New people, old attitudes

Something happened last week that shouldn’t have bothered me, but it played on my mind for a few days. Perhaps it’s because I was hormonal, perhaps it was being on the brink of becoming another year older or perhaps on reflection I was overly sensitive. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason, something gets to you and that’s that.

As the great summer escape comes to an end, I’m finally getting back into socialising with my fellow desert gals. Now the kids are still on summer break, so my mummy friends are still in trying to find a balance of having a good gossip with the ladies after 10 weeks and entertaining the little people. So happily I’ve gone along to parent friendly events, just to get back into the swing of desert life. This was going swimmingly with my close friends but then I hit a brick wall. I tagged along to another day out, where the kids would enjoy an adventure playground and us girls would coffee and natter for the duration. When I accepted the invitation I had no idea this was a mass outing, so was surprised but at the same time delighted, that there was a group of women, all looking forward to a good old-fashioned expat ladies Starbucks session.

This is where it got awkward. As people started arriving, I recognised some faces but there was a fair few I had not met before. The pleasantries were in full swing and kids were introduced to each other and like ducks to water they were socialising and behaving like they had known each other for years. It got to me and one woman went “oh, where are your kids?”  Immediately, I hit my go to defence reaction, which is to seem out going, make light of the situation and announce

I’m childless, I’ve just come along for the coffee and cake.

This was met my the usual laughter and banter from those that know me and the woman who questioned me got distracted by her children. Phew I thought, I’ve got past the awkwardness of why I was here and started to think about the real reason I was…. cake!  Then minutes later I was left alone, whilst the kids were sorted and let loose on the giant playground, the woman returned to me and wasn’t done questioning me, for what felt like her specialist subject on Mastermind.

Her: So you’re just childless for  the day right?

Me: No no, I don’t have kids

Her: Oh!…..Which was then followed by an under her breath wow?? And the a rather perplexed look on face. She couldn’t fathom it

Me: said nothing just sat in the incredible awkward silence, as she battled with this prospect.

Her: (after what seemed like half a day) Sorry, I only said wow because I’m remembering those days.

Me: I Knew this was total BS and just smiled and deflected to end this pain staking interaction.

Luckily my friend returned and I could speak to some one without judgement. But this did get me thinking, not only was I a little bruised from this situation, I also thought about how this is probably the biggest negative to expat life. There is so much judging, especially amongst the women. Now don’t get me wrong this isn’t everyday but I have come across more than my fair share. You meet new people and it’s like being stood in front of the Britain’s Got Talent panel, waiting to see if you will get 4 buzzers or ” you have 4 yeses, you’re through to the next round”

In a previous post, Square peg, round hole I discussed my difficulty to fit in, as I don’t naturally fall into the “standard” expat social groups, but it goes deeper than that. It’s against the law in the UK to ask at a job interview, whether someone is married or has children, or has plans to have children. So why is it ok to ask these questions in day-to-day life? I get that this expat nomadic existence forces you to make multiple acquaintances and there is a quick fire round, at coffee mornings and social gatherings. But when did it become the only questions we want to ask?

How long you been here?
Fair enough

Are you here with your husband?
Ok, I’ll give you that

What does your husband do?
I’m always vague on this one, company name and that’s it.

Do you work?
ok this is alright, this helps us determine whether I would be free daytimes

On a first meet, why does this matter? If I have them I’m sure I would mention them in the next 10 minutes of conversation, as most parents naturally do.

Plans for Children or that knowing smile with a “oh plenty of time for that”
Right. Now you’ve pissed me off, what the hell has this got to do with you?

The best reaction I’ve had to the last statement was, someone actually high-fiving me! It was like I was part of a special group of people who had kept their sanity by not having children.  Perhaps my feelings, post dealing with Miss Judgeypants, were my own insecurities, manifesting. You don’t know the other person, so how is this deemed totally ok  to make all kind of assumptions, let alone a bloody high-five?

Maybe at that moment I was hyper sensitive, but it seems like every life choice I make is under scrutiny by someone, even myself. Whether its people back home, when they ask where I am living? what I’m up to in Kuwait? There are some who can barely hide the judgment on their faces. The incessant asking by friends of friends, any patters of tiny feet. You may meet new people in your life, but they are still plagued by old attitudes of what the norm should be. It occurs to me that at no point, do we teach young women that there is an alternative to motherhood and also that the ideal perfect family doesn’t always come easily.

