Being a Foreign Housewife

Everyone hits that point in his or her life: when being a housewife/husband is depressing.

I have been working or studying for the past 10 years since I started college and left my parents’ home. Besides cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry, I always had something to do. For sometime now though I had nothing to do. And it’s not nothing nothing, just stuff that isn’t seen by anyone as thing being done.

Being in a foreign country makes the abysmal feel evening stronger; you never know when you will get out. The support system isn’t the same; the connections are not the same as home. The glamour of being a housewife with a bebe jumper and Louis Vuitton bag is both mundane and disturbing.

For the first since I arrived in Sweden I understand what it feels like to be doing nothing and just be someone’s sambo/husband/wife. Someone who is waiting for something to happen.

Numerous girlfriends have told me how they moved to Sweden for their love and now they cannot find a job or anything to do. You apply everywhere and hear back from three to zero companies. McDonalds won’t even hire you, let alone look at your CV, because you don’t speak Swedish. You don’t have a large network of friends and family to rely on, so you waste away at home. And worst yet, hell bent on ensuring your frikort’s demise, your bank account is sucked by a dementor.

It is a mind numbing experience.

I am lucky. I realized I am blessed with a great network of wonderful friends and colleagues. When I moved to Sweden, I found a job within weeks and avoided enduring soulless months of job applications. When I lost my job, I could reach out to my network to find a new position (fingers crossed!). And I speak decent Swedish to get myself around town.

Although a low point came when a company after several weeks of interview and case studies denied me because I was not fluent in Swedish (they stressed this at the first meeting but evidently didn’t bother to follow up on their thoughts right after). I knew I was a true foreigner, not the foreign professional I had believed I was.

I knew I would be stuck at home for some time doing the dishes, cooking food, cleaning up, doing laundry, cleaning the bun’s tent, I just did not realize how mentally difficult it was. Even though I kept myself busy working on this blog and other sites, taking and editing photos, teaching cooking, I still felt empty.

So this post goes out to all the foreigners in Sweden who are unwillingly stuck at home, realizing their dream to be with a sweetheart but unable to find a place in the workforce. Housewife (househusband) work is difficult and it is rarely appreciated.

If you are a housewife/husband/sambo reading this, take a night off and go enjoy yourself. Know that you will get back into that groove and find a job and social network that you love. Have a cup of tea and watch the snowfall, it’s enchanting and glorious. Enjoy the little things.

And if you are the other half, help your partner out. Help them with their swedish CV, their personal letter, and especially their Swedish language skills. And appreciate the work they do at home.

Being a housewife/husband is hard. Being a housewife in a foreign country is harder. And for that, I bow down to all foreign housewives in Sweden and elsewhere; making their way, home and endless dreams.

29 thoughts on “Being a Foreign Housewife”

  1. I was in a similar situation when after over 5 whole days of interviews, psychological evaluations, group presentations, i was given the reason that i have poor swedish. It is really hard to stay at home and do chores, just chores that is. Indeed one should enjoy the smaller things and life and avoiding negativity. Wish you all the best in your endeavors.

  2. It’s funny, house-spouse is often one of the most underrated jobs yet does so much. Cook, clean, repairs, plan, shop, prepare, host, look after pets, then in the future, KIDS! Plus, you’re on-call all the time.

    You can’t put a price on that, but some say being a house-spouse is a 6 figure salary!

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind behing a house-spouse in a warm foreign country for a while. Sleep till 11, gym, lie in sun, work on the tan, clean, cook dinner (I’m a good chef), give wifey a massage and then see where it heads! ;) Giggity!

    Yes, I’d be a great trophy husband.

    Any takers? ;)

  3. I’m going to visit my boyfriend hopefully soon to see how things are there for us, how I see myself living in a cold country and then decide where to settle eventually.

    He would love to settle in my country and just like what Andrew said, my boyfriend doesn’t mind moving to where I am where there’s plenty of sunshine and near the beach. But of course, there are so many things to think about before making this move.

    Thank you for this blog. It helps to brace myself pr rather gives me an idea what I’d be looking forward to just in case I’ve to move with him. No wonder, he keeps on telling me that he worries that I would start to get bored in a matter of 2 weeks once I get there. We’ll see.

