Monday, January 19, 2009

Keeping Up With the Joneses? Keep It to Yourself

Call it hormonal mood swings, but I am apparently fixating on the similarities and differences of my fellow expats' experiences here in a manner that is extremely vexing and offensive to The Spouse. What I call "Looking out my window and making observations" seems to come across as "Hey! How come you're such a lousy provider?"

Certainly not the intent at all. I probably deserve a sound smack.

Take the volatile nature of real estate prices in Moscow. When we arrived here a year ago, at the peak of the pricing bubble, I thought The Spouse negotiated a very reasonable price with an even more reasonable annual increase. In the months since we signed, I have friends here who have had their landlords approach them, in spite of a signed contract, and ask for increases. They've had to pay up or move in many cases. Some have gently referred the landlord to their contract and escaped unscathed. But not all.

Since the economic downturn began in the fall, I've observed the reverse: tenants approaching landlords to ask for a decrease in rents.

Obviously, all of this begs the question "Does anyone here honor a signed contract?"

Yes, people do. But anyone who has lived in Eastern Europe has experienced the signing of a contract followed by the almost immediate disregard for it.

So, on the one hand the contract protects both sides from abuse. On the other, am I being a fool for not playing the "When in Rome Game"?

The Spouse is tired of discussing it.

He also doesn't want to hear me describe anyone else's situation, housing, or benefits package. Again, it never occurred to me that making observations would feel like judgments. I can understand that, and, of course, feel awful about it. But, as the accompanying spouse, I clearly have no idea what it feels like to be the one who brought the family along. Obviously there is a huge sense of responsibility coupled with inevitable (and unnecessary) guilt.

One of the other (many?) weird things about being an expat is that you are often sorted not so much by your socio-economic background as by your native language or passport cover. Yes, at home there are always wealthier neighborhoods and, even, wealthier neighbors. But I always found myself more or less among people who were pretty much on the same page.

Here (and, as I think about it, in all my expat gigs) it is quite easy to mix among the extreme ends of the spectrum. Some folks are here as students, doing the backpacker thing, using Lonely Planet guides to find adventure and stay on budget. At the other end are the company managers who get large and lovely apartments, drivers, and international school tuition all provided courtesy of the employer.

We are somewhere in the middle.

We have a comfortable life.

We are even saving money in the World's Most Expensive City.

But it is impossible not to measure oneself next to other expats. It isn't always even a catty thing (although, I won't lie: sometimes it is). The urge to talk about what I see is irresistible. Sometimes I find an appropriate ear with a girlfriend. But sometimes it seems like the only person I can talk to about this is The Spouse.

Clearly not recommended.

Chalk it up as a lesson learned. Some things are better left unsaid.

6 comments:

Tina in CT said...

I started reading your blog on a regular basis (and added you to my favorites) last week. Several questions: What brought you to Moscow? Have you and your husband been expats for years? I know you're an American but is your husband? How long is your tour in Moscow? Where is your "home" in the US? Thank you.

I love your blog and writing.

Gorgeous morning in Southern New England. Fresh 4" of powder snow, not cold, blue skies and full sun that makes the sun glisten.

Moscowmom's Mother (Tina)

The Expatresse said...

Okay, I just edited my profile . . .

Tina in CT said...

Thanks for the update. Do you plan to move back to the US? Have Tamara and your paths crossed in the past year as she tells me that the US expat community is a small world in Moscow?

The Expatresse said...

No concrete plans, but we have 2 years left on our lease . . . will probably give more serious consideration then depending on what the world economy does in the meantime. We left Argentina just before their crash. This time it's global.

Have not yet crossed paths with T, but, in the 6 Degrees of Separation game, we know people in common. Da, Moscow is very small.

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