We the 1950’s (expat) housewives….

While I am certainly enjoying my new life here in South Africa in the main, there are days when I feel like throwing in the proverbial towel and jumping on the first plane home. These are the days that I spend at home….waiting for the plumber, the electrician, the cushion cover man…the days when I feel that my entire role in life now is to be in the house just in case someone turns up….the days when I feel like a 1950’s housewife, trapped in my gilded cage.

housewife market cropped

Luckily, unlike the ACTUAL 1950’s, we now have the Internet. So thanks to the power of technology I know I am not alone with these feelings. I put something on my Facebook page the other day about how boring the expat life of an expat wife can be and within minutes I was garnering sympathy from near and far. It’s hard to moan too much because basically we know how lucky we are. But when the highlight of your day is your husband buying you a new Swiffer mop (you know who you are!) then you know something isn’t entirely right.

While being at home far more than we’d like to be is one thing that unites us, the other is that many (most? all?) of us actually had a decent job, career even, and, you know, one of those brain things before we left our homeland behind in order to follow our dear partner abroad. Of course many of us even brought that brain along too and occasionaly get the chance to use it. But in many cases we’ve had to pack it away in an attic somewhere, with the winter coats and the thick British-winter duvets. We take it out from time to time to look at but who needs a brain when all you do all day is sit around waiting for a plumber?

I exaggerate of course (and don’t forget I do actually have a part-time job) but there is a point here. Living abroad without your normal support networks can make life pretty tricky if one of you isn’t in a position to be at home for quite a lot of the time. Not to mention someone to visit at least three different supermarkets to pick up enough groceries for one meal, queue up in five separate queues just to get your phone reconnected and still be around to ferry the children to their after school activities. I don’t know how dual-working families do it. Oh yes I do, it’s called a full-time nanny (at least here in South Africa).

I realise that I speak from a position of enormous privilege. Just the fact that I don’t HAVE to work puts me in a luckier position than most. But this doesn’t make it easier when I feel like I’ve slipped back 65 years in time, to an era where it was the norm for the female half of the partnership to spend her time “home making” while her husband took off to the exciting world of work every day. There are a number of us out there, many with professional qualifications (I’ve recently met doctors, lawyers, teachers and more – few of whom have been able to find paid work here). Some of us have chosen this route, some haven’t. For most it is something in between – this was the best solution for the family as a whole and while we may have wished for more in an ideal world, we know we are not living in an ideal world. But for all of us, to a greater or lesser extent, the frustration is real.


Added to the feeling of being tied to the house is the frustration that to all intents and purposes you are only allowed in this country because you are with someone else, and that your life is basically at the whim of that someone else’s career. As it’s common to need to go through your partner’s office for even the simplist of requests for the house or even for healthcare, it isn’t suprising that you rapidly start to lose sight of yourself as an independent person. I have already touched on feeling like a hopeless child in the early days of arrival in a new country in an earlier post. Although this does get a lot easier once you have a car, bank card and know your way around a bit, it is still easy to end up feeling like the lesser person in the partnership.

There isn’t really a solution to this, except to know that if you too are feeling like a 1950’s housewife, trapped in your home while yet another utlity person may or may not arrive at some point in the day, know that you are not alone. In fact, if it really starts to get to you why not embrace it completely? Slip on those fluffy mules, tie up your pinny….and pour yourself a nice big G&T.

NOTE: Please be assured that I don’t feel like this every day – which I am sure is true of most of my fellow “expat wives”. I am managing to get out and about and making a life for myself here. Nevertheless, thanks to the peculiarities of this life, there are still days when all my intentions to return to 2015 are still thwarted by the message that the plumber is due that day……..

Do you feel like you’re stuck in another era? Are you turning into a 1950’s housewife – or even househusband? Come share your stories and sympathise!

Photo credit: woman in kitchen – Ethan.