The Arrow

There are no answers; only choices.

Archive for the ‘American culture’ Category

Good Night in the Middle of the Day

Posted by thearrow on July 14, 2011

There are things I still haven’t got used to here and I might never get to the point where they aren’t strange any more. Like saying “Have a good night” when you leave the office, even if it’s three in the afternoon. You have a whole evening ahead of you and yet you hear this “good night” wish. It never fails to throw me off. I almost want to say “I’m not going to bed yet!”

How on earth did this happen? Have Americans always had this weird wish?

Another such thing that even drives me crazy is how empty “How are you?” is as a greeting. No one ever wants an answer; they only acknowledge your presence. I had to adjust to this, though, so now I’m like everyone else, uttering the words and moving on. If people are interested in knowing how you really are doing, they come to you and ask about it. But when you just see each other for the day, that never happens. And it still throws off my expectation that they want an answer because that’s what Romanians do. When they ask “How are you?” they mean it, so you can give them a snapshot of what’s going on with you. In the States the answer is always “great”; nobody ever is not doing great.

Not fair! What if I want to complain about something? 🙂 Although I have to admit I do that very infrequently now. Most Romanians like to complain and I do too, but I’ve changed since I came here. Now I’m just doing great all the time. Ha ha!

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Posted in American culture, cultural differences | Leave a Comment »

To All Abortion Foes Out There

Posted by thearrow on April 9, 2011

This past week, Republicans and Democrats have been in an epic clash over… abortion. Funding for the entire government of the United States hang on the thread of severe spending cuts that were supposed to also defund Planned Parenthood, a leading sexual and reproductive health care provider and advocate, because it also provides abortions, even if no federal dollars pay for those. The Republicans’ argument, strongly supported by the fundamentalist, parochial,  and overall retrograde Tea Partiers, was that any funding for Planned Parenthood would indirectly support its provision of abortions.

The government funding crisis was averted literally two hours before the government was supposed to shut down and Planned Parenthood retained its funding.

You can now see that abortion, my friends, is a major no-no in the Provincial States of America. Even if the right to have one is written into law, social conservatives are working hard at making sure it’s not accessible. It’s the least they can do since they haven’t been able to revert Roe v. Wade.

More recently, “28 states were considering or had already passed” laws banning the provision of abortion by health plans participating in healthcare exchanges to be set up by 2014 to cover low-income people. As usual, the poor get f***ed over. If you’re lucky to have employer-sponsored health insurance, you can get all the abortions you want. You think this kind of insurance is not supported by taxpayer dollars? Think again. Health care insurance provided by employers is a benefit that is not taxed at all. So the federal government doesn’t get any revenue from your benefit, like it does from your wages. Moreover, employers write it off as a business expense.

In some places, Planned Parenthood is the only provider of reproductive health services for low-income women (many without health insurance), helping them get much-needed breast cancer screenings, birth control, testing and treatment for STDs, etc.  Social conservatives were absolutely fine with them not getting anything at all. This would bring those women in a situation not much different from that of Romanian women  during Ceausescu’s regime, when both birth control and abortions were illegal.

Which brings me to my final statement:

If I could, I would force any anti-abortion person in this world to watch 4 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days, a movie about what women had to go through to get an abortion in the insane times of Ceausescu (sometimes much worse than that depicted in the movie). And ask themselves if that’s what they want for their daughters, sisters, and mothers.

Posted in American culture, American Politics | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

My Own Tiger Mom

Posted by thearrow on January 23, 2011

There’s a fierce debate right now in the States on whether a strict parenting approach of the variety described in “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” by Amy Chua (in The Wall Street Journal) has much better long-term results for children. The article is an overview of her just-published book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

Amy Chua describes the highly involved and very rigorous way in which she raised her two daughters, with long music practice hours and endless drilling for any school assignment they didn’t perform at exceptional level. At the same time, she slaps American parents on their wrists for being overly indulgent with their children and being more interested in building their self-esteem with lots of praise but very little to show in the way of results and hard work. A lot of people cringed when reading that she made one of her daughters exercise a piano piece late into the night without any breaks until the kid finally mastered it.

I am sure that, in today’s extremely competitive global economy, Chua’s parenting style is better than the typical American lax parent she describes, although I do think she pushed it to the extreme by not having allowed her daughters to have play dates or watch TV. Her piece created such a stir that it inspired the latest Time magazine cover story, “Tiger Moms: Is Tough Parenting Really the Answer.”

