouTube whilst getting paid by the hour. But never mind. We'll just mind our own business, shall we?

But just to show you what pushed my buttons this morning, here's what went down at 8:50am today.

Expateek comments on a Polandian essay:

"I woke up this morning here in Warsaw feeling depressed and lonely. I felt self-conscious about my blogging posts from the weekend, and had a twitchy, niggling feeling at the back of my brain. Something was begging to get re-remembered, after the black-tie ball experience from Saturday night. In a fit of unhealthful navel-gazing I googled 'braying expat' because I knew it would make me feel even worse. Lo and behold, I didn’t just get 'braying' and 'expat', I got 'braying harridan'. Damn, I’m good.

And here was the vaguely memorable excerpt, from comments contributed by Michael Dembimski on the most fascinating Polandian (an excellent Polish-topic English-language blog):

"In any case, the era of the classic expat in Poland is over; it ended with the economic downturn of 2001-02. In the late ’90s, Warsaw was awash with real expats. Here today gone tomorrow expats posted to Warsaw one day, off to Tokyo, Caracas, Abu Dhabi, Almaty or Beijing the next. They’d spend 90% of their life working, the rest fraternising with other expats at the Pink Club, the Hash House Harriers, events at the British School, and at one another’s houses. In themselves they were OK - it was their British-born wives that were utterly unspeakable. With zero sympathy or understanding of Poland, its traditions or its history, these braying harridans would launch into tirades about how awful Poland was (stupid people, appalling weather etc) and how they couldn’t wait to move to Houston, Paris or Stockholm or anywhere with a Body Shop and Marks and Spencers.

"Most of these expats are long gone; their jobs done by locals. Some of them ditched the braying baggage and acquired Wife No. 2, generally younger, more attractive, more intelligent, more driven, more focused and a better adjunct to the gene pool. They stayed on.

"Most of the Brits I know in Warsaw fall into this category. They speak passable Polish, know what 1918, 1939, 1944, 1956, 1970, 1981 and 1989 all mean, have children in Polish schools, and are here for good. I do not consider them expats in any way, no more than I’d consider a Pole living in the UK for a decade or more an expat.
[Italics and bold highlighting are mine. Natch.]

And now, here's the rest from me. 

"Without looking too carefully at (or commenting on) the rest of the expat-related commentary in this thread, I am completely appalled by the misogynistic tone of this remark. Sure, there must be some expat wives who complain about life in Poland and how supposedly 'uncivilised' it is. But there are others who genuinely love it here and try, as best they can, to learn the language, appreciate the culture, and pitch in. 

"In fact, ALL of the expat women I know are of this second type. They teach English to Polish nurses. They volunteer for charitable projects and organisations. They visit elderly shut-ins who wish to practice their French and feel the true warmth of human companionship. They take an interest in local culture and life, and genuinely try to blend in and contribute something positive. Generally they just try to do the best they can.

"And furthermore, the company my guy works for has moved us 14 times in almost 30 years. Even though it seems like I should have absolutely nothing to complain about, I can tell you that be transferred hither and yon is flippin’ hard work. As the trailing spouse, you end up doing the same thing over and over and over and over again. New doctors. New dentists. New schools. Closing old bank accounts. Changing addresses at the post office. Again. Trying to manage your finances from half-way around the world. It feels like Groundhog Day … every frackin’ day of the year.

"Not to mention being continents away from beloved aging parents and beautiful grown children and bestest old friends. 

"What would it be like to have lived in the same tight community for 30 years??? Hell if I’d know. It sounds really delicious though.

"In my experience, what human beings mostly need and want is contact and community. As an expat, you have to do the best you can with what you’re given. I just hope that my husband doesn’t trade me in for Wife No. 2 (the younger, more attractive, ever so malleable version that Dembinski finds so immensely appealing). That would truly make all the hard work and the loss of friends and the sacrifice of my excellent career just unbearable.

"Whatever. Maybe this morning I’ll go to Coffee Heaven and have a latte and laugh much too loud. After all, it’s only what’s expected of me. Perhaps I should simply sink to meet expatriate expectations.

  1. Note to self: Do not ever read blogosphere comments about expat wives ever again. 
  2. Second note to self: It's five o-clock and I'm an expat. Time for drinkie-winkies, yes? Oh Boy! Yes, you, Boy! Over here and chop chop! Hurry up, my nails are almost dry and I'm simply parched. God. The help. You just can't find good servants these days, can you, Mabel? I say, it's just a goddamn shame. Go ahead and deal the next hand, Mary Jane. I swear, bridge is just so taxing.
  3. Paris, Stockholm ... and HOUSTON?      PleaseYou've got to be kidding.


Don said...

Remember, Miss E, you don't have to justify yourself to anyone,especially anonymous self-important bloggers!

expateek said...

Ha, thanks, darling.

I think I just had a bad day.

The economic climate and all.

I'll wake up happier tomorrow morning.


Anonymous said...

I confess I was a trifle taken aback by the ferocity of Scatts' tirade against expats when it appeared, but I don't think he was getting at you in particular, just people who live here but fail to engage in the culture (definitely not you). Anyway, he's big enough and ugly enough to defend himself so I'll say no more. As for Michael, living out there in the sticks can do strange things to a man.

Anonymous said...

^that was me, Island1, by the way (stupid bloody Blogger/OpenID/Google thing!)

Anonymous said...


Saturday 29th Nov. we're having a bloggers meeting in Warsaw. Tried to send you an email about it but it failed to deliver. You are invited to pop along and lay about us with a heavy stick. Me email is findable on the Polandians page.


expateek said...

Island1 -- Oooooo! A party invite! And in the process you have outed another one of my dirty little secrets, which is that my inbox has been full (where full=1000) lately and it rejects my mail.

You've just inspired me to delete 100 unnecessary messages. Now maybe I can get some more new good ones! Thank you.

And thanks for the nice comments. How one reacts is so much about what's going on in one's OWN head... not as much about what's actually been said.

And I know Scatts wasn't writing about me. And Michael wasn't either. But I will definitely work on my braying laugh for the 29th. It will be a great party trick!

Michael Dembinski said...

Just caught this one. BTW, I'm still with Wife No. 1 (not malleable in any sense of the word!).

I guess we've not met the same expat wives. The ones I criticised were the ones despised by none other than my own wife (like me a UK born Pole and very patriotic about Poland). They're gone, thankfully.

But I must say, I've never met any expat wives who've engaged in local life (teaching French to old folk etc.) Had I done so, it might have affected by stereotype.

expateek said...

Oh, good. Glad to hear you stuck to Wife No. 1. We actually DO get better as we age. :-)

And yes, there are great people and not-so-great people all over the place. One also has the whole Ugly American stereotype to deal with too. I hope I'm not one of them either, but it's always hard to know how one comes off.

Hope you had a nice trip back to England!