“Immortality is considered to be a response to the anguish and fear people feel when they think about their mortality and limitations. Immortality is the escape from death.” [according to the Spanish Wikipedia]
Some time ago, a mother whose child attends the same school as my daughter does told me the following anecdote: “At my husband's work they call us «the immortal» because they think that we have got the best lives possible.”
This comment refers to a group of women who move with the rest of their families to the places where their husbands have been offered jobs.
These women usually quit their jobs so that their husbands would be able to pursue careers. An offer to move to a new place is hard to decline because it gives many economic benefits which rarely could be provided by a woman's job.
But all that glitters is not gold.
It is easy to think that this is a “golden” lifestyle – when you do not go to work, send your kids to international schools, have time and money to go to the hairdresser's, can afford a housekeeper and/or a babysitter because their rates are in Zlotys. However, the necessity of moving to another country every year or two and, consequently, of leaving your belongings, language and lifestyle, is often a high price for a better life. In general, you choose such a life because the most important thing for you is the unity of your family. You set aside your own interest.
“My husband and I live in two different worlds,” a mother I met at the kindergarten told me. “He gets up in the morning, goes to work, meets with other people and has all sorts of problems. At the same time I spend time at home, look after the kids, take them to school and to the pediatrician, do shopping and clean. As a result, all my problems are connected with my house and kids. When my husband comes back in the evening, it seems to me that we live on two different planets.”
This does not only happen to women who have always dreamed about becoming housewives – the “immortal” are often lawyers, managers, PR specialists, art critics or journalists. They quit their jobs in order to be with their husbands. If their new place of residence is Warsaw they are faced with the challenge of learning Polish so that they could further their careers. If they want to work, they have to master the language they have probably never planned to learn. This may be discouraging, especially because the salaries they could get in Zlotys, would not be high enough to pay for a full-time babysitter and housekeeper.
What do these women think about Warsaw? What is their vision of the city they have happened to live in even though they have not chosen it as a place of residence?
They usually say that Warsaw is more baby-friendly than other European cities because of a huge variety of activities available to little kids. Especially when the season of cold ends and you can spend more time outdoors, it is easy for you to find a place which is accessible to kids. There are many places which provide children with a safe and large space where they can play and which, at the same time, enable adults to meet for coffee.
However, the women say that living in Warsaw has also its drawbacks. They mention a large number of grumpy people, lack of hospitality, difficulties caused by the language, hardly any festivities or celebration you could see in the streets. They feel confused by Polish kids who are rarely fussy, seldom scream and who listen to the orders of their mothers even though later they become a little aggressive when they are less tightly controlled.
“When I heard it for the first time I felt a bit indignant. Then I heard it for the second, third, fourth time... This is outrageous! The immortal? Envy is common but ignorance seems to be even more widespread. People who started calling us «the immortal» surely never had to follow their husbands who were forced to emigrate. They name us the immortal because, according to them, «our lives are the best possible.»”
These ignorant people claim that the women who emigrate in order to live together with their husbands have “wonderful” lives. According to them, our lives are wonderful only because our husbands earn a lot of money in comparison with what they would earn in their home countries while we are “very lucky” because we do not have to work and have nothing better to do than to go shopping. They think that all our time is free time but they could not be more wrong. We constantly have to build our little worlds from the scratch. Suddenly, we have to start learning Polish!
It is the language that is the biggest obstacle. “Polish for foreigners” schools are filled with “the immortal.” Many of them become really proficient in Polish even though they use this language mainly while doing shopping and in other everyday situations. They cannot really use it while talking to acquaintances because their circle of friends consists mainly of their compatriots. The women learn not only grammar but also cultural contexts. They acquire the knowledge of new codes and forms of communication which are much different from the ones they got to know in their home countries.
“We have to organize our «free» time in such a way so that we wouldn't succumb to the feeling of homesickness. Then we can more or less keep our heads above water, in which we are being helped by our girlfriends who share our lot as emigrants. This is a good aspect of our situation but it is not a cure. We have friends today but what about tomorrow? Where will they be? I have been living in Warsaw for a year and during this time I have had to say goodbye to two girlfriends who, as “the immortal,” had to pack to their suitcases one day and set off on a journey again.”
“Warsaw has a very important merit which is difficult to find in other European capitals and in the world in general. Unlike many other big cities, Warsaw does not subject you to much pressure or stress. It's, therefore, a very good city for children. But there are also drawbacks: things are spread over a wide area, winters are long and dark. And the worst thing: solitude. A lot of time must pass until you meet some new people you could spend time with. And when you have children, it's difficult to find places where you could go with them in the winter, especially if you don't have a driving license.”
The biggest problem is solitude. There are days when you run out of ideas about what to do with your children who spend all their time at home because you do not have any family or friends you could spend an afternoon or evening with. The solitude which is typical of every mother who takes care of their children 24/7 is even more acute in the case of an expatriate who is limited by the language barrier and who has difficulty establishing long-term friendships because she is aware that she may be on the other side of the world in a couple of months.
An emigrant's life is constantly changing.
Emigration does not cause the excitement you feel when you go on the Erasmus program – when you know that you leave your country only temporarily in order to study in another European city, when you leave without your family, carrying only one suitcase. This really matters, similarly to the way in which the frequency of the meetings with your family and the frequency with which you move, part with people or feel scared are important.
“In what way have I changed? I am more lonely and at the same time I feel closer to my husband, who is my best friend at the end of the day. I have learned how to «survive» far away from my home country. For sure, I have learned lots of new things because living far from home makes you more open to other ways of understanding life. I think that such a life is far more interesting than living in your place of birth all your life. This is my personal feeling. I really like Spain but it doesn't bother me that I don't live there, especially now when we have so much energy and we are still young,” one of “the immortal” has confessed to me recently.
A change? A bet? Only over time do “the immortal” realize what their vision of Warsaw is.
Text by: Julia Salerno
Translated by Krystyna Szurmańska