Once the novelty of your new home wears off, lets face it it feels like a holiday for the first 2 weeks, you realise you can’t put it off any longer, you have to put yourself out there.
I know once I have been vetted and accepted into the fold, I can hardly shut up and become social secretary for all our engagements, and the people that know me would probably be surprised to know, that doing the whole meet and greet is a nightmare to me….honest. . So begins the torturous weeks of making friends, it quite literally is the first day of school scenario, putting yourself up for scrutiny, first impressions count, praying in the taxi you won’t be left in the corner of the playground to play alone. Then hubby comes home that night asking, just like your anxious mum did 30 years ago, “did you meet anyone nice today?”
There is an acceptance that your husband plays a role in your new quest for friendship. Over the induction coffees of their new jobs, contact information is passed between the men, so that wives may come to the aid of the newbee expat on the block. So then comes the random email from “Bob’s” wife (there is no Bob by the way, this of course is a hypothetical scenario) who offers to meet me, for what seems like a pity coffee. No one wants a pity coffee but I go anyway, because quite frankly in the early weeks of my Kuwait landing I was desperate! So, with much trepidation, I arrive at the agreed location and hope that she could be the one, a kindred spirit to ease my transition into my new home.
Soon arrives a woman in yoga pants, trainers, messy bun and a post workout spring in her step; I like her already. Coffees were ordered, the obligatory exchanging of names and the reinforcement that I was glad she got in touch. Then followed the typical patter to welcome any newbee to the country, the truth but not the whole truth. It is widely accepted that when going through the new job process you are given the brochure version of your new adventure, no one really wants you to read the small print. The frustrations, the rules of the land, the bad places to avoid, all become the responsibility of the existing wives, to give you an insight without putting you off, you don’t want to be going home demanding to be put on the next plane out of there. I too have given this speech in the past, so I nod with enthusiastic smiles to endorse her valiant effort .
Two cappuccinos later the conversation was flowing and I was feeling that this was a great “1st date”, this woman was down to earth, funny, welcoming, my kinda gal and so I was delighted when a follow up date was made, for a coffee morning where my social circle could be opened up even more. Practically skipping home to tell hubby of my success, I looked forward to the next day, if the rest of the group were as delightful as she was I would be set up.
As the car drove up to collect me, my heart was pumping with nerves I just want them to like me, my 5 year old self screams. Out of the car came a woman dressed in, what can only be described as, stripper wear! A skin tight body con dress, skyscraper heels (not the good kind, the stripper kind) hair that would give any Essex blow-dry a run for its money and a full face of makeup. Where did my nice yoga pant wearing friend go?? I sat quietly in the back on the car wondering what I had gotten myself into and how under dressed I was in a pair of Top Shop patterned pants and a pair of Birkenstocks, oh the shame!
What happened next was a car crash – not literally we had arrived safely at the destination but socially. I walked into the room and watched to my horror as the people I had driven in with changed in front of my eyes. It was like a switch had been turned on, the voice changed from a lovely warm regional British accent, to someone off Downtown Abbey. Air kisses where flying round, Darlings and Sweeties filled the air conditioned room and designer handbags flung over the crook of every arm and I suspected that most of the handbags were as fake as their owners.
It was Stepford Wives playing out in front of me, 4 student houses in Rochdale had suddenly become a property portfolio, a quiet family trip to the UK had become attending a socialite wedding and the nice Coast dress bought for the occasion was now something picked up in Harvey Nichs. It was an outstanding performance it has to be said, Meryl Streep would have been proud and I sat back in dismay and was subsequently ignored for most of the pain staking experience.
I would like to add at this juncture, that whilst I never saw “Bob’s” wife again, I went on to meet some amazing women, from the UK, Poland, Venezuela, Italy, all friends that feed into making this an experience to remember. However this wasn’t the first and I’m sure it won’t be the last time I have walked from a gathering and thought why on earth am I putting myself through this? It doesn’t matter what country I move to, I seem to come across (what I think most people see as the stereotypical expat wife) the snooty, tea drinking, twin set and pearls wearing, judgmental, arrogant and ashamed to say mainly British, mafia wives. I hate it and please don’t tar us all with the same brush. Most of us aren’t looking to set up Little England, we want to explore, embrace and relish in the fact that we live in these amazing places. We maybe expats but we are people too!
And so I will continue to dread the whole meeting new people aspect of this lifestyle, you certainly have to kiss a lot of frogs, but when you do face the fear and spark up conversations with complete strangers, you still hold in your heart the hope, that this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.