American expat in Singapore. A career, friends, family, and place to call home–I gave up life as I knew it for the possibility of life as it could become. Five years later as a seasoned and serial expatriate, I've lived in four countries on three continents. So far, it's been a wonderful ride!
It’s one of the most memorable quotes from Nora Ephrom’s 1989 classic, When Harry Met Sally. Presented in split screen, the title characters lie in their respective beds during the wee hours one night watching the movie Casablanca and talking on the telephone. While discussing the actress, Ingrid Bergman, Harry explains to Sally that there are two types of women in the world–either high or low maintenance. Bergman, in his opinion, was low maintenance. Inevitably, Sally then asks Harry what kind of woman she is.
“You’re the worst kind,” he says. “You’re high maintenance, but you think you’re low maintenance.”
When I watched the scene for the very first time, it struck a chord. I couldn’t help but wonder whether Harry was describing me too. I never thought of myself as a particularly fussy gal, but, like Sally, I did prefer to have things exactly the way I wanted them. Did this make me high maintenance? I didn’t want to think it was true.
Still, I admit that even in youth my preferences could be a little demanding. For example, on special occasions when my father took the family out to one of those fancy restaurants, I always ordered the most expensive item on the menu. Who would eat chicken nuggets when the carte du jour featured lobster thermidor? Where 10 or 40 years old, certainly not me!
I was also the kid who once, during a family camping trip in Colorado, refused to get out of the station wagon at a national park campground because it didn’t offer what I considered “basic amenities” like a swimming pool and a video arcade. Instead, I sat with the biggest pout on my face and arms crossed until we left the campground. Trust me, it’s been 36 years and I’ve yet to live down the incident.
As a teenager I had my share of grungy years, but, generally speaking, I’ve always preferred party dresses to blue jeans and blonde highlights to my natural, mousey brown hair. I also consider natural-look makeup to be not only the most ridiculous oxymoron, but also a colossal waste of time. Why get made up if you don’t want to look made up?
I’m not sure where the leanings come from. It certainly was not hereditary. Growing up, I never saw a single woman in my family go for a pedicure or facial. So the fact that I regularly go to get my nails buffed and polished only strengthens the opinion that I am the high-maintenance one of the bunch. With years of circumstantial evidence stacked against me, I had finally gotten comfortable with the notion that even though I thought I was low maintenance, like Sally, I was not.
Then, I moved to Singapore.
This country takes the notion of high maintenance to an entirely different level. How high is high, you ask? This small island, which you could cross by car in 45-minutes, boasts five Louis Vuitton stores–three of which sit within 500 meters of each other. It’s so high maintenance that Time magazine once featured a travel article on Singapore and listed “plastic surgery” as number 4 item out of the top ten things to do in while visiting the country. Shockingly, cosmetic procedures ranked below the Chinatown Heritage Center, but before both Haji Lane and the Singapore Flyer.
Yeah, Singapore is a pretty fussy town.
Everyone struts around with perfectly coiffed hair, manicured nails, and their designer bags in tow And that’s just the fellows! People chat about going for Botox and chemical peels as if they were grabbing a cup of coffee. (Not that I wouldn’t consider either procedure when the time comes.) You’d think given my preferences, I’d be completely at home here. But the truth is, I feel a little out of my element. Among my peers and for the first time in as long as I can remember, I am the Granola girl–minus the affinity for cannabis, of course, because it would not only give me premature wrinkles, but also carries a mandatory death penalty in Singapore.
In truth, this new found, low-maintenance status isn’t completely Singapore’s fault. As the years have passed, I’ve grown more comfortable in my imperfect skin. As I’ve gotten older, I haven’t always felt the need to walk out of the house in full make-up. Ask any of my neighbors what I look like when I take Charlie out for a walk in the morning. They will attest that my appearance is positively frightful.
But it’s not only make-up. Name brands no longer hold sway over me. With fewer years until retirement in front of me than behind me, my perspective on designer items has changed. When I see a $2000 Gucci bag, I no longer think about how good it would look over my shoulder. Instead, I channel my inner Suze Orman, think about how much that money would grow in an investment account, and totally “DENY” myself whether I can afford it or not. Fortunately for Singapore merchants, however, my lovely husband never denies me.
In the end, living in on this island makes me realize that Harry was wrong about this Sally. I’m not the worst kind of woman. I am, in fact, the opposite–a low maintenance woman, who only thought she was high maintenance. Although, I’m not sure my new designation sounds any better.