Saturday, January 19, 2008

What Expat Women Do All Day

Thanks for all of your great suggestions for post ideas. I'll make sure to get to all of them. A couple of you wondered what expat woman do while their kids are at school (or with the maid).

Guapo and I saw The Nanny Diaries last weekend. Have you seen it or read the book? A college grad, trying to figure out what she wants to do with her grad takes a job as a nanny for the summer. The mom for whom she works is a "stay-at-home-mom" who fills her days with various "important" activities.

It's a lot like that. Favorite activities include:

1) Beauty Rituals. The expat woman spends a lot of time getting pretty. In the countries that I have lived in (Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil) services like manicures and pedicures cost a fraction of what they do in the States. Here in Brazil, which is the most expensive place we lived, you can get a manicure and a pedicure for around $20.00. It cost half that in Venezuela. Other cheap services include waxing, massages, and getting your hair styled.

I've noticed the prettier the locals, the more time the foreigners spend at the beauty salons. My last year in Venezuela, I actually started regularly blow drying my hair. I stopped as soon as I arrived in Small Town and I have yet to start again.

2)Lessons: Not only do we try to improve our looks, but our minds and bodies with lots of classes and lessons. Most everyone at one point or another tries to learn the local language either with a private tutor or in a group setting.

Tennis lessons are also a big hit. I have taken lessons for years now, but never actually played a game. Over the years, I've also taken cooking classes and painting classes that were fun. Dance classes and yoga are also popular.

3)Tours. Lots of organized tours so women can go together to see the local sites. Often these trips involve shopping.

4)Shopping. It's hard to find an expat woman who isn't a serious shopper. We tend to clean out the local artisans. Our homes are filled with crap from all the places we've lived and we often carry stuff back to the States to give as gifts. In Venezuela the big thing to buy was wood fruit and flowers; I have a crap load of pewter and talevera from Mexico. Lots of my friends bought up locally made hand-painted, handmade furniture.

I've yet to discover what it is in Brazil that I can't live without other than flip flops and beach wraps.

5)Travel. Often times the expat woman will become depressed and need to travel back to the motherland (usually to shop). In the two years and three months I lived in Small Town, Mexico I took 11 trips. Travel within the country is also very popular. Any break from school and the foreigners scatter to the various vacation sites.

6)Clubs. International Woman's Clubs, Newcomer's clubs, quilting clubs, book clubs, Mahjong club, Bunco club, cooking clubs, playgroups, dinner groups, lunch groups, breakfast groups, service clubs. Here in Brazil there's even a canasta group that meets once a week.

7)Surgery. When you are away from your country, family and friends it's the perfect time to have plastic surgery. Especially if you are sent to Venezuela or Brazil. I am not exaggerating when I say I had only two friends in Venezuela that DID NOT have something done. B00b jobs, liposuction, tummy tucks, nose jobs, face lifts, were ABUNDANT among both the locals and the foreigners in Venezuela.

(I know you are wondering, so, no, I have not had anything done. I did have laser surgery on my eyes in Venezuela-best money I ever spent)

8)Talk about their maids: A serious percentage of chatter amongst expats is about maids. And not normally stuff like, "My maid is the best!!! You should see how well she cleans the bathrooms." No, no. Sadly, it's almost always negative.

9)Eating and Visiting: Frequent lunches and "let's do coffee's". Some women I knew in Mexico would have a "desayuno" almost everyday of the week. These lasted anywhere from 2-4 hours.

10) Service: Lest you think we spend our days doing nothing worthwhile, some women get involved in the local communities and do charity work. Sadly, from what I've seen, this category is not usually the most popular.

11)Drinking: Sometimes I feel like I've been transported back to any given Monday during high school. It's strange for me to listed to full-grown woman, most of them moms to multiple kids talk about getting wasted over the weekend. Call me crazy. Many of the above activities are combined with drinking. The quilting group here meets at night and they drink while they quilt (maybe that'd help me sew better?). There are running groups that run and then get drunk. I didn't see this so much in Mexico but both here and in Venezuela, drinking is a serious pastime.

So, there you have it.

I write this lightheartedly- most of the women I have met doing this are wonderful. It's not an easy life and not everyone can hack it. You have to start your life over in a new place, often with a new language, every few years. People do the best they can to fit in and find their niche. All the groups and activities provide a way for women to make friends quickly. A few do take it to the extreme and go crazy once they have a maid to leave their young kids with.

