“I have lived outside the UK for 10 years now. I moved to Kuwait in 2005 in a bid to kickstart my career. After diversifying a little by turning my hand to recruitment and then taking a couple of years off to travel the world, I returned to London unable to secure to a product facing role in fashion as I was apparently too out of touch”. Alex tells us more stories from her life outside the UK with her wonderful family”
‘I was a single woman in a chauvinistic part of the world.’
The opportunity arose to go to Kuwait, run some international fashion brands for the largest franchise partner in the Middle East and I leapt at it. Why not? It would give me the chance to boost the old bank balance with a tax free package. I knew it would be hard. I was a single woman in a chauvinistic part of the world. I lost count of the number of times I was followed as I walked down the sandy pavements. Apparently, eager carloads of Kuwaitis thought this intimidating approach might secure them a date. It didn’t.
‘Literally days after my arrival, Ramadan started.’
My team were four first generation Indians, three lads and a girl. Very quickly it became apparent my management style needed addressing. If you have ever travelled in Indian and asked for directions, you will know that most Asian cultures have difficulty saying no or they don’t know. My team was the same. I would ask them to produce reports for management meetings or the MD, I would check they knew how to do it and could produce the report in the allotted timeframe. And then nothing, nada, zip. The deadline would come and go … and no mention of said report as they each adopted their own impression of an ostrich. Head in the sand, say nothing, hopefully if I keep my head down she won’t remember and won’t ask me. It took months to change this mindset and I never moved beyond micro-managing, always keeping an ongoing list of everything I needed to do and each of the team needed to do. Enough said.
Literally days after my arrival, Ramadan started. Being a strict Muslim state the holy month of Ramadan is abided by and there is no eating or drinking in public. You can’t even chew gum. The working hours are shorter but retail is retail and I rarely left before 5pm on those days. So from 8am – 5pm I ate or drank nothing. I had no idea that there was a room where the expats went to munch on some Maltesers to get them through the day. I couldn’t sleep as the call to prayer which went off throughout the night. It seemed to get louder and louder each night heading towards Eid.
That first month was brutal.
‘The next three days were all about relaxing, eating out, drinking wine, yes real live wine from an actual bottle, and having more fun than I had had since I left London.’
Thankfully a dear friend agreed to fly out to meet me in Dubai for Eid as the thought of 4 days off in Kuwait where all the entertainment revolves around shopping, eating out or going to the beach club, was too much. When she met me on the street, outside our hotel on the first night, her face fell, she dropped an f-bomb and said in her broad Stoke accent, ‘what the **** happened to you?’ I was skin and bones and had enormous great rucksacks, not just bags, under my eyes.
The next three days were all about relaxing, eating out, drinking wine, yes real live wine from an actual bottle, and having more fun than I had had since I left London. Possibly the thing I had not anticipated was that that most of my expat colleagues would be married. There was only one other girl at my level who was single and I also knew the girl who lived next door to me. There were a few men who were also single so Friday evenings became poker night at their place. Then, almost nine months into my Kuwait life, I bumped into a colleague who said, ‘My friend’s arriving next month, would you show him around a bit? He’s single like you and likes the same kind of outdoor things you do.’ My first encounter with my new colleague was in Starbucks one Sunday morning, as I queued for my daily fix, a Frappuccino. Our working week was Sunday – Thursday. The first day of the week in retail is a frantic morning accumulating last week’s figures, presenting them to the senior management team and then planning the rest of the week depending on the actions required to remedy or capitalise on current performance. I was relatively surprised to get a call from the footwear team across from the buying and merchandising floor asking ‘what I thought of his mate?’ My response? ‘I think, given your performance against business plan, that you have more important things to be worrying about’.
‘Mr P and I were the last ones left on the dance floor at 4am.’
Before the end of the week, Mr Footwear had called again, this time asking if I could get an invite for his mate, Mr P, to a colleague’s wedding that weekend, as we were all going to be there. Apparently many of Mr P’s ex colleagues from his time in Saudi would be there too. I secured the invite. It was to be at the Hungarian Embassy. Embassy rules on Embassy turf, so the wine flowed publicly, the happy couple did their vows, in Hungarian. Mr P leaning over to me saying, ‘Poor fella doesn’t even know what he’s doing it’s all in Hungarian.’ Mr P and I were the last ones left on the dance floor at 4am. The bride took me off to one side as we left saying in her beautifully Eastern European accent, ‘Darling, obviously he likes you, I am going away for 1 month, don’t do anything until I get back.’ By the time she’d returned from her honeymoon he had moved himself in.
Alex and her family have lived outside the UK for the last 10 years in Kuwait, Istanbul, Germany and more recently moving to Bangkok and loving it! In addition to motherhood duties, Alex also teaches yoga to private clients and group classes.
Read NEW articles of April/May magazine’s issue at https://expatlifeinthailand.com/emagazine-april-may-2016/