So, what is it you do all day?

I’ve been living here for a little over a year and, by default, I am a “hausfrau” (housewife). Which means I’m supposed to be an apron wearing June Cleaver and have the house spotless, dinner cooked, shirts ironed, wearing pearls and greeting my husband as soon as he walks through the door. That may be how some cultures look at it, but it’s not how I see it.

I’ve straddled two cultures my whole life and now a third one has been added to the mix. It can be confusing and frustrating. Growing up, my mom strongly encouraged my sister and me to find a husband and take care of him by doing all the above. However, I spent most of my twenties in long term relationships with Asian men and was adamant that traditional gender roles weren’t anything I was interested in and wanted a partnership where everything was equal. It’s how a marriage should be, and I was determined that my future husband understood and supported that.

In American culture, it’s safe to say that gender roles have been modernized and evolved- splitting all household responsibilities. I’ve found that Austrians are big on traditional gender roles. When we were moving in, our landlord’s daughter was going showing us the flat with us and somehow ironing came up. Hubs was quick to say that he did his own ironing. She was shocked. From what I gather, women do most of the household chores for the men and family here.

I’m so thankful to have a husband that doesn’t believe in traditional roles. We both cook. He’s actually a better cook than I am, but a disaster when it comes to baking. That is where my strong point is, so I do most of the baking. Since he’s OCD  about how the house should be cleaned-he does most of it, where I do the maintenance cleaning in between. Gender roles don’t exist in our household nor does Hubs expect them of me. It’s disheartening when we reveal this stuff to people and they say things like “then what do you have a wife for” or “what does your wife do all day?”. It makes me feel like I’m useless and not doing anything right. Being an expat is already hard enough, but to be defined as traditional housewife and not living up to it makes me feel disappointment in myself at times. It takes me back to poignant moments in my life where I’ve been told, “I’m not good enough” and “you will never amount to anything”. Just to be clear, I was raised in a traditional Asian household where these words are suppose to drive you to succeed (tiger mom reverse psychology warfare). No matter where it’s coming from, it still hurts and makes you question your worthiness.

So, it brings me to- what is it that you do all day? I’ve recently started to learn Spanish twice a week, I’m constantly trying to improve and come up with new ideas for my blog, going out with new friends I’ve made, museum-hopping, learning new skills, finding new hobbies, and even joined a book club. I may not be doing the typical hausfrau things, but I’m challenging myself every day with opportunities that I may not have had the time for or would necessarily try. I’m enriching my life and feel like it counts for something. For the first time in my life, I’m truly putting myself first and learning slowly, that it’s okay to do so.

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4 thoughts on “So, what is it you do all day?

  1. Really thought provoking and so good. Is this at all influenced, too, the Austrian industrious nature? Meaning what you “do” has to qualify as hard work in their cultural terms? Bottom line is that your relationship is between you and your partner. As long as both agree to and thrive in the conditions then it is nobody’s business.

  2. Leaving my six-figure career and all of its associations (self-identity, professional and personal satisfaction, salary, career advancement potential, and so forth) to support my spouse was a difficult decision. My husband and I had several “closed bedroom door” conversations (outside of the children’s earshots) before we ultimately decided to hop across the pond. I chose to embrace the role of “Trailing Spouse” as an adventure and saw the potential for the experience as a personal sabbatical; I do not see myself as someone unwillingly chained and dragged along in support of my husband. We have adapted our professional and personal lives as a married team for 20 years, and our first move abroad is no exception.

    This is not to say it’s been all cafes and tortes and cheap flights across Europe for weekend getaways. Initially the family worried if each day for me was not a “great day!” until I reminded everyone that I did not have all “great days!” in my previous life, either. My close friends are mostly jealous of, and respect, that I have this opportunity to pursue personal goals, and I remain empathetic of their positions and to their challenges as working women. Somehow, it all works.

    As for “What do I do all day?” I can not say that I’ve been seriously asked that question since being overseas. What I do each day is not the business of anyone. Those who know me, and those who have gotten to know me, know that I do not cook and clean and keep house and chauffeur all day–I just cook, but only if I don’t have something more interesting going on. As for what the locals think of me? I pay them little mind. While I am always polite and respectful of the culture I am living within, I am also comfortable in my decision to be who I am.

    I am a happy and willing Trailing Spouse, and this life is all part of the adventure. 🙂

  3. Oh wow, sounds like Austria and Switzerland (where I live) are really similar. The discussion that take place here in the public sphere on gender equality issues are seriously issues that the rest of the Western world had 30 years ago! Great post 😀 xoxo Anne http://powderandpuff.wordpress.com

  4. I find it very interesting that you come to the conclusion that Austrian gender roles are more traditional than American ones. Sure, there are old-fashioned people here as evidenced by your landlord’s daughter – it’s a catholic conservative country after all. (I don’t know of a single woman among my friends who would iron her boyfriend’s or husband’s shirts, and I don’t think it would even occur to the men to ask them to.) I think there is a large spectrum in both countries between conservative and progressive gender roles. It seems to me, though, that on a general societal level there may be a bigger effort in Austria to encourage egalitarian gender roles. For example, my husband is always amazed at how many men here are on parental leave and/or out and about with their babies, a sight that’s pretty rare in the US (except maybe for Brooklyn and similar places). I guess, though, both places could do a lot better than they are doing now.

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