Today, like everyday and probably like most parents, I arrive late at school, looking odd and unprepared and unsure about what I might have forgotten (Nayla’s panties? my own?)
Today I am unusually late. So with two other unusually late parents (ironically enough, a Russian dad and a Chinese mom*), I get to silently witness what I had not seen yet:
Little children gather around little Nikolas, who is proudly holding the American flag.
And little children, mostly migrants, put their hand on their heart and respectfully pledge as follows: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
* A Chinese mom and a Russian dad would probably have pledged different allegiances when they were kids
So here is a summary of what I learned in terms of behavioural rules (yes, I am thinking shifting to sociology, that bores the hell out of my husband)
So THE thing that puzzled me the most is the “hi how are you”. According to the European rules, this is supposed to be a purely rhetorical question: unless you just lost your mother and you are talking to your best friend, you simply answer “fine, thanks”. Well, not exactly.
Example 1. In the elevator. It is 8:24 precisely. I am fighting with Charlotte so she finally accepts to put her shoes on. Concomitantly I yell at Nayla who just pressed all the buttons. A neighbour (whom I have never met) enters the elevator.
Me (focused on the shoes): hi, how are you?
Her: my dad just died in a car accident in Florida. I have to leave to Florida.
Me (nervous laughter): Oh shit ! ben euh, sorry.
At the beginning, I thought it was just a close encounter of the third kind, with no relationship at all to the US.
After several unwanted stories about miscarriages and disgusting sicknesses, I thought that maybe I looked so nice that people would confide anything to my kind ears.
Turns out people just like to talk to strangers.
I guess I must sound slightly superior, like the typical French who thinks the idea is absurd, but I often find it cool. For example, it allows you to acknowledge that your tiny problems are universal (always more rewarding than simply reading it in Vanity Fair). Plus you also can let off steam. I only done it once: I told one neighbour at the park that I sometimes hated my kids. She seemed to have the same problem. It felt good.
I identified two possible kinds of answers, because sometimes, at 8:24 AM, you have to be straightforward.
Answer 1:hugging. It took me a year, but I have become a master in hugging. Free hug whenever you want.
Answer 2: The “No. Me too!!” rule. Which obviously works better when it is plausible, but honestly, it often is (my kid had a bronchiolitis and I was scared/ my boyfriend is a stupid macho / I also have money-job-couple issues).
Unfortunately, sometimes none of those answers is practicable.
Example 2 (yesterday). An impressive and nice black guy, on the street. “oh you have two girls! how cute! I have four”.
Me (nicely): oh yeah?
Him: yep. But it’s too late to have a boy. You know, I am a Vietnam war veteran. I got all kinds of diseases there, I am heavily handicapped and I suffer diabetes. And of course, I am too old.
Me (nervous laughter): Oh shit ! ben euh, sorry.
So Halloween is really REALLY great. The outfits are beyond extraordinary. I don’t know how long it takes to sew them (or even think about them), but next year there is no way I am not in the parade.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I can ever be as creative as new-yorkers.
1/ I would never have thought about dressing up as mozzarella with all my friends (with filaments of cheese between us). Or if I had, I would never have thought to run a 5k-race dressed like this.
2/ I would never have thought about turning the constraints into a huge creative advantage. Like transform a stroller into Star War’s death star.
3/ best thing ever, animals dressed as other animals (I saw a dog that looked very convincing as a frog).
As nothing is perfect, the feminist in me still suffered: 95% of the little girls are dressed as princesses. Sub top 2: 1/ the unbearable Elsa from Frozen, seen at least 12 times, and Snow White (cost-effective since this is probably the same outfit mommy had, and granny etc since 1937).
Now I have to start sewing Charlotte’s outfit as a french frie cornet for next year (I really saw a burger family, baby as french fries, pregnant mummy as burger and daddy as waiter).
I am very concerned about having no network, so I ask two partners at a (huge) corporate law firm for mentoring. My former boss from Europe introduces me.
Good thing = I get free lunch.
I dropped Nayla at daycare. The weather was hot and Nayla was wearing a dress. I picked up Nayla from daycare. The weather was hotter, and Nayla was wearing a dress and a pair of leggings. I asked why on earth she would need leggings when it is that hot.
