I went to Zambia for that peanut butter

Once upon a time, shortly after our arrival in Prague, a first-time corporate expatriate spouse came over for coffee. Now, on top of being totally new to overseas life, she was really wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box. She certainly was not representative of corporate spouses, either! But she did exemplify a certain point of view, as we shall see.

Anyway, the neighbor in question walked into my kitchen, saw the Peter Pan peanut butter on the counter, and made some pointed remarks to the effect of, she felt it was a bit unfair that we US embassy folks had a small commissary with American goods at our disposal.

I had about had it with this person already, and told her flat-out, “I spent two years in Zambia for that peanut butter. Where have you been posted?”

Of course, my neighbor had just arrived to a brand-spanking new expatriate compound in Prague, which was hardly representative of typical diplomatic life even 15 years ago. But she sure thought she knew everything she needed to know about the Foreign Service after about a week in a suburban house in a safe, relatively modern country. She really was too dumb to know she was ignorant, bless her heart.

When I read A, B, C, D Adventure’s most excellent blog post in which she reports that our new Secretary of State believes that we are recipients of “corporate welfare” I could hardly believe it. Well, actually, I could believe it, but now I’m sure it must be true. Because a mainstream media outlet, Bloomberg News, reports that in addition to keeping the hiring freeze in place, Tillerson is looking to cut the State Department budget by 9%. And we can clearly expect to see more cuts to programs supporting Foreign Service families, because, according to the article,

Tillerson was taken aback when he arrived on the job to see how much money the State Department was spending on housing and schooling for the families of diplomats living overseas, according to one person familiar with his thinking.

I have to say, I’m pretty familiar with that way of thinking already. I’ve encountered plenty of “experts” on Foreign Service life in my time. Some are experts after a couple of years living in Europe. Others are experts because they once studied abroad for a semester in London or Paris. Still others are experts without ever leaving their couches. Lots of people are experts because they work on Capitol Hill designing awesome legislation like the Fly America Act.

Mr. Tillerson, I’m on my way out after nearly thirty years as a Foreign Service welfare queen family member. Quite frankly, I’m too tired to be educating “experts” on the details of what it takes to keep diplomats posted overseas. I’ll leave that to those who still have a damn to give.

But I went to Zambia for that peanut butter. Bless your heart.


  1. Thanks for the shout out Kelley. You definitely earned that peanut butter – and I doubt it made up for taking malaria meds for two years, potholed roads, electricity outages, crappy internet and all the other things you (I have no doubt gracefully) managed during your tour in Zambia. Bless her heart indeed.


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