The judgments don’t stop there unfortunately. The Middle East culture is obsessed with hierarchy, whether that’s in the family, social casts or within the work place. Everyone has a level, quite literally most companies even assign your job role with a number to show where you are in the scheme of things. Now Hubby and I are not this way inclined, we could not give two hoots where anyone one is on the ladder, if we like  you, we like  you. However, shockingly I have been judged based on what my husband does. Yes I know it’s 2016 people!?  I have watched other women literally introduce each other like

This is Jane, her husband is the Vice President of my husbands better than

This doesn’t sit right with me at all, it’s like they are not only placing themselves within the group according to their husbands success but bragging that they are socialising with someone of that level and so the judging panel continues. I can go weeks or never even mention what Hubby does, I want people to like me for me, but I have literally been dumped by women and suddenly become interesting when they find out what my other half does. It’s screwed up! Why do woman judge each other so harshly? It takes a lot to pick yourself up from these situations, especially in the early days of expat life, but just as your feet get itchy, your skin becomes tougher with each new destination.

Now before this becomes a really depressing post, these situations are few and far between. But sometimes they can’t be avoided and I’m stood in front of Miss Judgeypants and my best defensive banter kicks in. I’m lucky that my group of desert gals take me for me.

This 30 something, expat wife, who can talk the hind legs off a donkey and occasionally can become irrationally insecure and hyper sensitive.

I will continue to go to events, where I may not naturally “fit” (hopefully there will still be invites after this post <blush>)  because I am a people person and love the part of this life that brings random people together. But I know that if I come across another Miss Judgeypants my girls have my back and I’ll try not to take it so personally.


13 thoughts on “New people, old attitudes

  1. This is such an interesting post! I hate the expectations that are placed upon woman and having children. I would have told Miss Judgeypants to do one 😉 As someone that has children I often find it very frustrating that new people I meet, only want to talk children. I on the otherhand am desperate to talk about other things, very important things, like who is going to win GBBO and when does the new series of Strictly start.;-) Also the hierarchy to do with job titles sounds throughly materialistic and rather depressing. I hate anything like that and even take offence when I have to state my occupation on paperwork!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know I was quite depressed writing this one and also quite incensed. I can’t be doing with it all, you are right GBBO and strictly are way more important than my lifestyle choices / challenges .

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This happens in Hong Kong as well, probably less so as a lot of expat couples are in their late 20s/early 30s and don’t necessarily have kids, but even now as a woman I get asked if I have kids, want kids, why I don’t want kids. “Don’t you feel like you’re going to be missing out?” Yes – missing out on the diapers-full of poop!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So interesting! Definitely agree, though, this seems to be the conversation trajectory among expat women, and there’s definitely more judgement and cattiness than with men. Though I will say, Koreans are pretty liberal asking both men and women the same line of questions, particularly the taxi drivers

    Where are you from?
    What do you do?
    Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?
    Ahh you should meet my -insert english speaking member of the opposite sex-

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting post. I am thinking this could happen anywhere as I moved back home and people always ask me if I have kids. But in the gulf, the expat social circle is small and hence you meet such people. Branch out to sport groups (i.e. Hash Harriers) and I swear you will never face a single person asking you such banal questions! I loved Hash Harriers in Doha and Abu Dhabi. An interesting group of people and you laugh and have fun! I also used to go sailing with a teacher and some of her mates!


  5. It’s a sad post but a real one! Unfortunately it seems that people coming to the middle east have been influenced by the hierarchic mentality that you are faced with here. It gives people a false sense of I can question you on whatever because of my social status and that is how we do it here – regardless of where they are from.
    I think the saddest bit is people who have been married for years and are struggling to have kids, squirming when they are questioned about why they don’t have kids after so and so number of years. Sometimes I really have to sit back and think wow really?! Did you really think asking those questions are okay?!
    I think in the UK there seems to be more subtlety? People generally know their boundaries and understand what socially accepted questions are!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t agree more and that’s an aspect that i had not considered, but I think you are right. There is such a culture of that here and not the same boundaries. You have just helped my next post!

      Liked by 1 person

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