The Expat Birthday Party.

In my early twenties, I au-paired on the Cote d’Azur. The family I worked for were wonderful – they were caring and fun, and had their feet firmly anchored on the ground despite the privileged lifestyle they led. Then one day I accompanied my “charge” to an expat child’s birthday party, and discovered the buttery upper crust of the international expat pie……

We walked through the automatic gate into a child-sized garden party on a lush green lawn. Think Buck’s Palace, without the Queen. The entire knee-high cast of a Shakespearian tragedy was running riot across the garden: Portias, Ophelias and Octavias dressed in designer frocks vied for superiority in the “my daddy’s car is bigger than yours” stakes. I ground my teeth and squeezed Laura’s hand. They had probably all been force-fed Mozart in the womb, followed by a moonlit jacuzzi birth and intensive developmental training with flashcards until they were old enough to enroll for Prodigious & Precocious –the human equivalent of the Kennel Club.

Two groups of adults met my eye: girls my age, grouped together near the children, and a group of meticulously groomed mothers whose hair had been blow-dried and lacquered into submission. They had set up a maternal HQ beside the pool, and were holding tea-cups and hee-hawing beside a teak garden table, their Estée Laudered lips bared to show immaculate white teeth and pink gums. My instinct told me that these ladies were on first name terms with their dentists.

Birthday cake, Hamstead style

Forget chocolate cake with Smarties: this is the ideal birthday cake for the jet-setting expat kid. (Photo credit: dan taylor)

On closer inspection, my doubts were confirmed. Forget the grindstone – the only thing these mothers had ever kept their noses to was the Gucci shop window. Their definition of financial difficulty was getting their Visa gold card jammed in their Hermes purse. They rolled their “r”s and doubled their barrels, and their vowels were longer than Cousin Itt’s hair. Whilst their husbands had good jobs, money and influence, they had embossed invitations to luncheon parties, private swimming pools, masseurs, canine psychotherapists for their chihuahuas and most probably Louis Vuitton nappy disposal bags.

I introduced myself then listened with interest to the battle of one-upwomanship that was being played out centre stage. Two mothers had drawn their superlative swords and were openly competing for their offspring’s superiority in art, music and sport -it was a very amusing maternal equivalent of bragging about penis size. I avoided the temptation to make facetious comments about their budding Einsteins and Beethovens, and took Laura to see birthday girl.

Portia didn’t see us at first – she was busy excavating the contents of her right nostril. She removed her finger from her nose and carefully inspected her catch before popping it into her mouth and chewing it with relish. “Hi! Fishing good?” I enquired. Portia glared at me, snatched the gift from Laura’s hands and ripped off the paper before dumping it unceremoniously on a huge pile of French designer clothing and politically correct hardbacks for precocious readers. A cruel smirk spread across her face. “Oh, a gift that cost a tenner. How cute of you, Laura. Really, you shouldn’t have…..”. A ripple of sardonic laughter ran through the nearby group of children. My jaw dropped. I had never seen such cruelty in five-year-olds.

Portia’s moment of glory as Chief Bad Fairy was interrupted by piercing screams from the bottom of the garden. Ophelia had carried out a nifty putsch on her host’s sparkling new swing, and was defiantly shaking her head at another child who wanted to take a turn. She apparently got a bigger kick out of depriving the others than from the swing itself. As the competitor for her throne whined, Ophelia remained firmly welded to the ropes on the swing and screamed into her struggling au pair’s face.


Ophelia – without her muzzle. (Photo credit: ambiebambie39507)

Glancing up the garden, it was clear that Mumsie had chosen to turn a blind eye. To no avail, the au pair tried again and again to remove the screaming despot from her throne. Ophelia opened her mouth and dived towards the nanny’s arm. With a primitive grunt of victory, she buried her teeth in the awaiting flesh. The pit bull in a party frock then got down from the swing, wiped her mouth on her cardigan and trotted over to her mother. Tugging on her skirt, she pointed at the nanny and tearfully complained to the manager.

Ophelia’s mother looked at her in surprise and registered the sorry state of her nanny’s forearm. I waited with interest to see how she would react. Would she explain that nice kids don’t bite? Make her apologise? Take her home and deprive her of Nutella for the forseeable future? Or just slap her backside? Nope. She turned to the other mothers in desperation, and said “Can you believe it? This is the twelfth nanny we’ve had in a year, and we still haven’t found one Ophelia likes. Can you recommend anyone, girls?”

My jaw dropped for the second time, and Ophelia ran triumphantly back to the swing. As she expertly wrestled Portia’s little brother off the seat, I asked the other nannies what had happened to the previous au pairs. Ophelia’s nanny rubbed her arm and told me that the eleven other nannies had left with enough tooth marks on their skin to play the role of human remains on the beach in the next Jaws film. This was a whole new world for me. Laura grinned, and we went off to find some cake. Cake is a universal value. Cake never lets you down. Long live cake.

