When it comes to trailing diplomatic spouses, as we are most often called, it seems there are a lot of clichés, inspired mostly by decades of glamorous Hollywood portrayals and the mysterious aura of diplomacy. But despite the general belief, being married to diplomacy is not always la dolce vita.
For most of our lives as diplomatic wives, we are completely associated with our husbands, the “plus one” on the invitations, highly regarded or not, many times only depending on our husbands’ diplomatic rank. Sadly, few people bother to see behind the titles.
However, most of us are educated women, with lifetime passions and talents. We dedicate our time and efforts to best represent our countries, sometimes setting our own dreams aside, giving up a certain level of esteem and recognition that society most often shows when you are a professionally accomplished person.
Some try to reinvent themselves and stay professionally relevant through freelance journalism, consulting work, blogging, volunteering for different causes or starting portable careers. But don’t be fooled by appearances. Most of the time this professional conversion may be quite difficult, tedious and not all that successful or fulfilling.
Moving is not easy. With each new diplomatic posting, we start dreaming about the new life we are going to build, once again in a completely new reality. We discover new places, we immerse ourselves in new cultures and make lifetime friendships. Day by day we adapt, surprising ourselves by singing songs in languages we never understood before, trying specific flavors that soon will become our preferred ones — and then, it is time to move again, to start fresh.
Years fly by like seconds and, in the blink of an eye, we find ourselves in the same situation all over again. The circle is full once more and the feeling of displacement and the stress of novelty are there every time.
With each new move, we transform, we become wiser, more patient and resilient. We learn to communicate effectively across cultures and to live in the moment.
But how do we keep the same enthusiasm and excitement we had when we started this nomadic life? How can we protect our emotions from yet another painful departure? How do we find the strength to encourage our children to look forward to a new reality, not showing our own struggles? How can we permanently support our other “halves” and also stay focused and optimistic?
I will tell you how: It’s love. Love is what keeps us, the diplomatic spouses, going — love for our family and the strong belief that this is our important contribution to the career of our partners.
This is what gives us the strength to live a life of diplomatic disruptions, hoping it will all be worth it in the end.
We look with confidence to the future, close the door to the past and bravely turn the page to yet another chapter of our own story, hoping that what lies ahead will be a brilliant sequel for a lifetime adventure. Each one of us mastered the art of reinvention and adapting in a world that is not always supportive, nor fair. Each one of us has a marvelous, bestseller story of life to tell.
I decided to put on paper my own story, my thoughts and adventures as a diplomatic spouse over the last 12-plus years. My book, “Just a diplomatic spouse,” is a collection of events, rules of diplomatic protocol and ranking, advice to other women at the beginning of a similar journey, funny stories and deep emotions.
I don’t know what the future holds, where life is going to take me and my family or how steep the slopes of this roller-coaster called diplomacy will be, but I truly hope that, in my senior years, I will look back and say, “Oh, what a fine ride it all was.”
Below is an excerpt from the first chapter from “Just a diplomatic spouse”:
I first thought about writing this book after I met a very dear and old friend of mine.
I was living in Berlin at the time and we had met after more than 20 years. We live on different continents and this was the first opportunity to meet after such a long time. We had been both exchange students in the USA while in high school and kept in touch now and then ever since.
We started talking about our lives, our families and he asked me how my life was. As he knew my husband was a diplomat, he told me he figured we had a pretty wonderful and relaxed life … “worry free,” as he put it.
Indeed, if I start thinking about it, there are quite a lot of clichés when it comes to diplomats and their spouses. Most movies picture diplomats as perfect spies, always impeccably dressed and drinking cocktails every evening at exclusive parties, while their ever smiling wives are the epitome of elegance and grace. They are great housewives, polite hosts and raise perfect children.
I also remember how I used to look at the cars with the CD sign (diplomatic corps) on their license plates, when I was just a girl. Diplomats seemed so special. To me, living in Romania of the 80s, a communist country, where travelling abroad was forbidden for most of its citizens, visiting their countries of origin seemed like an unreachable dream. I always wanted to travel, go see the world, not just through pictures and movies. I also had my father’s words in mind, which perfectly fit the minimalism approach of today: “give experiences, not things.” He is and always has been a passionate traveler and always spent his money on trips abroad, on all corners of the world, instead of buying things that become useless after a short while. Memories last forever; travel opens your mind and heart.
Luckily for me, as for most of my countrymen, after 1989, when all the communist regimes in Europe collapsed one by one, we were finally free to travel wherever we desired.
Though diplomatic life was still a mystery to me, almost 20 years later, I entered into this fascinating world. Looking from outside, it is definitely a privileged life. You get to see the world; you meet lots of interesting and powerful people and have lifetime experiences. You live in a protected world that gives you immunity … only diplomatic, not for your soul and feelings though!
You’ve got to be strong to adapt, to get to know the rules of this kind of life and to make the best out of it. There is certainly more to it than just tax-free, nice housing, less parking tickets and special status, as most people from outside would think.
So, are you curious to know what’s like to be the wife of a diplomat, to go from posting to posting, moving every couple of years? Then this is a book for you! I wrote it to share my experience with you, my readers, and, meanwhile, maybe to help other spouses at the beginning of their own diplomatic journey, thriving with its difficulties that automatically come along. They all have to know that they are not alone in their struggle, their worries are common and that eventually you get used and enjoy your new life.
This way of living certainly has its share of stressful situations, times of deep loneliness, even despair, strangers that will come and go from your life. But it is also a life full of sweet memories, great experiences that will enrich your life and change you forever.
When you live in another country for years you discover it, as no city break or vacation will do, you really get to know the place and the people. You will live like the locals, you will start to understand them and eventually blend in. So this book is also like a small travel guide of the countries we lived in, through my own eyes, with my own local experiences … what I liked and what I hated the most, what I missed once I left the place and what I was happy to leave behind.
Every destination of my journey so far had its own flavor, its uniqueness and beauty, which I am happy to share with you now.
Moving is, as experts often say, the third most stressful situation in life, after the death of someone close and divorce. Besides the enormous amount of stress that comes with any new move, every step of my journey came with lessons I hope I’ve learned, knowledge and experiences which made me into what I am today. As a result, I see myself now a bit wiser, more patient and understanding, more organized and more open than I already was.
Alexandra Paucescu was born in Bucharest. A former high school exchange student in the U.S., she has a university degree in management and master’s in business. She speaks Romanian, English, French, German and Italian. A mother of two, she is an active volunteer for UNICEF and the United Nations Women’s Guild.
Her husband is a minister-counselor for the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They are currently posted to the Romanian Embassy in Berlin, having previously served in Vienna.