I got a logical answer. So we don’t see her legs. I stupidly said that that’s the whole concept of the dress. The teacher explained further “we are going to the park and she goes down the slide, so people can see her panty. That shouldn’t be the case”.
All I could do was stare and say “but euh, she is two!”. The teacher noticed I was apparently dumber than she’d thought, so she explained further “you know, boys look at her panty and they shouldn’t be able to see it. That’s why she has to wear leggings every day. Otherwise it is not decent”.
Apparently, being two is no good excuse. Apparently, you start being a potential sex prey from a very early age (and boys her age apparently could be potential rapists).
I tried to look into whether our daycare is crazy about sex education or whether the problem is wider. Apparently, it’s the whole country and girls do wear ugly leggings under their pretty dresses.
Yesterday, Charlotte moved in her onesie. I almost saw a breast; I wonder whether she’s going to get arrested for incitement to rape.
– The first day, you blink. Right in front of you, two women are wearing a blue TShirt, with a huge and aggressive message “are you free from sin”? They stand across a set-up with the huge mention “Bible crusade”. Nobody except you seems to find it super weird.
– The day you realise the bible crusade thing is actually completely normal (it took me about three months).
– The day you sing at the top of your lungs “New York is cold but I like where I’m living, there’s music on Clinton Street all through evening”.
– The day you naturally say “God bless you” to someone on the street.
– The day you decide you have THE idea for THE new startup: printing New York maps mentioning the locations of famous songs, or movies. The next morning, you wake up realising there is actually no business model behind this so great idea. But you have thought about doing something, that might be a good sign.
– the day you give up with the celsius vs fahrenheit conversion. And you look super concerned when someone mentions his baby’s “101 °F” fever although actually, you have no idea if this is high.
– the day you are craving for a third meal with solely meat, after bacon and eggs for breakfast and a huge Philly steak sandwich for lunch.
– and all the normal days, where you are so bored looking for a job that you end up compiling frantically the tiniest piece of information regarding Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt’s break up (yes, that was a long time ago). And you solemnly declare that you root for Angie.
After a careful observation of my new environment, this is my own personal list of “must haves to adjust to my new aggressive surrounding”.
Yep, I am 100% ready.
I spend time at the park.
I immediately notice that the moms look suspiciously thrilled when they play with their kids.
I then meet a crew of European housewives. They hold either an MBA, or a fancy diploma from a good French university. They all are around 30. They all have two kids, and all of them named Josephine or Edouard. They all wear diamond rings as big as the Ritz. They all seem to hide a gigantic depression under weary smiles and super precise knowledge regarding tae kwon do classes for kids.
– Conclusion 1: I definitely should find a job like right now.
I also meet the first terrifying American women we Europeans are so afraid of. They all have goldy hair graciously fluttering in the wind. They all wear leggings and the same legs as my yoga teacher. They all have pretty 9-month-old daughters who already walk. They all carry yoga mats behind their stroller that looks rather like a caterpillar truck (but a pink-ish version). And worse, they all look nice.
– Conclusion 2: I as well might finish my last European chocolates and binge-watch Watch Men for a while.
You knew it would be cold.
You had seen the pictures of cars covered with snow.
You had read the French newspapers, where every year lazy interns copy-paste the same article entitled “a cold wave hit Big Apple yesterday evening”.
You had listened to people coming back from New York in February and talking about the winter like survivors of a Wolfgang Petersen movie.
You were always shaking your head like a stupid little prick when you heard it was unbearable.
You thought you could survive the winters.
You would find out that the semantics doesn’t lie. The cold does have something to do with being devoured. The cold does bite, sting, penetrate, burn and finally eat you alive.
You would find out that unlike new-yorkers, you did not belong to the superior race of those who can survive the winter. Rightly or wrongly, you would infer that americans are super-humans (or their parkas super-parkas).
For months, the sound of Nayla, almost fainting of cold in her stroller and whining “mom, I am cold” would break your heart. (more…)
Workshop: americanise your CV.
Below, the CV of my daughter Charlotte.
CV1: Charlotte in real life
Nicknames: red, reddy
CV2: Charlotte’s European CV
Diplomas: APGAR test : scored 10 at 0 min, 10 at 10 minutes
Hobbies: Communication through smiles and looks
Miscellaneous: Immunisation record up-to-date (more…)