  4. Andrew you certainly sound like a catch! How warm a country are we talking about here anyway? Haha.
    Giggity- sounds like someone is a fan of Quagmire on Family Guy. You got good taste in tv shows as well :)
    It certainly sounds difficult being a house-spouse in Sweden, but I’m sure it’s like that in any country where you move to without a good support system or proficiency of the language. I always thought that if I found “true love” that I’d be willing to move anywhere on a whim for it. Then again, after reading this I’d have to give it more serious thought. I would hate to think that my “love” for someone would become resentment of being in a difficult situation. So I wish the best of patience, luck, perseverance and love ? to the house-spouses and their companions in Sweden!

  5. That question mark after the word love was supposed to be a heart! Don’t know what happened there!!

  6. @Ana – Anywhere warmer than Sweden really. I am told I would be quite the catch. Too many lady friends who are already in committed relationships. And yes, that is from Quagmire from Family Guy. AWESOME show! :) This year’s Halloween episode was SICK! :)

    I think it’s even harder in Sweden as Swede’s stick tightly to their groups. Groups from gymnasium, work, clubs, etc. I go to the gym quite frequently with Sapphire’s husband and even though we see the same guys day in and day out, they don’t talk to us. Occasionally we give them a “hey” or “hi” to try and break the ice, but it stops there.

    Now add in not having that social support, perhaps other ex-pats from ex-pat groups, not being fluent, cold dark winters where it’s a chore to go outside when it’s -15C… Doesn’t really work well.

  7. @Naveed – Thanks and best wishes to you. “poor swedish” is not an excuse to deny someone a job.

    @Abby – Holla!!

    @Andrew – Hahaha, you’re going to make a great catch and dinner. ;)

    The only thing wrong with your plan: “lie in sun, work on the tan” … kinda missing in Sweden for 9 months of the year.

    @Kazumi – Good luck with your move. It sounds lame to say but it is important to keep a positive attitude. Do as much as you can to make new friends, wander the streets, find coffeeshops. Not only will you easily pass time but you will begin establishing a social network.

    @charliana – It is scary and my post is a stark b/w truth to what happens. But, as I wrote above to Kazumi, come in with a strong, positive attitude to Sweden. Know that you will succeed. Life will hard at the beginning but if you keep your wits and don’t let your own spirit suffocate, you will survive.

    @Ana – I agree that moving for “love” and then being disenchanted/resentful is the best way towards a separation. Moving is hard and moving for love is harder, you sacrificed your social/work/family networks for someone who has not experienced it.

    To everyone, while we may have our down days and weeks, keep your wits about you. If you let your personality be overtaken by the foreign land, your soul will wither and relationship struggle.

  8. I definitely will put my two cents in here later, when I return. I have spent time overseas and it was quite the culture shock for me in many ways! I believe love can transcend many obstacles. Life is a journey. However, reality also steps in and shows you that you have to work really hard for what you want. Cheers everybody. Sorry, just not in the best mood. :(

  9. You know, I’ve been doing this housewife thing for years now. About 3, really. I started off living the “Italian” dream (that is not so much a dream as it is a difficult, painful experience. Whenever someone would ask me how much I love Italy, I told them the truth “Most of the time, it sucks”, because it really did. No one could believe me, and most thought there was something wrong with ME that I didn’t think Italy was the greatest place to live.

    The most important thing that I learned is not to expect everything to be perfect. Allow yourself to be sad for a little bit, but then shake yourself out of it, and take a walk or go do something other than sit in your ennui. Italy was tough to make friends because of where we were- not a big city. So, the first thing I did when I moved to Sweden was to join the American Women’s Club. Interestingly enough, I’ve met more non-Americans than anyone else there. It’s truly an international place, and boy does it help in getting you out and doing things. It’s really been a life saver for me.

    Learn patience. Learn how to sit and just be okay with sitting. Figure out what makes YOU happy and what you want to do going forward. You can’t really on your love to keep you happy- you being happy and fulfilled keeps you in love. It’s not fulfilling to do laundry, clean the floors and make dinner for a lot of people (myself included), but there is some pride in knowing that you are taking care of someone. Take the time to learn to bake or cook things you wouldn’t normally. So often, we get caught up in our whirlwind lives that we never figure out things that we are or can be good at if we just had the time.

    It is not easy. There are a lot of times where I just hate being home all day. I hate that all I’ve done is laundry; hate that I have to rely on my husband for all of my money. It eats at me. But I’m trying. I’m trying to find a job, and making friends and riding my bike and learning from my past mistakes.

    Just tell yourself that it is okay, and that you will BE okay.

    Sapphire, thanks for putting this out there. So many people think my life is just one big bed of roses and chocolate.

