Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Visa (...yawn...) Speak

You'd think foreign service officers - getting to travel around the world and having such different backgrounds and all - would be interesting people. Coming up on our first month here, I'm becoming a bit concerned.

Almost whenever I go out with Natalie and a group of her colleagues, inevitably the conversation starts to head toward work. Then after about 20 minutes of I-275 (not a highway near Cincinnati, by the way) and 214b, I feel myself slipping into a coma.

On one particular evening, I think I sat through any where between two to four hours of such talk. I couldn't fall asleep that night because I had just spent the evening sleeping with my eyes open. Something I always thought was just an expression to describe boredom, but no, it really is possible.

Now granted, most of the officers here are on their first post, so they have less travels to discuss. But still, we're talking about at least 25 years of life experiences to share, and instead they opt to talk about the guy who shows up for a visitation visa with his "concubine" and their children. (Actually, that was one of the more interesting ones, but it is like a five-minute story or less to tell. Now imagine enough of those five-minute stories to drag in access of two hours. I'm drifting away just starting to think about it.)

Sometimes given the option of meeting up for drinks in the evening or staying home by myself, the latter is more appealing.

Spouses, what do you do? Do you just glaze over and nurse the drink in your hand (or start drinking more)? Do you attempt to hijack the conversation into something interesting? Or is this interesting to you and I'm just being a jerk? Or this is boring to you, and I'm still just being a jerk?

Not having a television, I can deal with. Being relatively isolated, I can deal with. Missing some of the familiar luxuries the States offer, I can deal with. An unforeseeable future of conversations about visa applicants, I cannot deal with. Please tell me this is just because everyone here is relatively new to the foreign service and this post.

P.S. No offense intended toward our Hermosillian colleagues.


  1. I suggest a buzzer--we've used one from a board game. Whenever the conversation swerves too far into work, we buzz and ask about recent movies, restaurants people want to try, college football, etc. It started out as a joke for a spouse's birthday party but we kept it because it's shockingly effective.

  2. How about one step beyond the game buzzer, the shocker dog collar. Like they use for those dog that bark. Visa discussion going too far...BbZzzzzt. That'll curb the behavior in a hurry.
    Seriously, I can imagine that getting hard to listen to. Especially after being alone all day, having the conversation go to visa applicants tales.

  3. I think the buzzer is a great idea.
    Is this why so many people attempt to be a tandom couple?

  4. ha ha I guess I've chosen my cone correctly as I'm looking forward to these conversations! But I can understand why non-FSOs wouldn't want to talk about it all night. At any job, when people get together outside of, they end up talking about work...so just remind them you're there, too!

  5. Never fear if/once you move into the land of parenthood all conversations revolve around kids and you will begin to long for the conversations about work.

  6. What are other spouses talking about?? Surely they're as bored as you are. Why not engage them in conversation? Seems too simple a solution. Maybe I'm missing something...

  7. Loving the buzzer idea. Now I just need for my surface/ground/sea shipment to arrive and find Taboo among that mess. (Fortunately, I just read Slow Move East's experience, so I know a little about unpacking now.)

    I probably should have clarified also that at this particular post, there are many single consulars, so interaction with other spouses doesn't happen a whole because there are only three others here at the moment.

  8. I am SO with you on this one! I don't use a buzzer, but I do say, "Hey! No work talk!" very frequently. It's at it's worst when there are new people in the group, then it wears off. Give them a few minutes, but don't let it drag on all night. Don't be afraid to stick up for yourself and insist they talk about something you can join in on. It will take them a minute, but then they'll figure it out. Trust me, you have to do this or else going out is worse than staying home alone and twiddling your thumbs, and frankly it's just bad manners on their part to do that.

    My theory is that the excessive work talk stems from the fact that work is a "safe" topic, and most FSOs are either (1) socially awkward and aren't capable of talking about anything but work, (2) extremely cautious (and therefore don't want to discuss anything private that might be viewed as inappropriate), or (3) a combination of both awkward and cautious.

    Plus, Americans are obsessed about work. I have known people from other countries for YEARS and we've never talked about work, to the point that neither of us even knew what the other's occupation was (though we'd know everything else about each other), but with Americans, "What do you do?" is the first thing out of our mouths.

  9. I agree with Heather completely. I often found myself baffled and thinking to myself...wow, these people have NOTHING at all to say. In those instances I try to spark up conversation and if that doesn't work...I drink more : )

    The buzzer does sound like fun though.

  10. To quote Homer Simpson: "Sports, sports, sports, sports, sports, sports, sports, sports."

    Otherwise, yeah, the buzzer. Let me know how it goes.

  11. My husband had the same complaint from my first tour. The easiest solution was to hang out with more than just other consular people. You do then have to take care though, when hanging out with the GSO, that you're not complaining about housing, etc, instead!

  12. Oh yes... the infamous work talk. If you do ever figure out a way to get around it at a party - please let me know.

    That's where meeting other locals REALLY comes in handy!

  13. I seem to have the same problem, but since I am the only American without a security clearance at our Embassy (pretty small mission in Africa) I often feel like I am out of the loop when these conversations start, because I haven't had the benefit of discussing them ad nauseum in Country Team or other meetings.

    For example, the president is getting married near our house tomorrow. I was, as per usual, the last person to be informed and I was only informed when someone came to discuss a work project at my house.

    It can be really frustrating (I often feel that I am on the outside looking in) and it makes me wonder if I really want to be part of a tandem couple, because there seems to be no life outside of the Embassy. Pretty depressing when you think about it.

  14. Aww, Heather. Awkward and cautious? Sounds terrible! You should meet some more fun FSOs!