Post entered in the DP Weekly Writing Challenge, 8th July 2013.

26 thoughts on “The Expat Birthday Party.

  1. Doesn’t sound much like a party. Parties are for having fun with your mates. Doesn’t sound like much fun was to be had at that party. I bet those ghastly little girls grew up to be just as ghastly women. To be avoided at all cost! (Not difficult when you have no money… 🙂 )

    • The only fun was to watch the mothers in superlative combat mode. I suspect that the little girls grew up to be as ego centric as their mothers, who probably hit the Prozac at the same time their daughters hit adolescence….

  2. I read this and thought of my paternal grandmother….she’d have made a swathe through the mothers in minutes.
    No Gucci-fed feelings of superiority would have survived her Old Testament sense of purpose…I see loungers overturned and hairstyles doused in water to the accompaniment of a sermon on the vanity of vanity.
    And as for a child trying to bite grandmother….it would, in that expressive Scots word, find itself flyped in seconds…..

  3. You are so talented. Do you publish? YOU SHOULD. I read to the end and laughed. In the 1993, I also was a nanny so I could stay with my daughter. I found two lovely physicians and they were nothing like those women. Luckily!! However, she kept having children and 4 was too much for me so after 4 formative years for my daughter and their first two children I went from being crafty all day and back in Management with sorrow. I am so glad I did this!

    PS: I will say that I did play Mozart and all other forms of music to my daughter in womb : )

    • I really appreciate your support – maybe I’ll do it one day; maybe someone from a world-famous magazine will stumble across my blog and beg me to contribute every month. Who knows? In the mean time, I’m having fun with all my blogging pals. I nannied for five years whilst Little My was small, for the same reasons as you. I never had any problems, except for one child who made Damien in “the Omen” look like a Pixar film. Maybe I’ll write about him one day….

  4. ahh the universal peace piece – cake. ubiquitous as neutral territory in most cultures. though, from the sounds of these horrible people, that nice Chocolate Sponge you pick up at your corner shop would be like ash in the mouths of those pretentious asses more accustomed to Caviar and Swiss Creme Topped, Decadent Belgian Chocolate and White Truffle flavoured cake! glad to hear you survived the fall out from those teeth! the class divide that still exists, just in the way some rich people think because of their environment and how they still raise their kids to look down on people of lesser means still astounds me! great post, laughed my way through it 😀 after the initial incredulity, of course

    look forward to more posts 🙂

    • LOL! I did enjoy your description of the upper crust there. Not sure abouth the caviar and Swiis-cream, but the Belgian chocolate sounds tempting! I’m a chocolate cake with smarties girl myself. All accompaned by a big cup of tea and good company. I’m convinced that those kids were missing out on something – ah, yes, that’d be real life 😀

      • they are missing out – on reality! i’m defo a chocolate kind of girl and to be honest, if any one of us were to be handed a piece of super posh cake we would probably waste no time taking selfies with it, uploading them to twitter and facebook before devouring it and guiltily loving every crumb XD though, again, you can’t beat a good, simple, cheap sweet treat.

        couldn’t believe that stuff with the nanny’s! that makes people seem disposable, which is just wrong. aaaahhh the peculiarities of the social pyramid 😀

  5. I second the commentator mid-way above – you should publish. Such a wry, imaginitve and illustrative narrative is bound for the hardback 🙂

    • They’re all ganging up on me 😉 Thank you, Laura, I’m glowing here. I just need a virtual me to get all the boring stuff done so that I can sit down and write my novel (I have started, it’s a beginning….). Thanks for following, and come back to see us soon!

      • the long march begins with a single step and all that – wishing you time and encouragement

  6. Can’t you publish an anthology of short pieces to be going on with, MM? This is brilliant stuff, funny wry and horrific by turns. I’d say it’s incredible except that i know it’s true. Do you think women like that would believe I pity them and wouldn’t change places with them for anything?

    • Sorry I took so long to reply. I did ask an author about publishing collections, and he told me that it’s extremely difficult to find publishers who will publish collections of short stories. Self-publishing appears to be an expensive jaunt. (Does this sound like I’m trying to find reasons not too try? 😉 ) I wouldn’t like to be in the ladies’ places either, but I don’t think they’d believe us if we told them….

  7. in my “younger years” I was au-pair, in 4 different families (2 in Germany and 2 in the UK) I am glad I never had to look after any Ophelias brat child…… I was lucky to have some lovely children (and parents). I am still in touch with them (my “English” children are now 27 and 39 !!) glad never had to use Louis Vuitton nappies disposal bags…. ahahahahahaah LOL
    great post MM

    • I don’t think I would have looked after an Ophelia for long; I would have bitten her back harder and got the sack (and not a Vuitton one, either). I enjoyed au pairing and did a five year nannying stint twenty years later – I was much the wiser after becoming a parent! Glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for commenting 🙂

  8. Pingback: When Is A Vacuum Not A Vacuum? | My Daily Prompt Blog

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