  10. Ah, no wonder you’ve been so good with updating your blog lately! :) I’m studying right now, but I can imagine I will be going through the same thing you are right now when I finish. It’s good that you draw awareness to what is a pretty common problem.

  11. Why don’t you just study Swedish? Why live in a country without learning the language? That doesn’t sound very well planned.
    And I must say, I would never hire anyone who couldn’t speak Swedish…
    It’s not difficult to find a way to learn Swedish and then you have something to do other than being a “housewife” (didn’t think those existed in Sweden anymore).

    And, to all of you who spend your days doing laundry and cooking. Tell your husband/wife to do half of it.

  12. @Modenese – Thanks for sharing your story; it is also important to share that moving to a foreign country isn’t all sweet roses either.

    @Deepsoul – Hugs and hope you’re having a better new week.

    @Joyce – Yep! ;) Been trying to be more vigilant about updating. How is school going?

    @Lisa – As it turns out, I am taking advanced Swedish in Stockholm now after taking my only academic swedish class more than three years ago. Government SFI classes that suck notwithstanding (i couldn’t bear myself to suffer that nonsense), it is difficult to master a language in two years.

    It is also close-minded that you would never hire someone who didn’t speak Swedish. I suppose if that person was more than qualified for a position at your company (hypothetically if you work), then you wouldn’t hire them because their Swedish is substandard?

    If you’re going to pass judgement, at least read the blog a bit before doing so.

    And what makes you say that housewives don’t exist anymore? Because you never met one? Don’t know any foreigners? I’m curious to know how you believe Sweden would not have housewives.

    Perhaps you should reflect more on relationship dynamics. Do you believe it is fair that if you don’t have a job/volunteer work/school work, it is okay to make the partner still do half the work? So that then, your partner who not only works and is the breadwinner has to do equal share in the housework? Of course they should help out and still do some work (this is not an excuse for them to do nothing either), but to force them to be 50/50 when you’re not doing anything else is tricky.

  13. I’m a bit of a housewife at the moment since I’m very pregnant and about to give birth any day now. It’s a bit frustrating to be sitting home all day, so I know the feeling.

    But I’m glad that I got a good job to return to later when I had my twins. And I really hope you find a job soon, I know that the job market is pretty grim if you don’t have a degree that’s in very high demand. Glad I do and the place I work for had to look past that my Swedish wasn’t perfect.

  14. Back everybody!

    @Sapphire, thank you for the warm hugs! xoxo ( I also know that something will pan out for you there! Hang in there and keep doing what you do best! Sending positive vibes!)

    I really wanted to find the right words to compose my personal trials and tribulations on this subject matter.
    Being a foreign housewife is definitely not easy. I am speaking about my situation in past tense. I am divorced now. I went into the notion with an idealistic expectation that I would be able to fit in or integrate with the whole new way of life.

    I am American and my ex is Egyptian. Before people want to pass judgement on me and say, “Well, you should have known better, etc” then I will simply say you are very arrogant and ignorant at the same time. There are so many ridiulous stereotypes, no matter where you search this globe. So let me just start with that! I saw arab women wearing the latest trends from London, smoking the water pipe, drinking cappuccino, at a cafe, typing on their laptops! Not every woman is living the “submissive” or “dominated” lifestyle you would like to believe.

    Of course in lower developed, poverty and lesser educated areas, you will see more difficult conditions for women. That goes without saying in anyplace. I witnessed all the conditions, and did my best to evaluate the culture as a whole.

    Oh love, l’amour. It is the greatest feeling in the world. Sometimes we can loose that sense of the reality which creeps steadily in, but seems to hit us like lightening. I met my ex in America. He was already an American citizen, but his family was back in Cairo. I had already been studying the arabic language, culture, and was always fascinated with Egyptology. So when things became very evident that his intention was to marry me, I traveled to meet his family. I went for a few weeks, and was awe struck. I was enchanted with watching the sunset over the pyramids, the sounds, the smells, the whole environment. Then we traveled to some amazing, various locations. I truly felt that this nation had become a part of my whole being.

