There’s always a bit of a brouhaha when it comes to labelling or describing expat partners. A few of the titles used include Expat Spouse, Expat Wife, Trailing Spouse, Trailblazing Spouse, Lady of Leisure, Lady that Lunches, Guy that Golfs, Excess Baggage or as my husband endearingly calls me Expensive Habit. None of the terms is perfect and some are deeply loathed by the expat community.
So, I’ve come up with yet another alternative for you. It’s an analogy that first occurred to me when I wrote about the industrious dung beetle after we saw hundreds of them on safari. They are completely fascinating little creatures and the comparison between expat partners and dung beetles has been scratching about in the back of my mind ever since. Yes, I am comparing the Trailing Spouse to the Dung Beetle.
Confused? Here are 6 ways that expat partners are like dung beetles:
1. Dung beetles are found all over the world on all continents, save for Antarctica, surviving in various climates and habitats. Expats can also be found thriving all over the world.
2. In ancient Egypt the scarab beetle (a type of dung beetle) was a symbol of transformation and renewal. With every international move the expat partner can and often does reinvent themselves, casting off by necessity aspects of their old life and replacing or enhancing them with new skills, habits and activities to survive in their new location.
3. Generally the male dung beetle rolls the dung ball and the female catches a ride or follows the dung ball. Does that sound familiar to any of you? This is similar to the concept of Trailing Spouses who follow their partner on assignment. In the expat world the employed partner (often, but by far from always the husband) gets the ball rolling and the spouse jumps aboard or follows them.
4. Dung Beetles navigate by the stars at night. Seriously, how cool is that? They are the only insects to do so. Expats rely less on the stars and more on GPS/Sat Nav, maps and native wit, but in the past sailors most certainly did rely on the stars to circumnavigate the globe. Both the dung beetle and the expat are adept at finding their way.
5. Dung Beetles are incredibly strong. Their strength equates roughly to a human moving six buses – those would be double decker buses – double decker buses full of passengers. How does this relate to expat partners you may ask? Although six full double deckers would be a bit of a challenge, we expats are experts at the art of travelling like pack horses, but looking like it’s easy breezy. An essential expat skill is to hold the heaviest overweight item of hand luggage on a single pinky whilst smiling sweetly at the airport check-in clerk. “This little itty bitty suitcase? Oh it weighs practically nothing.”
6. Lastly and most importantly in comparing expat partners like myself to the awesome Dung Beetle you need to understand that the dung beetle is so named because it is stellar at sorting sh*t out. I wrote about mind boggling quantity of sh*t that they deal with in more detail in THIS post.
We expat partners are equally well versed in the sorting out of all shades of sh*t. While our working partners “swan off” (okay, in reality they actually work really hard) to their air conditioned offices with native speaking staff who can handle their every query, we deal with language barriers, foreign bureaucracy and unfamiliar medical systems, people that think we are stupid foreigners, police roadblocks, alien foods that we must cajole our children to try, mysterious traffic rules and myriad school systems.
Basically, just like dung beetles we expat partners are completely awesome and essential to keeping the expat show on the road. You can read a brilliant example of the – in this case literal – sh*t that expat partners sometimes have to deal with in my friend Hannah’s post on her website Translating Me. Hannah had a truly madly deeply crappy week while her husband was far away.
…and thus I shall leave you to mull and consider whether or not you like the dung beetle label? I previously compared expats to the more fragrant and visually appealing jacaranda trees, but I think I like the dung beetle analogy even better. Let me know if you have any others you’ve come up with.