Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hanging Out with the Trophy Wives

I recently went out to dinner with a bunch of women from one of the playgroups I participate in. The playgroup itself is really great for R. She gets to socialize with toddlers of the same age, develop her social skills and problem solving abilities (what to do when both of you want the same toy? how do you conduct yourself in the face of another's aggression? etc.), and generally has a wonderful time (she is pretty extroverted and social: I don't know where she got that from!).

I have a somewhat harder time. Everyone else has at least one 'helper' (this is the euphemism for maids among Westerners here), so they don't do any cleaning/cooking/other house chores. They vary a lot in terms of their involvement with parenting (some do pretty much everything, like typical parents in the US; some have the maids do much of the daily work instead, to the point that they aren't sure how to parent their children well if she's not there). They all have a lot of disposable income: so they live in enormous, lavish apartments (private elevators, thousands of square feet), buy their children pretty much every toy ever, especially of the overpriced, organic variety (like $70 for a toy push broom), and many wear beautiful clothes and are exquisitely groomed (this also varies quite a bit, since after all they do all have small children).

All this is fine of course, even if it's not my style. But it makes for dull conversation because we don't necessarily have a lot in common.

Some popular topics:
--40 minutes on the 'servant problem' (how their maids are inadequate).
--30 minutes on taking small children on vacations to lavish beach resorts (think Phuket or Bali). No one is interested in going to the places I want to visit, because they don't have private villas and butler service there.
--20 minutes on whether to take your maid on vacation (or back to the US when visiting): pros and cons.

They are mostly quite nice, and of course there are many other topics I can discuss with them (parenting issues, preschool options,etc.). It's just sometimes I feel like I've fallen into a episode of Real Housewives.


  1. What an interesting life to read about, living in a foreign country. I'm so curious as to the details behind why people live in other countries, probably because it's barely a scenario I can imagine myself in. I doubt the opportunity would present itself without me or my husband specifically seeking it out. Very interesting to read about nonetheless!

    I (unfortunately) happened to catch 5 minutes of Real Housewives of New Jersey a few days ago, and I'm betting the Real Housewives you're referring to is NOT that bunch of "ladies". I use "ladies" very loosely. :)

    1. Actually this is one of the main reasons many people live here, because it's possible to live a very high-end lifestyle here in a way that wouldn't be possible at home (taxes are very low, salaries are high, staff is cheap, etc.). I haven't actually watched Real Housewives so I may not mean exactly what I said: I just meant that they are rich and have more spare time than the average US housewife.

  2. Though I like to watch "trainwreck TV" that makes me feel that I am not as broke/spoiled/poorly-dressed as one could be, I try to treat real life differently. As a grad student, I go to a lot of seminars, some of which are simply bad. As much as I like Internet snark, I use my colleagues' and acquaintances' shortcoming to learn.

    I think you can make the best of this situation as well. You have mentioned that you are not into fashion or creating hairstyles. However, there must be occasions (your husband's work receptions, weddings, etc.) where good style is the norm. These women clearly have those skills - why not ask them to teach you? You may feel vulnerable admitting this to them, but just try to learn what you can.

    Generally, you can also get more involved in leading the conversation in a new direction if you are not interested in the current one. When they talk about Bali, ask them about the fauna. When they talk about their maids, try to shift the conversation to something you've already read - and carry it forward into other books they've read.

    Established groups of people often get stuck in "conversation ruts" - the same way that couples get stuck in the same fights. Adding a new factor (you) into the group may reinvigorate the entire group's conversation. When people talk about things that are objectively interesting and intellectual, they feel good about themselves. You can shift the whole group if you take a more assertive approach.

    And if not, you can snark - I sure enjoy reading about them!

    (oops, deleted by accident)

    1. Haha, actually my husband is an academic which means no one knows how to dress (the typical person in his field dresses in wrinkled khakis). Usually I am the best dressed person there!

      But I think you make a good point that I could learn things from them. One of my weaknesses is a tendency to be snobby and judgmental and you're right that this is a great opportunity to dig deeper and actually expand my horizons a bit, especially because many of them are highly educated, accomplished people.

      Talking about things that I personally find interesting tends to be a bit of a struggle for me (I am very sensitive to the fact that people often find my interests dull or strange, I think as a remnant of childhood when this was definitely the case). But as I am not in junior high any more, I ought to make more of an effort. I do think it would result in more interesting conversations.