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Expat problems: household help

The problems of expat life can make a woman tear her hair out. article by Rosie Milne for telegraph.co.uk

Did you catch Elizabeth Roberts’ round-up of common expat moans? Number five on the list was: “Your friends at home will judge you for stuff that is just a normal part of life where you live – like having hired help around the house.”

This surely rang a bell with almost every expat wife in Asia, especially those of us without proper jobs. Which is nearly all of us.  Including me.  I am your archetypal non-working trailing spouse, trooping along in the sparkling wake of my high-flying husband. I am a privileged, spoiled woman. And because I know I am privileged and spoiled, I know I shouldn’t moan. Moreover, I don’t think other expat wives in Asia should moan either. At the risk of being banished from the coffee mornings of Singapore, I’ll state my official position: no expat wife out here has any right to moan about anything.

Although, on second thoughts, perhaps this is every Asia-based trailing spouse’s official position? After all, we know we chose to leave wherever we came from; to trail along behind our husbands; to give up our jobs. We’ve all heard about, and often seen with our own eyes, AIDS-riddled orphans living on rubbish dumps, and we can guess what sort of lives their dead mothers must have led – lives so horribly unlike our own. We’re not powerless, or voiceless.  We’re not migrants. Whatever our husbands do, and wherever in Asia we live, we’re all of us members of the lucky, mobile, global elite.

So: you’re a non-working expat wife in Hong Kong, and hubby has just gone and done a runner with a Thai bar girl / Filipina amah / other Asian babe with dollar signs for eyes?  Tough luck: it comes with the territory.

As for us expat wives of Asia moaning about being judged for having household help? Well, it really isn’t on, is it? It really, really isn’t.

Still, I manage to do it all the time. Just as I’d do a lot more than moan if my own hubby actually did do a runner with an impoverished Asian babe with dollar signs for eyes – this notwithstanding, I sympathise with Asia’s assorted love entrepreneurs.

It’s not that I mind being judged for having household help by friends in the UK; I can cope with being judged, groundlessly, I feel, from a distance of 7,000 miles. It’s when visiting Brits actually staying in my house pointedly ask at every meal: who cooked this? Honestly! They know full well it was Our Amah. Or when houseguests pointedly sigh that I only have time to do this or that, because I don’t have to worry about doing the laundry. Which is true. But still. Or when houseguests roll their eyes whenever I ask Our Amah to do anything at all.

This sort of thing drives my absolutely up the wall, crackers, nuts and bonkers. It’s even worse when the houseguests, despite judging me, calmly dump all sorts of extra chores on Our Amah, such as cleaning their shoes, and ironing their petticoats.

The hypocrisy of it! Even if you’ve never had household help, don’t you think it would drive you up the wall, too?

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