Monday, September 10, 2012

Privacy: Oh, How I Miss Thee

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I promised here to spill the beans.  To tell the truth about living abroad.  Even if it’s uncomfortable.  Especially when it’s uncomfortable. Otherwise, there’s not much point writing.

Truth is that though I’m feeling much more settled here, I continue struggling with certain aspects of expat life.  

Problem: I’m a very private, introverted person living in a fairly extroverted environment with no privacy. 

Don’t laugh. I AM private!  I know, I know: I write a blog, promising to tell all. How can I be private, right?  You’ll just have to trust me on this one.  

I guess I want privacy on my own terms.  Not too crazy, I suppose.

Thing is, I don’t get privacy. I certainly don’t get it on my own terms.

There is no anonymity here; I stick out like a big, white Michelin girl and am reminded of my existence most of the time: and I don’t like being stared at (but I am MUCH better about letting it not bother me quite the same anymore).  

My daughter really hates being stared at and especially loathes being touched by random strangers.  (That’s a post for another time.) 

So the whole idea of privacy is…well…completely drowned in all this monsoon rain.

What kind of privacy I’m talking about?  I’m talking about being ALONE.

Alone in the house without anyone around at all. No husband. No kid. Just me.  A book.  Paint.  A pen.  The computer. A movie (or three).  Whatever. A day – shoot, I’ll take a couple hours – of no interruptions. Phone turned off. No visitors. No talking.

Ohhh, I lovvveeee days like that.  And I yearn – yes, yearrrrrnnnn – for them.  (Did I make that dramatic enough?)

Sound like your idea of hell?                                 It’s my sweet jasmine heaven.

Most important, it’s a necessity for me:
Hello. (((Wave)))  My name is Becky. And I’m an introvert.

Problem: being an introvert here is challenging.  In fact, according to Culture Shock! A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette: Myanmar by Saw Myat Yin, there is no word in Burmese/Myanmar language for privacy (pg94).

Privacy isn’t an option.  At all.  There’s always a guard (or two) or driver or housekeeper around.  There will always, always, always be at least one guard. Always.  And the guard has a lovely view into our main living area.  And he watches.

Clearly, I need more curtains…
…because it drives me bananas!! (And if you know me, I fiercely HATE bananas!)

I’ve had privacy – complete alone time – once since March.    

When I started spending more and more time locked-up in my bedroom (literally) during the day (I don’t think this is uncommon. At least three other expat women confessed they’ve done/do the same thing), I figured it was time to ask the Husband if I could please go to Bangkok for a long weekend on my own.  Thankfully, the Husband is a total introvert – borders on hermit – and totally gets this need for alone time. 

Off I went to BKK. Oh. My. God. I was in heaven!

Thing is, I’m starting to spend more and more time in my bedroom again.  Daughter at school. Husband at work (or out of the country) and I just want desperately to watch a movie without someone seeing what I’m watching. 

I want to search for that shirt while in my bra without anyone seeing me. I want to write, no make-up on, looking like a bum, without six guys showing up unannounced to fix some broken thing. 

I don’t want people to know so much about me. What I eat. When I eat. Which DVDs I watch (or the unhealthy number I watch).  I don’t want at least three people (not family!) knowing when I’m on my period (because they see the trash and rifle through it!) or that I sometimes miss the garbage can when I throw a used Qtip away. 

I think you get the point. 

Adjusting, adjusting. 

Besides buying more curtains, though, I'm not exactly sure what I can do to adjust better.

I don't remember reading anything in those expat books about how to deal with this.

So, dear readers, what would you do? 
Any advice for the privacy deprived girl over here? 


  1. This may sound crazy, but one thing that helped me with the whole privacy issue in the Philippines??? Going to a movie. Nobody stared at me in the theater. They stare at the screen. In the dark feeling almost alone. Oh, headphones helped. And I would hang the laundry just so I could hide in it. Oh yes, and going somewhere really touristy, so I wasn't the only one getting stared at. This is probably is not much help. I feel for you Becky.

    1. Thanks, Gen!

      I'm sort of getting used to that 'being stared at' when outside the home. Well. Not used to it, but accepting of it.

      The part that's difficult is not feeling privacy at home. Because lots of attention is given to us (I tend to wear sunglasses all the time, even when it's raining as a way to kind of block out unwanted attention) outside the house, I wish we could go home and just be alone.

      It won't ever happen. Someone else lives here. So, even though, that someone will be outside, they totally see our comings and goings within the house. And they watch. For example, in the morning, while we're all getting ready, I usually have about two people watching. I get that they're trying to figure out when we're done so they can get the car ready. And when they think we're finished, they park the car out RIGHT in front of that window. It's just so annoying. lol

      I know there's no harm meant in any of it whatsoever. Still, I wish I could even just get F ready for school without a bra on if I wanted to. But I feel I can't, for fear of being inappropriate. And like I said: I'll be seen.

      I find it all very frustrating. I need to feel privacy at home.

      I think curtains will help. We have someone who helps tidy up the house, and I keep having her come less and less and At least, when I need that. She used to come at 10. Now it's 11. She gets three days off a week. Sometimes four. Or more. lol That helps.

      Thursdays are her usual days off (she has the w/e off too). She's LOVELY and SO, SO sweet and a HUGE help. But last Thursday, all sorts of people showed up. So I couldn't even lounge around, watching a movie or whatever. lol

      Anyway. Sorry for the rant and ramble. Thank YOU for suggestions!!! I really, really appreciate it!!!

  2. gail patricia willmottSeptember 10, 2012 at 1:53 PM

    Hmm speaking as a hermit too ( Chris and I obviously have inherited a gene from his Grandad)! I would find it repressive too:( I know you can't stop the 'help' coming in or the visitors to fix things whatever but I think it may be a good idea to fix some blinds/shutters/voile/nets to stop the intrusion/stares into your living space for starters. Regarding venturing outside Gen has made some good points other than that just think to yourself they are admiring how pretty you are, what lovely hair you have or your beautiful smile:) xxx

    1. Thank you, Gail! I do get frustrated with it at times, but I also know it's just part of life. I think back to how I handled it in Ethiopia or Kenya and I am quite sure I had days I felt the same I do now. lol I suppose I haven't yet learned a coping technique. I'll keep trying. I had two mornings this week where I just shut myself off in my room until it was time to pick-up F from school. I read, relaxed, slept. Today, I felt much better. Maybe I just will have to do that (lock myself up) every once in awhile. LOL

  3. I have no advice. I think locking yourself away in your bedroom is totally acceptable. I lock myself away from the boys on a regular basis. Dylan pounds on the door the entire time I'm peeing, and sometimes I pretend I'm peeing just to get a few moments. I have NO idea however, what having perfect strangers around all the time would be like but I'm pretty sure I would hate it too. Bec, how I wish I could pop over, bust open some wine, do our toes in our PJs and raid your fridge for leftover crab rangoon. One thing is for sure if I could pop over I'd be giving you a giant bear hug.

    1. Molly, thank you for your comment!

      I, too, am starting to think it's acceptable to lock myself up in my room sometimes. LOL I figure that if that's the best way I can come up with to take care of myself when I need to be on my own - and it is taking care of me - then so be it. :)

      Gosh, totally relate to going into the bathroom for a few minutes of peace. lol I still give myself 'time outs' if I'm very frustrated with F! lol

      I wish you could come over, drink wine, do our toes, and raid the fridge too. I love you + miss you LOADS!


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