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I am not Walter Mitty

Don’t you find that, as expats, you often cease to be part of the same race as British non-expats? You’ll say something in all innocence like, “When I was going through the Khyber Pass…” or “When two machine guns opened fire on our jeep on the Iraqi border…” and non-expats will look at you as if you’d just said “The last time I was abducted by aliens…”

Sometimes something as simple as “I work for the Foreign Office” sparks off responses like “Oh, so you’re James Bond then?” What? It’s easier just to say you’re a civil servant. (I don’t work for the FCO, by the way – my work was always in the aid sector.) It’s not so bad when you’re overseas, because the fact that you are there gives you some credibility. It’s when you come back to Blighty that the problems start.

One time I left Pakistan during some serious “security problems” and didn’t know if I would have a home, a job, and friends to go back to. Whilst on this “leave”, I was walking down the local High Street with my mother. We met an old crone who passed comment on the fact that she hadn’t seen me for years. “She’s just been evacuated from Pakistan,” boasted my mother. “Oh! And did you enjoy it?” responded the crone.

Another time, when I was working for CARE Australia and on leave in Scotland, the UK branch of the organisation was going to release an album to raise money and asked me to be interviewed about my work in Iraq and promote the thing. I agreed and was interviewed. The journalist asked me “Are you going back there?” I answered, “Yes, I’m going back after my holiday.” Next day, as it happens, the Yanks were bombing Baghdad again so I made the front page headlines in the local paper with:

North East woman’s pledge as bombs fall –


No mention of the bloody album. Ah well, maybe they were short of news that day but they did chunter on about my bravery and a load of other tosh. My colleagues in Iraq found it all hilarious. I’m sure many of you will have met with the same blank looks, the same glazed-over eyes and will now also prefer to tell non-expats that you are a civil servant in Essex or something. Anyway, I must dash as we’re off to a Rear-Admiral’s cocktail party. See? I knew you wouldn’t believe me.

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