The big, weird houses diplomats live in
Updated: Oct 20, 2020
I recently read a great piece written by a U.S. diplomat’s wife called The Reality of Being a Foreign Service Spouse. It explains the housing situation of diplomats perfectly. More importantly, it addresses the misconception that diplomats "live big" when they are posted overseas.
It's a common misunderstanding that diplomatic life is luxurious or even extravagant. It’s not true, which is clear to everyone who sees the full picture and understand the context of certain perks we get. What I like about the article is that author Donna Gorman writes about it with a great sense of humor.
Still, I think that myths around living standards of diplomats are hard to dispell, especially regarding housing. Because the truth is that our houses are often huge! The only problem is: we don't necessarily like it that way.
Diplomatic houses are big because there is a government rule that says that they should be a certain size. Diplomats are expected to entertain official guests, and you can’t do that in the kids’ playroom. Also, the size of the house often compensates for the fact that it’s not safe to go outside.
Another reason is that in many countries the safest neighborhoods are the ones with the big fancy houses. And maybe another reason is that U.S. diplomats represent a global superpower and therefore should not live in shacks.
But wait—that can’t actually be the reason because diplomats from other countries live in the exact same type of houses (probably for all the same reasons) as U.S. diplomats do.
Now back to why we don’t always feel lucky with our houses. What is there not to like about a giant house? Gorman gives some pretty good examples, like weird floor plans and shoddy construction. Another issue is that it takes a lot of time and money to furnish and clean an oversized house. Also, I find it hard to get used to the fact that I don't get to choose my house - as a U.S. diplomat, you just get what you get.
People may think we live like kings, but get this: all of our houses have bars on the windows, like prisons. And even though the houses are in upscale neighborhoods, they always come with issues. I mean, if we were really living like kings, I don’t think we would have to deal with regular power outings, flooding, and showers that electrocute us (I have seen all of these things happen). We wouldn’t live on dirt roads, or roads full of potholes, which ruin our cars, or smell burning garbage all the time.
But wait—before you think that this is just a long list of complaints… it’s not! I have to admit that I actually love all this crazy stuff. I might be shaving off a few years of my life because of unconstrained pollution in most countries I've lived so far, and live in a state of constantly worry about moving and settling in all over again, but that’s the kind of adventure I signed up for.
As diplomats we may not live like kings per se, but we get a lot of great opportunities. For every con there is a major pro, as long as you can find the silver lining. I mean, our house is so big that my son was terrified to go to sleep for two whole months, but at least I have a very good reason to hire a full-time housekeeper!
I live in Armenia now, coincidentally the same country that the author of this article went to for her first posting abroad. Our house is located in a neighborhood that, in my opinion, looks like an atomic bomb went off (see pic and judge for yourself). Half the houses are carcasses, cars are always swerving and speeding, and there are countless stray dogs eating out of the garbage. My neighborhood is filthy and it's definitely not safe for kids to play outside. And yet some of the richest people in the country live in this place. It still blows my mind! And that—the mind-blowing part—is exactly the reason I signed up for this life.