Living this lifestyle has given me lots of practice at saying "No". I try not to fill up my days with things that don't directly benefit my kids or my own personal development. The time I spend away from Pedro I am usually at the school helping in one of my other kids' classrooms or out running and if I can take him, I do. I don't spend my days in the beauty salons just because that's not who I am or what I care about. And because of my religion, I always have opportunities to serve no matter where I go.

I really have loved this lifestyle and would recommend it to anyone who has the chance.


Anonymous said...

Well written my friend. I think that I have participated in every one of these activities...though the drinking has been minimum. If we ever do start a quilting group that is not how I plan to spend it....I think it would actually worsen my sewing!
I used to blow dry my hair and get my nails done once a week in Venezuela too! I can't wait to go back!
We should seriously try to think about a shopping trip together...could be really fun! I haven't found anything here yet in Brazil that I want either.
My family one year ALL got wood fruit designs for was quite funny actually! I loved the artwork in Venezuela you can see evidence to in my home!
And to all the friends of Gabriela that aren't living this adventurous life...she is not the only one that feels we are living an amazing life. I totally agree with you Gabs...if you have the chance to do it, take it!
Love you! Anonymous

Jules said...

Tennis lessons? I had no idea. I am so jealous. That is something on my short list. I didn't pick up any wooden fruit or flowers, but have the rolling pin that Elin gave me and I love it.
BTW-y'all have inspired us. We're thinking of spending a couple of years overseas when we are done here.

marina said...

I am jealous!! what a life!!I would love ot have my hiar done once a week and a message and a pedicure sounds so nice!!and lets not forget the maids ..Ok amiga if I can ask you how long will you be in Brazil? and where will you go next? and have you learn to speak there Local language? and if you can say what does your husband do? that you get to live in all these really neat places..some I will never see sniff sniff,,,I hope you can answer some of my question,bless you my friend,
marina and PS. do you ever miss home and if you do what do you miss the most??and what is home meaning which state.

Calandria said...

The six months we lived in Venezuela were difficult for me. The weather was gorgeous and we lived in a beautiful apartment. We had a wonderful muchacha from DR who cooked divinely. BUt I was so lonely and bored! I didn't even know at that time there were expat women's groups--I'm sure I would have been much happier if I'd made some friends. I tried to make friends with women in my building but we didn't connect.

(laughing at the wooden fruit--I got a bunch of that too. The best thing I got from Venezuela was a creche. And I'd be lying if I said I never entertained the thought of plastic surgery when I was there. But I didn't get anything done.)

Kari said...

Gabriela what a great blog! It made my day and made me miss you more. Nodding-my-head to all of it, our highlights in MX were exploring different ruins/sights in different parts of the country every weekend or school vacation. Laugh-out-loud-because-it's-true was the buying stuff you couldn't live without and the plastic surgery. How appalling for me to wear sloppy clothes down there! And then coming back to the states, suddenly many of the moms are in workout clothes or they could have just rolled out of bed to get their kids to school. We hope we can do another assignment sometime. It's a "hard" but awesome and educating lifestyle.

No Cool Story said...

I ♥ this post so much.
You are such an awesome woman, mom and wife. You're an adventurer who has her head/heart placed in the right place.
You are doing things most of us don't even dream of ever doing.

nikko said...

Ditto NCS.

What a fun life your you and your family. You are a great mom. I don't know that I could do it, but I'm still wishing I had a muchacha. :o)

Shelah said...

I kind of think I might not fit in as an expat. I'm much too much the wash-and-go type. Maybe I could get into it if I had a muchacha, though.

Janet said...

I had an $85 (plus 20% tip) massage on Saturday and I spent the entire time thinking about what else I could spend that kind of money on that would last more than an hour. I would never pay that much and only went because I had a gift certificate to an upscale spa here in Florida. Now the plastic surgery on the other hand... just kidding. :)
Your adventures sound fun and your kids will forever have fun talking about the different places they have lived. Our kids will talk about the different countries they visited at Epcot. :)

Code Yellow Mom said...

I want to say exactly what NCS said. AND thank you...this is a great (and might I add funny) summary and perspective. Especially helpful to me since I am not only going to be living the "high life" with a maid, but two of my kids will be in school...What to do with myself.

I can guarantee there will be no surgery happening in Ukraine, though. Scaaaaaaaarey.

But I might go platinum blonde.