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A house or a home? Hiding in the residence….

Being the spouse of an Ambassador, representing your country, offers a lot of interesting opportunities and experiences and also very specific challenges. Of course a lot is dependent on issues such as which country you represent, the country you are in, the size of the Embassy, (the expectations of) your partner etc. And I also realize that some countries may prepare you for this, others do not.

A few things I was not really prepared for

One important thing which is very different in this role is the fact that you are living in “the residence”. This is also supposed to be your home, but mostly it is a house which is used to represent and often also showcase your country. Usually all other Embassy departments can also use the residence to host their events. So there will seminars, meetings, working lunches and dinners, signing ceremonies, networking events etc. Of course the house is meant for this, but somehow it can make you feel very lost in your own house at times. And actually, it may be a house – and a beautiful house often – but does it feel like your home…? And how do you make it feel like your home? What if it is all furnished, even the bed in your bedroom has been used by your predecessors… ? Is it suitable for a family or for kids? Or what about pets? I had not really thought about all of this before I arrived.

We tried to host events together when we could. But many times this was not an option. And where do you go to if there are events where your participation is not required or wanted…, In the beginning I often ended up in the bedroom and having dinner in front of the tv. How awkward it can feel that you can stay for a drink but will have to go when it is time for the guests to go and have diner, without you. Or the feeling that you can never be yourself really as there are potentially always people, staff and Embassy colleagues walking around, so you always have to be aware of how you look or what you are wearing. How do you sneak out if there is an event taking place and you do not want to be seen? Or what can you do if you do not like the furniture? Or are you expected to organize beautiful dinners and decorate the tables in a tasteful manner? Are you expected to serve your countries’ food? Are there standards? And what if you do not like cooking at all? And what about protocol? Lots of questions, assumptions, implicit or explicit expectations.

Or what to do with the feeling that some areas in the house were actually areas for others. This can of course also be the case in other situations and countries. Such as the kitchen. The kitchen is the space where there is always a lot of work for the events going on and staff gathers. Entering the kitchen felt as if I where intruding, uncomfortable. So I avoided it where I could. It is not our space and it still is difficult to find things in the kitchen. It did help me snack a lot less than I might otherwise would have done… 😊

How do you deal with this?

When I realized that in fact we were living in a work setting – the work setting of my partner, this did help me. It helped me to understand that systemically the space we were using had a different meaning to each of us. It was his working environment and also his house, I was trying to make it a home and it was not my working environment where I would meet work contacts and colleagues. Accepting this helped dealing with this. It was a step. And of course we needed to find ways to deal with some of the practical challenges and finding escape routes in the house….

Lots of other questions and issues come up in this role. Also in relation to your partner and the community and people around you. It requires very explicit and honest conversations about expectations and roles. Did you get curious or would you like to discuss further? Please drop me a line.

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