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TRAILING SPOUSE* - DESPERATE FOR CONVERSATION?
*the person who trails the primary income earner to a new career destination

Recently I saw a web posting about an expat woman who felt that she should hang a sign around her neck "desperate for conversation!" Most of the respondents commiserated with her feelings, as well as laughing at her honesty about her need for friends!

They then went on to advise her that when she did get into conversation only to talk only about innocuous and general topics of conversation.

"Avoid talking about friends and families."

"Keep the conversation general and talk about hobbies, news or items of current social or political interest".

I agree to a point.

I do think that there is a danger of becoming utterly boring as an expat. We tend to waffle on about the last posting way too much. I know that there have been times when I am talking about a previous post and I see people's eyes start to glaze over as they look around the room for an escape. My husband and I have made a pact with each other to try to avoid talking about previous postings unless specifically asked. I let people ask questions about the last posting rather than volunteering information.

But I do disagree about the fact that people can't say that they are lonely.

Recently I went to a function that was organised by one of the parents at my children's school. The women asked me how I was enjoying living here and I was in two minds as to how to answer the question. Should I be honest and say what I really felt or should I give the politically correct answer?

Utter conflict.

I ended up telling her about this conflict and I said it had been a tough first year because there was no real expat community to link in with. Instead we are living in a small community with very strong familial links - basically, a village. People say that you will be a local after you have been living here for twenty years.

I sat and thought about it and then I told this woman that I was lonely. I said that this place was gorgeous but because there was such a strong sense of history and community, people didn't really need to be friendly to the occasional expat. We are like little blips on the local's radar. We float in for a couple of years and then go again and as far as they are concerned, they don't need us.

We need them though.

I told her that I found it difficult to meet people and, at this point, felt a bit like washing my hands of this place because it was such a hard posting; I was tempted to just sit it out.

She was horrified and said how awful that made her feel. I said that it wasn't my intention - it was just one of those facts about different countries and places. I smiled and laughed and said it was fine and that we are a fairly self-sufficient and resilient bunch but the thing is that it made her think differently about our experiences as well as making me think about hers. As I mentioned, we are blips on their long term social radar but she became more aware of how difficult moves can sometimes be. She tried to imagine what it would be like to live in a place where she knew no one, had no family, no aunties, uncles, nephews, nieces, cousins. No school friends from way back when, no university friends close by , no friends from her first job, no family friends, no friends of her parents, no work colleagues, no social friends. She was utterly bewildered and said that she couldn't imagine living like this.

I said it was a choice that we had made.

The really nice thing though is that my honesty has resulted in her now having taken me under her wing. She is determined to prove that this place is the best place in the world. She has invited me over, she has 'phoned, she has introduced me to her friends and she has made this posting a really good place to live.

I didn't really expect such kindness but I was just a bit tired of being polite and correct. That and a glass of wine had given me a bit of Dutch courage and the fact is that this kindness has made a big difference to us. People have become much friendlier. They take the effort to invite us over for coffee or dinner and they try to include us in things.

We as a family are delighted about this and in some way, I would like to think that we have enriched their lives as well - I know that we have one of the best dress-up boxes in town with everything from saris to Chinese silk pyjamas to Akubra hats and kangaroo skin whips! We have now hosted Australia Day BBQ's, Chinese New Year parties and Indian buffets. My husband and I also recently coached a dragon boat team here - I think we were the only ones who had ever paddled a real dragon boat before. Helping to coach the team was fantastic fun!

I hope that the locals realise how much we expats appreciate their kindness. It has improved our time here, made the children feel more integrated and meant that I feel part of a community in way that I am not sure would have been possible if I had kept my stiff upper lip and not been totally honest.

Thank you!

Dr Amanda O has been a trailing spouse for the last eight years.

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Posted 15Oct05