Accompanying Spouse
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Shaken, not stirred

An article on The 6 Characters You’ll Meet At Every Expat Bar got my attention a couple of months back. Make a wild guess on who made it to no. 3…

3. The Diplomat’s Wife

She shows up every night at five o’clock on the dot, ready for happy hour surrounded by the group of four ex-pat wives who make up the town’s Western high society network in its entirety.

The Diplomat’s Wife will without fail order the one martini on the menu, and will without fail mention how unfortunate it is that “you can’t even get a decent martini around here.”

She spends her days doing her best to avoid the fact that she no longer lives in the land of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods by shuttling between the one grocery store which stocks imported goods and the one coffee shop which has made a few token efforts to imitate Starbucks.

Any conversation with The Diplomat’s Wife will inevitably come around to all the ways in which “the locals” make life difficult, from stalling the delivery of her shipped furniture to routinely botching her weekly hair and nail appointment.

I found my self amused as it may not be far from the truth, but I must admit this one sent one eyebrow raising a bit and made me embark on a task to give more dimensions to the idea of being a diplospouse.

A small group of 12 diplowives and 1 diplohusband responded to a survey I made on what they do before being and as a diplospouse. Most are in their first posting like me. Two had just finished their first posting and are back in their home countries, and one has been posted to the United States and Luxembourg prior to being posted in South Africa.

From the bunch, we have a media relations officer posted in Myanmar, a university instructor in music in Indonesia, an industrial automation engineer in the United States, a lawyer in Italy, a human resources consultant in Austria and another one in South Africa, a librarian in Morocco, a life coach in the Philippines, two marketing executives in Indonesia and Brazil, and a photographer in East Timor. We also have a physician and a university instructor in psychology who decided on staying in their home countries. I, for one, was a medical editor and medical student for a while before being Mrs. Diplomat. A lot of diplospouses from my home country are, in fact, doctors. You see, diplospouses are as equally established in their careers as the diplomats they ended up with.

Although most of us prefer being able to work at post and we are gifted with spouses who support us in pursuing a career of our own, not all of us are at liberty of doing just that. Those of us at post are first and foremost subject to an agreement between our home country and the host country we are currently at on whether to allow diplospouses to work or not. Any given country may allow all, some or none of us to work. The case differs from one posting to another, as well as from one diplospouse to another. Half of us do not work at post. For three, this is primarily because their host countries do not allow them to. Our colleague posted in Italy is allowed to work for international organizations only. Our diplospouse posted in the United States is continuing a career in industrial automation engineering in the local economy. Some get to work in the embassy or consulate as part of an internal arrangement their governments have for employing diplospouses, such as our colleague posted in Morocco who is now an assistant public affairs officer and our colleague in East Timor who is now an embassy photographer. Our diplospouses posted in Austria, the Philippines and Brazil found continuity in their careers by working from home as a human resources consultant, a life coach and an owner of a marketing consulting firm, respectively.

Those of us at post who are allowed to work by our host countries in the local economy are also subject to language barriers. A lot of posts do not have English as a secondary language. Here in Hong Kong, English is considered as an official language, but working in the local economy will require you to know Cantonese and/or Mandarin as well for most part. It helps us to learn the local language before being posted or while at post. However, it is inevitable that some diplospouses maybe allowed to work by the home country and host country yet still end up having none because of language differences.

I have been a full-time diplomat’s wife (and diplobrat’s mother) for a year and a half now. My job starts at 7:00 pm, when most ribbon cutting ceremonies, oath takings, charity balls, cocktail receptions and national day celebrations commence. It ends when Mr. Diplomat retires as being one…or does it ever?

In between diplomatic functions, some of us are stay-at-home mothers, fathers or life partners; some of us have careers, businesses or blogs; some of us have pets; some of us go into further studies; some of us are learning the local language, cooking, decorating or wine pairing; and some of us are simply into enjoying a martini with friends at the end of the day.

Cheers to everyone who participated in the survey.

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