Real Housewives of Copenhagen

Photo: andyhide-blog.blogspot.com
Photo: andyhide-blog.blogspot.com

When we first made the decision to move abroad for my husband’s job, I was regaled with stories of The Help; maids and house cleaners and au pairs and chefs and personal umbrella holders.  No dish pan hands, no fighting with the vacuum, free time up the wazoo.  Laundry sorted and folded and put away with afternoons free to tra-la-la through local museums and fiddle-dee dee through quaint cafes.

Ha.

Snort.

Guffaw.

Oh, without a doubt, the don’t-lift-a-finger scenario is true in places.  Parts of Asia are well-known among the ex-pat circuit for having stupidly inexpensive household help.  The further East you go, the further your dollar goes.  And honestly, how many of us would turn down a little extra help with those stubborn stains and tub rings if it cost pennies instead of pounds?  Sometimes geographical or political instability, language barriers or safety issues make hiring help a necessity rather than a luxury.  A good friend and her family accepted a posting in a Stan, an entity that didn’t feature on quizzes when I was cramming for world geography in Mr. Kowalzcyk’s 8th grade class.  Because of political turmoil and the nature of her husband’s job, they are shadowed by bodyguards and are required to have a driver.  Not so for us.  When we took off from the US, we landed squarely in the Euro Zone.  We left behind not only family and friends but cheap consumer goods, affordable take-out and utility bills that didn’t go beyond three figures.  On one hand we were grateful to accept a posting in a relatively secure country–at least one in which the leadership had not been accused of boiling its political enemies alive–but on the flip side, we also landed in a place that made New York seem cheap.  Hell, it even made London look cheap.

Photo: zazzle.com
Photo: zazzle.com

As an American, I am spoiled.  You cannot get a true idea of how cheap consumer goods, electricity and yes, even gasoline are until you spend time outside of the US.  Cyprus was expensive.  Copenhagen is extortionate.  Not just touristy/airport/5 dollars for a slice of pizza pricey, but well and truly expensive.  There are reasons the Danes are consistently voted the happiest people on Earth; one of those reasons is that the minimum wage comes in at about $20 USD an hour.  If someone paid me $20 an hour I wouldn’t mind the scrubbing and the food shopping so much.  Nevertheless, I clean my own house.  I mind my own kids.  I shop for the best prices with my pocket translator in hand and a conversion rate in my head.  I have dish pan hands and mounds of laundry and am constantly lacking some necessary dinner ingredient.  In short, I do what most housewives do, only I do it in a different country.

So what do the real housewives of Copenhagen, or Tashkent, or Bangkok or Hong Kong or Panama City do?

We run the gamut.  Some work while they are abroad, trying to find balance, juggling family and career.  (Sometimes you get lucky and land in a place like Denmark which places importance on work/life balance).  Some lunch and play tennis.  Some volunteer at school or head the PTA or join a local networking group.   We seek out comfort in what can sometimes be uncomfortable situations, looking for the familiar in the unfamiliar.  We do our best to make a home in a place that’s not home.  We kiss skinned knees and get frustrated when the person in front of us in the express line has more than 10 items.  We fight with our spouses about finances, we count down the days to vacation.  Our lives sometimes seem exotic, but more often than not, that is no more than a by-product of where we end up.  My kids have seen the pyramids because it was an hour flight from Cyprus.  They have never been to Disney World, it’s always been too far away.

Photo: vintag.es
Photo: vintag.es

Those ex-pat wives who spend their days lounging and lunching and being massaged and coming home to cooked meals and folded laundry and children who are already in bed?  Chances are they would be doing that no matter where they were.  That is a certain lifestyle, the kind that usually comes with enough money that whether you are stretching your dollars in Shanghai or shortening them in Stockholm, it’s not going to matter too much.

As an ex-pat housewife, I live in a bubble.  It’s a lovely bubble, don’t get me wrong.  It’s cushiony and large and full of things my bubble back home wouldn’t have room for.  But it’s a false reality.  It’s like being on vacation but doing your job while you’re there.  I’m not out getting massages, I’m trying to figure out which cut of meat translates to one I can cook in 20 minutes.  I have free time during the day, but I lack the village to back me up.  It’s a hop, skip and a jump to a European vacation, but it’s 12 hour journey home.  There are perks, but no Granny’s shepherd’s pie or Nonna’s babysitting service.  There are great friendships, which are too often cut short by moves.  We worry about our kids, fret about our finances, navigate the super market, burn the toast, sort the lights from the darks, fight with our husbands.

And if you are me, spend a great deal of time scrubbing stubborn stains and trying to get the ring off the tub, all whilst dreaming of the sales in New York and cheap take-out options.

what-people-think-accompanying-expat-women-do

For more articles on my life as an ex-pat, try one of these:

Where Everybody Knows My Name

When in Rome

Is this Seat Taken?

