We just had a long weekend here in Singers, and on Sunday night my lovely girlie Flo held an exquisite dinner party (or sups, as both Flo and I would call it, given our shared class origins). Her father was a renowned British judge, and although my father was merely a “businessman”, we were expats, so that puts Flo and I in the same category by merit of my famliy not being categorised according to the standard laws of the previous UK class system. I say previous because apparently things have moved on now, and it’s no longer as simple as upper, middle and lower. I dunno.
So at Flo’s sups, I was sitting next to a charming old-skool expat chappie who has been in Asia since the 1970s. A first generation expat, he told me he was the son of a baker, and his deceased wife had been the offspring of a train driver and a dinner lady.
“The great thing was that when we left the UK we basically left our origins behind. Our parents worked hard to give us a better education than they’d had, but even so we were competing with an old boys’ network that we weren’t a part of. And actually, we weren’t even competing because it was impenetrable! Ha!!,” he took a deep swig of Pinot Noir after this laugh, his round face glistening.
“Oh ha! Yes”, I said, because I didn’t know what else to say, “That old boys’ network, eh?! Impenetrable!!”
“Precisely!! It was! And that’s why Meredith and I decided to up sticks and try our fortunes elsewhere. In England we would forever be ‘proles’, hacking our way through life in a suburban semi, with occasional promotions, and a tolerable existence of hard slog… hopefully paying off the mortgage in time for retirement. So we left. And it was absolutely the best thing we could’ve done – for ourselves and for the kids. It was no less of a slog, don’t doubt that, but there was a smooth, steady progress to it, we found. And suddenly it didn’t matter where we’d come from, it only mattered where we were in the present and where we were headed to in the future. All of that nonsense, all the limitations, it was all just gone!”, he grinned his nice grin and had another great big gulp of red before continuing: “It all became irrelevant! And the terrific outcome is that our kids are now surpassing even the wildest dreams that their grandparents could’ve had for them. They had great schooling, we showed them the world, they speak different languages, and they have friends and connections all over the planet. The world truly has been their oyster, and that wouldn’t have happened if we’d stayed at home.”
“OMG, babes, that’s like so truesome!”, I insertified, genuinely fascinated now by what this ageing expat dude was pontificating about, “And although I don’t come from that horrendous under-privileged place where you come from, I can totes relate. My kids are amazebobs at Mandarin, and Max is defo on a trajectory to become a fund manager. We’ve lined up an internship for him in 2020-ish, and after that it’s gravy, baby! Mills is more of a creative soul, like me, so she’ll probably continue her burgeoning modeling career, go to Oxford or Harvard to prove she’s got the smarts as well as the hots, and then just find her own niche in the movie/ media/ arts world. I’m all about giving the kids opportunities, but letting them find their own way. This Tiger Mom stuff, argh, I’m so like whatevs!! I don’t have time to stand over them and make sure they’re doing their homework or practicing basketball and stuff. That’s the helper’s job. So these Tiger Moms, I just think they’re totes ridic, you know?!”
“Yes Gemma-Anne, you’re so right. Can I call you Gemma? GA, perhaps, or maybe just Gem? You are a bit of a gem, my dear…”
At that point I noticed that the nice round-faced chappie was sending his words not to my eyes and ears, but to my divinely arranged cleavage (which did look particularly divine that night in my Givenchy leopard print boustier-avec-tutu mini dress). And that was fine because I aim to please and it would be unutterably wrong to withhold my stunning impact arbitrarily. But I didn’t feel completely comfortable when he manoevred his hand between my legs, and I watched a perfectly round bead of saliva drip from his lips onto the pan-seared foie gras entier below.
He had been so sweet that I didn’t want to make a scene, so instead I arose from my chair, and said, “Babes, I know this sounds crazy, but it happens sometimes. I am at this very moment being overtaken by the spirit of rap! I’m such a major mahusiv creative that I never know when I’m about to get channelled. I think it’s Kanye, or maybe some dead rapper – I’m not sure – I mean, that would make more sense, right?? If they’re dead? So maybe it’s that guy from Run DMC? Alls I know, sweets, is that I gotta go. I HAVE TO RAP NOW!!”
And with that, I left my place at the table. I went to find Flo, who was engaged in deep discussion with her personal trainer, Eric. As she was clearly v busy, I decided to grab another girlie and skip off to Brix. I texted Don to tell him.
So yesterday I was thinking about what the nice, albeit a little handsy, round-faced chappie had said and I found myself in a bit of a pickle about all this class, hierarchy, and social mobility stuff.
I texted Clara with my confusion, but her extremely rude response closed the whole thing down from the get-go: “Not only are you contacting me at work AGAIN, as I have repeatedly and specifically asked you not to, but your query is beyond ridiculous, even for you. So no, I do not have time for ‘a little chat-ski’ about expat hierarchy. C x”
Therefore thusly I realised that I was alone, equipped only with my impressive resources of intellect and insight. I reflected that the problem I was so elegantly wrestling with was this-fold: if expathood makes class irrelevant in the country of origin, is there a hierarchical structure within the expat community itself?
I applied my powerful brain to the conundrum, and came up with a ground-breaking categorisation which defines the order of importance among Singapore expats, which I will share with you now for the purposes of your edification and edication.
1. The High Dips
Not everybody has the humility that I do, but I am willing to accept that I am not at the very top of the expat social stratosphere. That place is reserved for the highest echelons of the Diplomatic Corps, which is as it should be in the best possible of worlds. So in this category, we find ambassadors and all that. They might be earning less than those in the second tier down, but they have an inalienable right to superiority. Like royalty, and who would be foolish enough to question the Royals’ entitlement? No one, that’s who.
2. The Big-Packaged Elite
This is where I am. In this upper strata are the people who make a lot of money because they are making a lot of money for other people making a lot of money. In Sing, this includes financiers and consultants. Can also factor in merchants, such as wine importers. We live the glamorous life without the responsibilities of the High Dips. As we are not dips, we can behave pretty much as we like (though not to the Anton Casey extreme, of course, babeses), and we have the funds to indulge in awesomeness. As many an expat wife has been known to gleefully announce, “It’s like being at college, but with money!”
3. The In-Betweenies
Here we have the engineers, the oil people, the car people, etc. This is the population that my overly-familiar friend above represented until he made Managing Director level and then retired to a life of petite Asian girlies, and occasional attempts to feel up prime rump, such as myself.
4. The Localisers
These are the peeps who became expats for the same reasons everyone else did, but their needs were a tad more pressing. Hencely the compromises they were willing to make in order to exchange their old lives for new lives. They’re not on a package – they just really want to be here. I could totes empathise with their plight, but for the fact that our package is ginormous so really I totes can’t. Sorries, honies!! Cannot lah : )
Now the nice thing about this system is that there is, as we have seen, considerable scope for social mobility. You can start at Number 4 and, a few moves down the line, progress to 3 or even 2. It’s doable, in a way that it generally isn’t back home. So that’s just wonderful and I can only conclude this study with the words: Viva La Expaterati! Amen and namaste to that.