01 02 03 Africa Expat Wives Club: Expat Stereotype - The British High Commission Couple 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Expat Stereotype - The British High Commission Couple

Mandy married Keith ten years ago. He has been working at the British High Commission for all that time, so they know the ropes. So far they have lived in their own house in Surrey, just outside London then they had a short stint in Singapore where they got to grips with living in a developing country along with their two children, a boy and a girl.

On arrival in East Africa (via business class on British Airways), Mandy was infuriated to find that her family were allocated a house that fell far below the requirements of her husband’s pay grade. This was in spite of her frequent emails regarding their requirements sent to the office in the run up to the move. They were promised at least four bedrooms and an office but were put in a pokey house with no garden on a shared compound. She could find no one at the High Commission who seemed to care much about the injustice and was further piqued to find on invitation to tea at a fellow BHC expat (on a lower grade), that they even had a swimming pool! This was the final straw. Keith says that he quite likes the house they are in and doesn’t want Mandy to: ‘rock the boat’ in the office but she is insistent that they move into a house that accurately reflects their status. The packers came to unpack their air freighted furniture and household items, but they put everything in the wrong place which has meant hours of reorganisation for Mandy.

Keith is paid a salary into their UK bank account, the office also pay household bills, school fees, the salaries of their house staff and they give Keith and Mandy a monthly ‘local allowance’ in shillings for food shopping etc. To ease the stress of the housing situation, Mandy has been surfing the internet to find a good hotel in Mauritius for their first ‘breather visit’ which will give them a chance to recharge their batteries after the rigours of their first few months – after all, they are doing a ‘hardship posting’. She’s trying to wangle business class tickets for this trip too but the office secretary is being difficult about it.

Mandy is also entitled to shop at the duty free supermarket, where wine, washing powder, marmite and chocolate are much cheaper. It irks her when fellow embassy spouses illegally invite their non embassy friends to shop there too. She has mentioned it to Keith who promised to follow it up in due course. For the first few weeks she had a High Commission driver to take her to the shops and do school pick ups until she was confident that she knew her way around town. The house staff are a great help, but Patience seems to be struggling with the cooking aspect of the job, so Mandy is sending her on a cookery course which she found was advertised in their British High Commission ‘introduction pack’, including a book which helpfully listed schools, hospitals, shops, restaurants and emergency telephone numbers.

If anything goes wrong around the house, all Mandy need do is put a call into the High Commission maintenance department and they whip around to the house the same day. The automatic starter for the generator has been playing up which means it occasionally needs to be switched on manually by the watchman in the event of a power cut. This delay can be a real bore. Some people say that High Commission wives don’t even know how to change a light bulb, but that is just ridiculous!

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