Bittersweet is Only Good when it’s Chocolate

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15 thoughts on “Real Housewives of Copenhagen

  1. pjhap November 14, 2013 / 7:41 pm

    I remember Copenhagen is expensive, but there is a lot to do there! I bet you’ve found the Experimentarium (annual membership!), Louisiana art museum, the Open air museum at Lyngby. The Christmas decorations are something really special and you have plenty of dark hours to enjoy the twinkling lights!

    Like

    • dhonour November 14, 2013 / 9:45 pm

      Oh, I love Copenhagen. I just don’t like to shop here ;-). There is plenty to do, depths of culture to immerse yourself in, experiences to be had. And I am grateful. But sometimes, well..sometimes you just long for a bacon cheeseburger and a trip to Target. But only sometimes. ;-).

      Like

  2. Jo Jobling November 15, 2013 / 12:16 am

    Totally agree! I was in Copenhagen, now I’m in San Diego and I am constantly pinching myself with the prices here. I stifle a snigger when American friends tell me how expensive California is, and I could spin, Julie Andrews style, every time I go to a supermarket with shopping carts the size of small family cars. I miss the trees, the ponds and the Christmas spirit that was alive and adorable in Denmark. Friends are what I miss the most, thankfully I have numerous ways to keep in touch. Denmark was a lovely sojourn, hopefully not one I have to repeat. Loved it while I was there, love it even more now it is a glorious memory.

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    • dhonour November 15, 2013 / 6:32 pm

      You made me laugh with the Julie Andrews style spinning. Whenever I visit the US in the summer I have a few days of total sensory overload when I go into a Target or a WalMart. I start thinking I need things like a scissor mouse, simply because it’s on sale for .99. One nice thing is that we’ve somewhat streamlined our lives and I’ve become quite a good baker (when a box cake sets you back 10 USD, you learn how to bake…). Denmark is wonderful, and we really enjoy it here. But there are always those times I long for a coffee in Barnes and Noble and a trip to the Outlet Malls.

      Like

  3. Rina Mae November 15, 2013 / 3:10 pm

    Thank-you for this awesome blog post! I’m also an American mom (from San Francisco) living the “glamorous” life in the Netherlands.

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    • dhonour November 15, 2013 / 6:29 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to read it and comment! The Dutch seem to find life in Denmark quite a seamless transition, so I am guessing the culture is fairly similar. If not the prices.. 😉

      Like

  4. doublewhirler November 17, 2013 / 7:49 pm

    Great post! I can relate to this as a former ex-pat and as a current New Yorker. I too could start spinning Julie Andrews style when I leave the city to visit “The world beyond New York” (as our local TV station calls the world outside the boroughs). Walmart and Target and wide isles—oh my! Space and light and color—for free!

    I keep waiting for a posting to a country where the dollar goes a long way…like Florida or South Carolina.

    Like

    • dhonour November 19, 2013 / 2:44 pm

      Maybe Kentucky? You could probably get a few horses thrown in. I remember feeling that way leaving NY too: big, giant supermarkets with 100 different cereals, stores where you could get almost everything you needed in one trip. It wasn’t the prettiest or the coolest, but sometimes life was just better after a trip to K-Mart. It’s funny how now I can look back at the relative inexpensiveness of NYC with longing. I would not, however, be able to live in the same gorgeous 2000 square foot pre war building 2 blocks from the beach as I do now. Pros and cons!

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      • doublewhirler November 19, 2013 / 5:46 pm

        Oh no you didn’t just flaunt your square footage! You know you’re a New Yorker when talking to friends and their innocent comments like “Oh I think I must have left (fill in the blank) upstairs/in the other room/garage” fill you with feelings of rage and inadequacy.
        On the upside, I can touch everything I own while sitting at the computer. Oy vey, what an upside!

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      • dhonour November 19, 2013 / 5:50 pm

        I did. I love flaunting my square footage. We wander around from room to room (6) feeling like frauds knowing that we will NEVER live anywhere this nice again!

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  5. LaVagabonde January 14, 2014 / 3:26 pm

    I totally relate to this. Expat life is indeed like living in a bubble. After a while you get pretty comfy inside it, though. At least I am.

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    • dhonour January 14, 2014 / 5:50 pm

      I am very comfy in my bubble. Sometimes I worry I am too comfy in my bubble….

      Like

  6. Notanothershanghaitaitai October 13, 2014 / 8:54 am

    I am a new expat (Cotswolds, UK to Shanghai) and have just found your blog thanks to a share on Facebook. Love this post, nails it right on the head! 🙂

    Like

    • dhonour October 13, 2014 / 9:05 am

      I love it when people can find things to relate to, it proves to me that we all have more in common than we think we do! Doesn’t really matter where you are from or where you end up, it takes a core of strength to make a successful life in a country different than your own. I hope you enjoy your time abroad and find more here to relate to. (My English husband laying next to me says he would like to retire to the Cotswolds…..another move!!) Thanks again!

      Like

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