Two months ago, I had to read a book I hated and most of my book club enjoyed (apparently the New York Times enjoyed it too so maybe it’s me (or new-yorkers)). It contained paragraphs like this one.
“I read a study once about sleep deprivation. The researchers made cat-sized islands of sand in the middle of a pool of water, then placed very tired cats on top of them. At first, the cats curled up perfectly on the sand and slept, but eventually they’d sprawl out and wake up in water. I can’t remember what they were trying to prove exactly. All I took away was that the cats went crazy.”
(Department of speculation, Jenny Offill)
Then I read another book, which I found pretty awesome (the New York Times too, but also the rest of the world). I thought the following excerpt applied pretty well to the first book…
“You can’t even read American fiction to get a sense of how actual life is lived these days. You read American fiction to learn about dysfunctional white folks doing things that are weird to normal white folks”
(Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
One week ago, I found out about lockdowns.
So a lockdown is a monthly or bi-monthly test practiced by the schools to prepare in case somebody comes in with a machine gun.
The protocol is as follows: all of a sudden, someone screams “lockdown” on the interphone. The teachers run to lock the door. They quickly warn the kids.They switch off the lights. And everybody runs behind the book shelf and stays silent. The classroom cannot be reopened unless the teacher is provided with a series of secret passwords. Therefore usually, the teachers and kids have to stay in the dark for as long as fifteen minutes.
This obviously made me want to cry. Nayla is three. That seems a bit young to find out about mass murder. I shrug, blaming their constant paranoia, but I can’t help feeling a start of panic because – well because it doesn’t seem that unlikely.
A few days later, I talk about lockdowns at Charlotte’s daycare. Her teacher knows: “yes, we do lockdowns here too”. Now I just laugh. How can Charlotte and a bunch of one year-olds keep silent for so long? The teacher explains: “we are locked down in the bathroom (behind Charlotte’s classroom). So we just give them our cell phones to keep them busy, and lots of cookies”.
So for Charlotte, lockdown = free cookies + cell phone = Nirvana.
I guess I have a hint as regards how America manages to create IRA generations….
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.
– The Dog Market (capital letters required): dog psychic, dog coats, and little shoes. Dogdates, dogs playgrounds, serious conversations about dogs, presents for dogs (seen in a catalog: little doggie diapers)
– Available free bibles everywhere
– the fact that everyone calls you “mommy” (and no-one calls your husband “daddy”)
– the fact that trucks look like children’s toys. They seem to be used just like children’s toys too. Flashing lights and fire alarms everywhere. If only Charlotte could drive and use flashlights, she would behave exactly like this.
– your own stupidity of woman who hasn’t used her brain for way too long. When exactly have you become that socially awkward weirdo who makes disgusting sex jokes to someone she barely knows?
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.
I go to a cooking class for kids. My neighbour runs a company that does them and my neighbour is very cool. But this helps me realise that my whole education is probably a gigantic failure.
So I meet Jim’s mom and she tells me about her son. Jim is six months old. He goes to a music class and to a swim class. According to his mom, Jim kind of likes swimming, but his relationship to music is unstable. Sometimes he enjoys it; sometimes he is not really focused. Jim is an unpredictable guy (I suspect his mother also fears he is bipolar, but she mentions nothing about it).
But as Jim’s mom wisely says, “well they have to go to all those classes anyway, otherwise how will they ever develop”?
Abysmal mystery indeed …
You wake up one morning and you realize you’re going to have to create a linkedin account.
You hate the idea, you just HATE to give away so many data because you are a real Snowden fan – you even gave Facebook a false birthday so the big bad Web does not your birthday, yep, you are a true rebel.
But you want the money and the financial autonomy more than you want to be unknown on the internet. So you decide to sign a pact with the devil, basically copy-pasting your resume and sending invites to everyone you know. And you wait.
After one week, nothing happens, except you pretentiously divide your linkedin-friends into type-profiles. (more…)