    After we got married, we were in the states, and then went to be in Egypt. Staying a few weeks, verses committing yourself to a whole other way of life is challenging to say the least. At first, it was like a nice, long vacation. Then after awhile, I started to feel extremely isolated. My ex’s family was well to do when it came to finances. As matter of fact, they had people come to their house to do pretty much everything. I had a difficult time grasping that everybody else seemed to be doing all the work. I didn’t grow up that way. My mother taught me to be independent and I never had anybody else do my laundry, well except her when I was a child. So after awhile, when they had these women come in to do work, my flat (apartment) was already clean. I mean I became so overwhelmingly bored and isolated that I started becoming obsessive compulsive when it came to a clean house! When we didn’t have satellite television, I was watching all my movies and American shows. I think I have memorized over fifty films by now. When we finally had satellite television, I was watching “The Dukes Of Hazzard” and every B rated American movie. Can you imagine that? I started to miss some of the old comforts of home. Of course there are malls, grocery stores, and many places which carried American brands, but at a high price. You better believe when I saw Old El Paso taco shells and products, I said tacos tonight!! When I saw Betty Crocker brownie mixes, there was no holding me back!

    I wanted to find a job so bad! My arabic was really far from being good enough to even work there! The majority of the population spoke only arabic. Going out was a treat. Sometimes I would run into other Americans and Canadians, who were on vacation. Once I heard english being spoken, I just gravitated towards them and hoped that I didn’t seem aggressive or desperate for their attention. I just wanted to communicate. Once I met another Floridan gal in the Khan el Khalili bazaar, and I gave her this huge hug! She probably thought “Good lord girl! There’s many of us tourists here!” What she might have failed to realize at that moment was that I treated her like an expat, such as myself. I wanted to invite her over for dinner even, but I centered myself and thought, “Okay, she will probably think good thing you aren’t still in Florida, because you’ve gone crazy!” In the strangest way, it was an overwhelming emotion for me. Maybe she just reminded me of my sisters back in the states. Maybe it was because she and I had that commonality, being American. I really thought about it after awhile and felt really horrible. I mean I was never raised to think that the world is an outsider. I just missed home. It was great to Skype my family anytime, but it wasn’t the same when I missed holidays.

    I admit, I started to go into a depression. It was most likely my living conditions. I really didn’t make many friends, only my husband’s family. I felt after awhile that I was not on good graces with them, and that is never good in a marriage, especially when you see them day in and day out. So, we went on mini vacations to a city where many Europeans lived. I liked it. It was on the water, nice breeze, clean air and I felt like I could breathe, physically and emotionally! I started to develope friendships with European women there, who would frequent Cairo as well. Those were good times when we got together to complain about our husbands! HAHA! :D complain about the mother in laws.. :O I know, I know. So, I tried to convince my husband that we should move to that city instead! Oh hell, I would have even dreamt to work at a Pizza Hut there! Of course the answer was no. I went into a deeper depression, and then I started writing. It was my only companion at times. It became my best friend, when inside I felt like a part of me was dying. It was almost better to live vicariously through the characters which I created in this writing instead. I wasn’t living in a dungeon, or told that I had to “cover myself up”. Of course I dressed up a little more conservative in certain areas, but that is a matter of respect and integrating with the culture. On the beach, bathingsuit it was! I also received the best medical care in my life! By the way, most of the doctors I had were female! Not because of “Islamic principles”, but because they were highly educated, and suitable for their positions.

    It was one winter night in Cairo, that I thought I was going to die. It was a very scary situation. It wasn’t violence, but a very aggressive illness which developed rapidly. I kept passing out, I can tell you that. I was getting ready to call my parents and tell them that I loved them. It was that bad! I didn’t want it to happen this way! When I recovered, I did some major soul searching. I reflected on everything. Was this what I wanted in my life? Was this how I wanted to spend the rest of my life? What was the bigger risk? Telling my husband that I wanted to leave and go back to the US? Or go on a downward spiral?

    I was never a person who gave up easily, without logical reason, or reviewing all the pros and cons. I was at my breaking point and I think he knew this intuitively for a long time. A part of me felt a sense of unimaginable relief, and another felt ashamed or that I wasn’t strong enough. Again, which was worse? Relief, shame? Letting go of my ego just a little bit and accepting that I could not be there was serenity, within itself. So, back to the states I went. The rest, well that is another entire issue.

