Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cherry Denman: the Not so Outrageous Confessions of a Diplomat's Wife

For many years, Cherry Denman has followed her British diplomat husband to his assignments in Libya, Cyprus, Hong Kong and China. Now she has written a pretty funny book about that experience. Diplomatic Incidents: The Memoirs Of An (Un) Diplomatic Wife, by Cherry Denman, is published by John Murray. Not yet available at amazon.com but you may pre-order or visit www.MailLife.co.uk/Books. Here is the book blurb from amazon.com: "The hilarious memoirs of an undiplomatic wife. This is Cherry Denman's witty take on her life trailing husband Charlie round some of the most godforsaken outposts of the world. Illustrated by brilliantly funny cartoons of diplomatic life, this is a collection of clever and very funny tales of global misunderstanding."

Ms. Denman is fantastic storyteller and wrote a piece in the Daily Mail recently. Some excerpts below:

About that posting in China:

Once, during the deafening Chinese New Year celebrations, a stray firework smashed through the window of an absent colleague, and set the flat on fire. A fire engine arrived but the guards refused to allow it entry into the compound because the crew didn't have a written invitation ('The First Secretary of the British Embassy and his wife, Nigel and Amaryllis Boggis Rolfe, invite you to the burning of their flat at 21.30. Dress formal. RSVP').

On another occasion, I came back to our flat to find two men sitting on the sofa. Above their heads the wall lights had been disconnected and wires poked out from two holes in the wall. When I asked what they were doing, they told me they were fixing the TV aerial. We did not have a TV but who was I to argue? If ever there was a fault in the flat, I complained to the wall and someone came to fix it.

A smelly problem is not always a persuasive excuse for the State Department's Embassy Housing Board but perhaps that's because you've never tried entertaining goats:

We finally persuaded the Embassy to move us upwind on the grounds that we could entertain goats or contacts, but not both.

Below are a few more zingers or words of wisdom however you like to take yours:

"Many years ago, in a moment of absentminded self-indulgence, I married a diplomat called Charlie. I still haven't made up my mind whether this was a good move or not. I turned from a happy, stay-at-home children's book illustrator into a chaotic nomad."

"My brain seems to be permanently locked in a suitcase, my children are lost somewhere in transit and my husband might as well have 'Heavy Baggage' tattooed somewhere on his person."

"Living abroad changes you - it marks you out. We don't look right or sound the same."

"When I fly back, it takes days for me to get back up to speed with my friends, who never know what I am talking about. I sometimes do not know what they are on about either."

"It is altogether different making a home in a strange place, knowing that your happiness depends on you making it work. It is hard. It is exhilarating and I am gloriously bad at it."

"What keeps me going are the crowds of homesick, wonderful women I have found wherever I have ended up. Each one is creating her own small version of her homeland around her and wearing it like a protective snail-shell, trying to make the puzzles of everyday a little easier to cope with."

"The simple cry of 'Does anyone know where to buy loo paper?' can bond a group of women in seconds."

"There is nothing more nauseating than someone who thinks it is all wonderful - especially on a morning when the sewers have backed up, the electricity has gone off and there is a guinea-pig-sized cockroach in your sink."

"So pitch it right: miserable, but not too miserable; cheerful, but not too cheerful. In front of your husband, or Officially Recognised Partner (as the Foreign Office titles those not bound in holy matrimony), you must be as miserable as you possibly can because he is the one who brought you to this godforsaken hole."

"Living abroad is very humbling. Being in someone else's country is a great leveller, especially if you do not speak their language. While abroad I am, in effect, dumb and illiterate."

"When you arrive in a new place, working out which things at the local market are fit for human consumption is a challenge. I always try things out on Charlie first - if it makes him nauseous or dizzy, I save it for dinner with the French."

"So after 25 years as a Trailing Spouse, what, if anything, have I learnt? Firstly, that the world is smaller than I ever imagined. That every country has something they do uniquely well, but that nowhere has found all the answers. Take something from every place and allow it to change your life a little. Above all, expect the unexpected."

You can read more here.  Over at the Daily Mail's comment section you can see the lack of sympathy for diplomatic wives.  As if somehow, diplomatic spouses are nothing but free loaders. She was a children's book illustrator before she went on this adventure.  I have yet to read the book, so I don't know if she talked about career prospecting overseas.  Books like these are fun to read, of course.  Folks who went through similar experiences can laugh out loud at these.  Folks who never went through similar experience (a majority of one's compariots) often do not get it. And often do not understand what life is like for spouses. Take the following comments:

"This allows your class to pretend that your hobbies - partying with top people, international travel, flitting around and being important and not working too hard - are paid for by the taxpayer."

Ugh! Get that one to wear heels in a 4-hour reception you were arm-twisted to go, would you, please?

"Just be grateful you didn't have to get a real job."

You can get a haircut but can't get a real job.  There are no real jobs out there, dude!

"How very British...get given opportunities to explore the world, new cultures, new perspectives...see how over 90% of the population live & learn...but still moan and groan about something ! Wasted opportunity on someone who is stuck in her ways."

Psst! Not wasted opportunity.  She got a book out of it.  Wit and humor decidedly if written by an accompanying spouse gets known in Main Street as moaning and groaning. Nonetheless, I'm sure expat and diplomatic spouses would agree that the moaning and groaning and the ability to laugh is what saves your sanity overseas.  You don't have to like everything about your international "adventures" but you certainly can laugh about it. The alternative is counting trees in  padded white wall rooms. 

The book is Diplomatic Incidents: The Memoirs Of An (Un) Diplomatic Wife. The author is Cherry Denman. Published by John Murray. Visit www.MailLife.co.uk/Books or order through Amazon.

1 comment:

A Daring Adventure said...

This sounds like a great book!

I totally love the excerpts you posted. She sounds like an awesome writer. You find the best stuff!