Monday, June 1, 2009

Just when you think you're safe - - SPOUSED!

Spouse (pronounced spous, spouz).

Noun: spouse Middle English, from Old French spous, from Latin sponsus, from past participle of spondre, to pledge.

1.) A man or woman engaged or joined in wedlock; a married person, husband or wife.

2.) The unpaid half of a Foreign Service partnership, e.g. John Q. Nebbish, Foreign Service Officer (FSO), and spouse, Jane Nebbish.

3.) Eligible Family Member. Despite eligibility, many programs are offered to spouses on a space-available basis.

Verb: to spouse, spousing, spoused

1.) To assume that the spouse of an FSO is available to perform tasks associated with Embassy functions on a volunteer basis.

Example: “The Congressman is bringing his wife along, so let’s spouse Jane Nebbish to take her shopping for Oriental carpets on Tuesday.”

2.) To assume that the spouse of an FSO will attend (or host) official functions though she is not, in fact, employed by the U.S. Embassy.

Example: “The Ambassador and Mrs. Ambassador request the presence of Mr. John Nebbish, and spouse Jane Nebbish, to attend a stuffy reception including several lengthy speeches that Mrs. Nebbish will not understand at all, space having been unavailable for her during language training. Painful shoes required.”

3.) To request unpaid labor from the spouse of an FSO with the implicit or explicit effect of having an impact on his career.

Example: “As the world’s richest and most powerful democracy, we nevertheless lack resources to decorate for the official Fourth of July reception. So, we’ll spouse some Embassy wives into doing it by sending a ‘request’ from the Front Office via a memo to their husbands.”

4.) To pay for labor at substantially less than U.S. market rates because the spouse of an FSO will occupy the position.

Example: “The Spouse Employment Committee recently spoused Jane Nebbish for the position of Political Section Secretary at $10 per hour (We would just as soon have hired a local for even less money, but they don’t have the security clearance.)”

5.) To assume that the spouse of an FSO has no financial need for employment, and based on that assumption, ask her to volunteer, or to work at a substantial discount.

Example: “We can save money by spousing Jane Nebbish for this teaching position because her husband will be working for the Embassy, and she must be looking for work just to stay busy during his tour. Therefore, we can consider her to be a local hire, along with the clerical and janitorial staff.”

6.) To assume that the spouse of an FSO, though professionally qualified in one field, will be amenable to working in another totally unrelated or less skilled field.

Example: “Jane Nebbish said something to me at that reception last night about being a freelance journalist, so she must type pretty well. Surely she’d be willing to fill the secretarial slot in the DCM’s office for a while. She gave me her business card; why don’t you ring her up and spouse her?”

7.) To reject an applicant for a position based on the fact that he or she is the spouse of an FSO and will be transferring out of country in less than four years. Does not apply to officers.

Example: “Jane Nebbish is clearly the most qualified applicant for this position, and her desired salary is competitive, but we’ll have to spouse her, as it would make more sense to hire this local contractor who will be here permanently.”

Adjective: Spoused.

To have been the object of spousing.

Example: Ask any Eligible Family Member (:

Definition above compiled by Kelly Bembry Midura and her writerly companions. Republished with permission from AAFSW is a non-profit organization that connects the American diplomatic community at home and abroad. See membership info here.

The article above is republished today, about a month to go to 4th of July because -- just about now, FS spouses worldwide would be "invited" to a series of planning meetings with the decorations committee. Some committees like holding multiple meetings to decide how to make pretty the Ambassador's residence in time for the official reception. Some of these meetings last 2 hours or more. And the day before the reception, the spouses show up, of course, to do some serious decorating. No, no -- you don't need hats and white gloves for this.

Wait -- let's do a quick trip down diplomatic memory lane -- in 1972, the State Department released a directive which stated that Foreign Service spouses could no longer be required to perform uncompensated services – that is, they were no longer to be treated as if they were unpaid employees (nor could any comments about them be included in an officer’s efficiency reports). The directive, at least in theory, release spouses from traditional expectations and declare them to be “private” individuals free of any “two for the price of one” responsibilities.

And here we are, 30 plus years later. I know what some are going to say. Look at the bright side! If the spouse is flexible enough to "reinvent" the self, and learn how to decorate really well on 4th of July receptions, why, she could start a portable career; or by the time her husband retires - she could start her own decorating business! Note that I am using the "she" here purposely. The male spouses seem to have escaped this fate for some reason, but female spouses, apparently even those who work menial jobs, still get the invites. If you are a male spouse who had been drafted to do free decorating work now or in the past, zap me an email and I will redo the "escaped this fate" item above. I do wonder if spouses of White House staffers were ever "invited" to decorate the WH during national celebrations. How about spouses of Microsoft employees -- have they ever been invited to do free labor at Bill's house in Redmond during company celebrations? The official American employees as far as I know have never been invited to "help" decorate the official residence; I supposed that's because they have real work to do.

This year, at least one embassy got this thing right. The US Embassy in Jakarta actually has a solicitation out for its American Independence Day reception, including a requirement for an American theme in the menu and the display. Say thank you to Ambassador Hume for understanding (not just in theory) the 1972 directive; our diplomatic spouses there are safe from getting spoused this year!

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