    Each woman is different, knowing her own limitations. Perhaps if you are in the right environment and relationship, it will be a wonderful situation, and live up to your expectations. I should hope this for everyone, but it definitely takes a lot of evaluation and careful reconsideration. I could live somewhere else in the world and have a completely different experience than what I went through. I will never believe in being ethnocentric or that one place is better than the next. No, every destination is different. Every experience in life happens for a purpose. Who knows, maybe I will find that wonderful, Swedish man and see how I can grow to love a new nation. That remains to be discovered! :)

    @Lisa…No offense, but have you lived in a foreign nation as a housewife? Let me tell you something, before you pass judgement on anybody, step into their shoes. It takes a lot of courage to leave your comfort zone and the life you knew, to expand your horizons and walk into the uncertain. I give much credit to those who at least attempt it. Also, what is wrong with being a housewife? Does it go against the fundamentals of womens liberation? I have a suspicion that Sapphire’s husband shares equal responsibility. Also, just to let you know, she is highly educated.

    Sorry that I just rambled on everybody. It is actually theraputic to express myself on this subject matter. I think this may possibly be the longest reply I have ever left throughout this whole blog.

    Take care and hope your week is going great! xoxo Love, DS

  15. @Nkosazana – Congrats! Good luck to you and hubby with the upcoming bundles of joy.

    @DeepSoul – Thanks so much for sharing your story. I learned that I’m not alone and that is always hope. I hope for any housewife/househusband reading this, they find a way to do things that are in their best interest (and not always everyone else’s).

    This definitely was one of your longest posts. =)

  16. Hej! You described exactly what I feel. I’m an italian househusband at the moment. I’m here since August. I crossed my finger to find an home in Stockholm, but we found it in Marsta.. Marsta, do you know? Living here is alienating. Ok, my girlfriend has a job in Uppsala, so for her is better than Stockholm. But to live in this suburb-dormitory is not sane.
    I sent a lot of CVs, but at the moment nothing good. Ok, in Italy the labour market is horrible, there labs or companies do not answer you at all.. I’m not good in Swedish, also my English is not fluent (writing and reading is good enough, I think, but talk and hear is really hard to me), so.. well, in any case, I’m learning to cook :) and I discovered Livemocha to learn basis in Swedish (for SFI courses I must wait in January).

  17. My current Swedish class takes so little time I’m mostly a “housewife” (though since I have a kid it’s more like stay-at-home-mom). I’m getting a little bored and irritated about not using my degrees/experience, so I’ve started looking for work, but of course I’ve only been here seven months so my Swedish is not impeccable so it’s not really working. I am thinking about taking a full-time Swedish course just to feel occupied! If I STILL can’t get work after that it will be totally depressing.

  18. I am also a ‘housewife’ we are engaged i moved to sweden in Jan… but have no work except for occasional days at a kindy and have no friends. I only go to SFI occasionally because it sucks and i am horrendously depressed.
    I dont think my sambo wants to move to australia but im going mental here. really mental.

  19. Yeah in Stockholm… I am just having a horrendous week and am sick of not working.
    I am definitely not a stay at home kinda person and am struggling to motivate
    myself to go to the SFI classes but without finishing i am getting nowhere to being able to
    actually enjoy living here.

    Its good to know some other people dont LOVE it here, its okay but its certainly not as friendly
    as i would have liked.

    Hope you are having a good night.

  20. If you don’t enjoy the social side of SFI then stop going. It won’t teach you more than to maybe read parts of the newspapers and say “hi” and “bye” etc. Swedes will refuse to speak Swedish with you due to your/our crap pronunciation and will insist you speak English…so there’s no point going really! Just speak English and hand signal your way through the rest.

    If you have enough stuff knocking around your house, or an idea of where to get some cheap…you could start selling on Ebay. Granted, it’s not a “job”, but it’ll keep you occupied if you put enough things on there. Costume jewellry, ornaments, anything really. One mans rubbish is another mans treasure and all that stuff.
    Need something…anything to occupy your mind or your relationship is dead in the water!
    Unfortunately Stockholm isn’t the best place for friendliness apparently. Try searching for Aussie ex pat’s in Sweden. I’ve come across quite a few of them and although i’m down in the “sunny south”, Stockholm is the usual aiming point for most people.

    Hope you find something and shake off some of that depression. :)

  21. I am a swede, with an MBA. Your description of the Swedish job market is inaccurate and misleading. The truth is that CV:s are rarely written in Swedish any more and the need for Swedish fluency is not needed any more, if you apply for high level or postgrad. jobs as you claim.
    Maybe that could be the case if you apply for service sector jobs as McDonald’s as you mentioned. But having lived in Sweden almost all my life I doubt that you have to be fluent even at McDonald’s. Good Luck anyway and ask your husband to help you more since I think the ability to speak Swedish is not that crucial.

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