Diplo wife isn’t a very modern concept. I should talk about diplo partner. Because first, these days people don’t get married so often anymore (it costs a fortune to poor drinks to the saw-you-once uncles and never-seen-before colleagues of your parents). Second, because sometimes the diplo wife is a man. The new generation of diplomats is different, and some women become diplomat, but I’ve been living in this world for almost a year now and I can tell you that we are nowhere near a parity in this job… and there’s also same sex couples, whose life isn’t easy in some postings.
But I’m not a very modern person. I like good old grandma traditions. So, I kept the title diplo wife. And also, because it comes with all those stereotypes!
- The diplomat’s wife is elegant.
- The diplomat’s wife knows how to cook.
- The diplomat’s wife drinks champagne every night.
- The diplomat’s wife smiles all the time.
- The diplomat’s wife is a great housewife who raises perfect and polite kids.
I don’t think I have any of those but at least I kept the title.
This job is surrounded by stereotypes. Mainly because people don’t know what the job of a diplomat really is. They see the nights out and figure out it’s a non-stop champagne party life. Trust me, there’s more to it than meets the eye. You represent your country, but you also have to sell it, like a real product in a company. You have to do so from afar and with the local means, which is, depending on the posting, a little to a huge challenge. An embassy is often like a small company. They have to deal with so many areas; the economical, the political, the accounting, the communication, social media, HR, etc. Just like a company, an embassy has all those departments. Many countries have at least one diplomat in charge of each field, but Belgium is a small country and basically one man is responsible of all fields; in this country, this is my husband. In some postings, you have to deal with a deep political crisis or even war. You’re often a target and this diplomatic license plate does not play in your favor. At the same time, every single Belgian you will cross, will ask you about their passport renewal like it was all you have to do anyway.
But I’m not complaining, there is worst. There is being an ambassador. First, like many others, I thought it was super cool. The title, the house, the driver… life at its best. Then I realized this position comes with UNLIMITED dedication. I like my country (and even more from afar) but I don’t know if I’m ready yet for such a level of dedication for Belgium coming from my husband. I might get jealous. I’m a lonely child and I don’t share easily (never pick food in my plate without asking).
So, I have a profound admiration for our ambassadors. But as one of them said someday “Us diplomats, we are the body of the diplomacy. But wives, they are the heart and soul, and the body wouldn’t work a day without them”. People tend to forget it’s a team job. Of course, the diplomat does more in the public eye, but us, the partners, we have our backstage role. We organise life for them to be able to work. We meet people and create a network very useful for them. The help we provide might look useless. Cooking a meal for an unformal meeting at home, dealing with the moving company, taking care of the wife of a Minister… . Trust me, diplomats couldn’t function without it.
Also, my grandmother used to tell me “There is no such thing as love, only proof of love.” (I really thought it was from her, she didn’t mention anyone else at the time, I’m sorry Mister Cocteau). And she used to tell me that story about her bringing hot chocolate to her husband who was working outside, selling fruits and vegetables in the cold Belgian winter. She said this was the only way she knew how to show her love, by helping him. So, this idea has always been in my mind.
Talking about my grandma, I should also mention that she was PERSUADED that I was going to marry Prince William of England. We happen to have around the same age, and by reading all her magazines about the Royals, she had this crazy idea to groom me for the throne. Like tea practice, reverence training, waving exercises, how to properly enter and get out of a car, diner seating,… For the 8 years old little girl that I was, it was funny, and I kind of wanted to be a princess at some point, although William wasn’t my type and England looked way to rainy for me. I have to admit she was a little bit disappointed when I introduced her to my husband to be, but she finally said he was way funnier and had a lot of hair. The first official diner we went to, Frederic, my husband, was super stressed. I was pretty calm. He asked me how I was managing this so well. I just told him my grandma taught me well.
In the end, the diplo partners do what they can to help. Each in their very own style. What I’ll tell you in my blog is my vision of the job, but it will not be shared by every diplo partner. And we are busy guys, because we also have to reinvented ourselves. Do we resign our jobs or keep it? Do we look for a new one? If it’s possible in the country, some countries do not allow the diplo partner to work. Everything seems possible and being able to choose isn’t always easy. There is no pre written advices, and everyone deals with a different equation. Being sent to Africa with 2 young kids isn’t the same as going to Washington as a young couple without children or to Bangkok as a single diplomat. Anyway, this life is always an adventure!