Tai-tai （太太）could mean “Mrs” or “wife” in Chinese. I could be known as Campbell 太太 or I’m Daniel’s 太太. It is also a Chinese colloquial term for a wealthy married woman who isn’t working. We use this term in Singapore to describe someone who frequently has afternoon teas with her posh friends at a fancy hotel and doesn’t need to work as her husband makes enough to provide for her.
When I quit my job to move to Oxford, some people said my life was good and that I was blessed to lead a tai-tai lifestyle. Every single time I was called a “tai-tai” I felt as though my heart was repeatedly stabbed with knives. I wasn’t comfortable with the title. I was insulted.
After completing my law degree in the UK, I got a job at Oxford University Press as a Rights Assistant. But 8 months later we relocated to Frankfurt. Once again, people started calling me a tai-tai. It used to really upset me a lot. I thought I had lost my self-worth because I wasn’t part of the corporate ladder anymore. People wondered why I went to university and if I’ve wasted both my degrees.
I would be lying to you if I said I don’t care what people say anymore. However, I’ve learnt to be selective of what I hear and read. In these 3 years, I’ve learnt that true friends call me “Yoyo” or “Yoland”. They never call me “tai-tai”. True friends know the sacrifices that need to be made to play the role of the misconceived expat wife. They truly understand the day-to-day struggles I face as a foreigner in a foreign land. They are only too familiar with my tears of loneliness which I no longer shed thanks to Whatsapp and the constant love they send to me!
Reality check – being an expat wife isn’t a glamorous role. Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury to buy expensive coffees and cakes on a daily basis or shop for branded bags. I do not own a single branded handbag but I do not feel inadequate or less confident because of that. My personality isn’t defined by LV, Gucci, Prada or Chanel. I’m comfortable wearing two ponytails and carrying my little pink Kipling backpack.
A lot of actual tai-tais spend their day playing mahjong. In Chinese, we say “xi pai” to mean to “wash the tiles” (it means to shuffle the mahjong tiles). Do you know that I wash tiles too – bathroom tiles. Tiles are tiles, what’s the difference? Glamorous, right? I even have gloves on when I wash tiles!
It has never been easy being an expat, and definitely not easy being an expat wife. Whenever I try to defend myself for being called a tai-tai, you can pretty much expect a whole debate on whose life is better. Almost everyone says they envy me. Why? Because I live in Europe? Because it’s so cheap for me to get to France, UK, Netherlands, Italy etc from Frankfurt compared to travelling from Singapore? I have no idea what the envy is about.
It has taken me a while to be comfortable with my current status. I’ve come to the realisation that there is no need to defend myself. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I’ve been on both sides and I can safely tell you it takes a lot of toughening up to be a happy accompanying spouse.
It is true that I do have more time in my hands than most expats here. I have no kids or cats to look after so I have the luxury of time to figure out how things are done here without getting stressed out. It does annoy me that people then think I have all the time in the world to ONLY run errands. Having some spare time in my hands also mean I can continue to work on my writing skills, improve my blog content and most importantly, learn German. I call this “Professional Development” (See! I’ve always been quite good at putting things across in a more positive light).
Unfortunately, I have to disappoint many people for not living up to be a real tai-tai. I’m nowhere near rich in cash (although I’m working on it). I wish I had time for a manicure but it’s just not practical given that I have to do the washing up and I HATE wearing chipped nail polish. Mahjong isn’t my cup of tea since it’s not as thrilling as horse racing.
So to conclude, I’m only a fake tai-tai who receives an abundance of love, support and encouragement on a daily basis and a humble monthly allowance to lead an ordinary but fulfilling life.