Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Other side of living abroad

To you, it may seem as though I am living the life.  The thing is, most of the time I am, great husband, great kids, great family, nice house, travel opportunities, goldmine of daily adventures, being able to experience another culture- BUT there is another side to this story.  Most of it I have always been completely aware of, but pushed it aside because I am too busy taking care of my kids or out exploring the city I live in.

Lately, being sick has made me homesick.  I'm sure most people now know that I am pregnant.  For those of you that know me, you know that I get very very sick when I'm pregnant (hence my absence from the blog)- when I was pregnant with my first son, I once threw up SEVEN times in an hour.  Luckily, I was able to get my medicine before coming back to Japan, so I do have that saving grace.  However, being sick in a foreign country isn't fun to begin with, but couple it with the fact that I have four young kids to take care of, laundry to do, meals to cook, things to put away, and...... a husband that is ALWAYS working and it's even less fun.   Yes, I have wonderful neighbors that offer to help, but they too are in a similar situation to me, the weeklong struggle to make it on your own with your kids, while your husband is "living the Japanese dream"- where family only seems to have a place on the weekends.

Do you know about the Japanese work ethic?  Well, pretty much, they go to work early in the morning and don't come home til 10 or later at night.  There is definitely a hierarchy to follow in the Japanese society, for instance, in the workplace, there is an unspoken rule, you do not leave until your boss does- imagine that?  Luckily, the foreigners do not have to follow this one.  Most days, my husband leaves the house before 6:30 AM and does not return until after 8 PM.  A few times a week, he'll blow in the house, grab a bite to eat and sit down on our personal house phone and have conference calls until 10 or 11 at night- so while he's here, he's not.  Sometimes, he has late meetings, with people from the US and Europe, and he stays at the office for these and doesn't get home until after midnight.  There were weeks when he worked his forty hours in three days- I think you get the point- we NEVER see him during the week.   A running joke we have when we go to bed on Sunday night is, "see you Saturday".

This brings me back to homesick- of course, I am homesick for all the comforts that home brings, but what it really made me realize is that I am homesick for my husband and a normal work schedule.  I can't even remember what it was like to have him home for dinner by 5:30 EVERY NIGHT.  My kids are used to the fact that they don't get to see their dad during the week, sometimes the two that go to school during the day don't see him for the entire week.  This was part of my decision to homeschool the older one, it seemed to affect him that he never saw his dad, with more flexibility with our schedule, he can stay up later to see his dad, and do some of his schoolwork with him (if he gets home on time).

Now, before you completely feel bad for him and all his work, let me tell you another part of the Japanese work culture, the social part.  It is common for a Japanese co-worker to be very "quiet" about their opinions of your ideas in the office, but if you establish a relationship with them, like go out for a few drinks, they are more frank and willing to work with you.  This means many dinners throughout the week for him, whether it be to welcome someone to the group or say sayonara.  The company finds it important enough for him to attend these, that they even pay for some of them for him.  Yes, he gets to go to dinners and parties for work, of course at the end of the day (wives are not invited).  And, sometimes, after these parties, they are already out, so the obvious thing to do is go to a bar or do karaoke.   Something became evident to me last night when I went out.  YES, I WENT OUT.

I asked my husband to stay home so I could get out, since I hadn't had a moment to myself in over 2 weeks.  It just so happened he had a potential going away party for a co-worker of his that same night.  Many of the co-workers and husbands of the neighborhood showed up at the bar we were at and everyone kept asking me where was Dave?  I realized something, when they are out, no one ever asks them where their wife is and why she isn't out.  I met a few co-workers and I was introduced as Carlson-san's wife, which makes sense because they know him, but I realized that I've lived here for almost four years and I've never met a lot of my husband's co-workers, the people he spends most of his time with, and how excluded wives are from a major part of our husband's lives here.

Don't get me wrong, the weekends are ours, there is no yard work, we do a lot, but by the weekend, I am so exhausted, that I often find myself trying to kick him and the kids out so I have a little bit of peace and quiet.  But, he gets no sleep or rest during the week either so sometimes Saturdays are a wash because he needs downtime too.

So, next time, you think how cool my life is here, and all the trips I get to take- remember that those vacations are one of the only times in the year that I am actually spending quality time with my family as a family.  And many of my adventures end up being alone during the week, without my husband.  Be glad the next time you are sick and your husband is home to make you dinner or stop by the store to pick you up popsicles on his way home.  Enjoy it when he is there during the week to see your kids play a game or take them to the movies.  I hope I don't sound too doom and gloom, but I felt the need to express that there is a dark side to living abroad.


  1. I can't imagine being so sick with the little ones and homeschooling, etc. I am sure it will all be worth it when you are holding a snuggly new bundle in a few months though:) You are so strong--keep up the good work!

  2. Liz: I can relate to what you are saying (well minus the sick aspect). I have often told Matt that we might as well be back in the states traveling his 60%-70% at what the work hours are here. People think we have this glamourous life, but they don't see the sacrifices and hard times we have here.

    I am always up for some female company. Call me.