The Inevitable Question

By alison - September 15, 2005 (Updated: November 30, 2014)

“So … what exactly do you do all day?”

This is a question I am asked frequently, in one form or another by friends and family, Belgian friends and by fellow expats.

However, it’s a difficult question to answer, because I understand the implications behind it. In North America, we tend to identify people with their jobs. The jobless are hard to categorize.

Without a Belgian visa, I am unable to work. Even when the visa does come through, I’m uncertain of the job prospects for an English speaker with lapsed French and Dutch equivalent to a preschooler.

Without children, I can’t even be lumped into the stay-at-home mom category.

Having said that, I often feel I am mom to five furry children who will never grow up — cleaning up cat hair could be a full-time job at our house.

While my domestic skills have improved being at home all day, I’m definitely not the housewife type — I’m just not neat enough. If you know what’s good for you, don’t look under my bed …

Boredom is not normally a problem for me though. I am a woman of many pastimes. First and foremost, I have my photography and writing.

Photography has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Through it I am able to see things more clearly and share my views with others.

Keeping weblogs has also helped me keep my sanity. Not only does it offer me an opportunity to vent my frustrations, but I have been contacted by others in a similar situation.

I can’t tell you how helpful it is to feel that I am not alone in my feelings and experiences as an expat.

Then there are my less serious pursuits: I am a craftaholic; needlework, scrap-booking, rubber stamping, jewelry-making; if you find it in a craft store, I’m sure I’ve tried it. This is the first time I’ve been able to devote serious amounts of time to any project.

Finally, there is Andrew’s favorite. Given lots of free time in the afternoons, I cook.

I am prone to cooking elaborate feasts from around the globe and experimenting with foods that are unavailable in Canada. On any given night, he could come home to a Mexican Fiesta, a Curry Carnival or a Tapas Treat.

So no, keeping busy is not a problem. Nor is a lack of identity. I have never defined myself by my work (probably because my career has been more of a long and winding road than a path).

The hardest part to come to terms with, is not contributing to our family financially.

Being the ‘artist’ of the family, I have always earned less than my Computer Geek husband. It is something I’ve had to accept.

Not contributing financially at all however is difficult, especially when I watch Andrew go off to work every morning and deal with the pressures of his job.

Andrew is not bothered by this. He believes that marriage is about sharing. He also claims that my taking care of the house and ‘kids’ and offering him support and the ability to relax when he gets home enables him to excel at his job.

(Personally I think it all comes back to food. Andrew probably still has nightmares about the microwaved meals we lived on when I worked full-time.)

When the visa finally comes through, I will look for some form of work; not because I feel I have to, but because I believe it will help me integrate more fully in to our new homeland.

But if I can’t get a job in Belgium, I’ll still have plenty to do … and Andrew may just have to join a gym.

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Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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  1. Comment by Jenn

    Jenn September 16, 2005 at 15:30

    Nice post. Eventhough I love my job and love to be busy, I did love having afternoons off this past summer. Being able to make time to go to the gym and think about what we might have for supper was really nice. I had time for stamping, which I really have to make time for during the year 🙂

  2. Comment by Danalynn

    Danalynn May 22, 2011 at 06:56

    This is a very interesting post. I will be leaving with my husband for a year of being nomads and I will be the one working, while he will not. I don’t think he’ll have a hard time occupying himself (after all, we’ll be doing a lot of traveling, WWOOFing and volunteering), but I know if situations were reversed then I would have to find several high-attention ‘tasks’ for myself to keep from going insane! I agree that the key is to find the tasks you want to do, things that you can be productive for, and let yourself focus on those.

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