So here I am, to tell the story of my own tiger mom, who raised me in Communist Romania in the 70’s and the 80’s. In March 1977, a very strong earthquake shook the South of Romania and several apartment buildings even collapsed. I was 5 and we were living on the 13th floor (which is actually the equivalent of the 15th floor in the States, including the 13th floor which is usually not counted or marked here) and I remember the wild swings of the building. Among all the things that had fallen off shelves was the black-and-white TV, which had fallen on its head and whose image or reception became spotty after that.  We got over the earthquake, grateful that nobody in our family suffered any loss. But we couldn’t find someone capable of fixing the TV. Scores of repairmen came and went, and our TV was none the better.

Two years later, right before I was going to start first grade, yet another repair man came by to help us. He was a chatty, nice guy, who started talking about his granddaughter and her violin lessons at the music school. My mom became very interested in that and started asking him questions. The school was within walking distance from where we were, so before I knew it, my mom dressed me, left grandma to supervise the repairman, and we went to the music school to see how I could be enrolled in violin classes. She found a piano teacher who tested my musical abilities and enrolled me a few days later. I can’t remember if she ever mentioned the music school before. Of course, she didn’t ask me if I really wanted to go.

So I went. I had two classes every week; I studied the violin each time and once a week I had a music theory class, which was actually quite interesting. The teacher was very demanding, but because she was very nice I worked hard to please her, which resulted in a very good grade at the end of the first year, for the performance that all students had to give on a stage as their final exam. I remember wearing a long, black velvet skirt that my grandma had sewn. I was very nervous and couldn’t get to the middle of the stage. I stopped in front of my parents, who were a little to then side.

In second grade, I became very interested in studying English and my mom didn’t hesitate to hire a tutor. So now, in addition to two days a week in music school, I had one English class a week as well. It all went well until the violin classes started being difficult for me. If you think of it, I didn’t choose to go there. I was only doing what I was being told, but my heart was not in it and I probably couldn’t concentrate enough to get better. So my mom hired a violin tutor so that I could be better in music school! I had one English class, two music school classes, and a private violin class every week in second grade. I was 9 years old.

Towards the third trimester, things started going south. I was burnt out and my violin efforts weren’t going anywhere. I wasn’t a terrible student; just one who didn’t get as far as it was possible. On top of that, my grades were slipping. I had forgotten I had a biology test one day until I actually had to take it. For which, obviously, I got a very low grade. And which was the best reason to end the whole music school affair. My mom finally realized that she heaped way too much on me and I just couldn’t bear it. Being just 9 years old, I couldn’t even articulate what was going on. It hit me only when I realized I had completely forgotten about that test. Thankfully, my mom didn’t insist on me continuing to go to music school and announced me one day, smiling, that I didn’t have to study for the year-end performance and didn’t have to go back the following year. Whew!

When I got to fifth grade, my cousin got me a toy piano that I was playing endlessly, so my parents started to ask me if I wanted a real one. I was hesitant, knowing it’s a much bigger expense than a violin. I really liked playing it, but was I going to stick with it? My mom took that for a yes and, when I came back from  a summer camp, there was a shiny, new upright piano in our living room. On a card, also shiny, my dad had written very proudly, “no teacher.” But when I saw that, I wasn’t sure it was such a good idea. I understood my dad didn’t want another traumatizing experience, but how on earth was I going to learn how to play the piano without a teacher?

So I got a piano tutor in sixth grade. This time I loved it, but the teacher wasn’t demanding enough. We didn’t do enough drills and my hands weren’t too precise, which was frustrating. At the same time, my mom wasn’t pestering me that much about my homework any more. I tended to day dream a lot and goof off before doing my homework at the last minute. In high school I got to the point where I wished she was more demanding.

So I think the Chinese mother model is essentially good as long as it’s not taken to the extreme and as long as parents are consistent but leave room for individuality. Of course, back in Communism, there wasn’t room for anyone’s individuality.

Later edit: I also wish my mom had disregarded my rebellious statements in fifth grade that I hated French and was never going to be able to learn  it, had whacked me over the head to get the bullshit out of it, and hire a tutor. She did want to get one, but I was determined in my rebellion and continued it in school, where I didn’t work hard enough to learn French because I wanted to fulfill my prophecy that it was hard and I wasn’t good at it. What I was rebelling against is not entirely clear to me even today. But who’s the loser now?

Posted in American culture, Romanian Culture | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Compliment of the Day

Posted by thearrow on January 20, 2011

I was walking in my office’s neighborhood when I saw a yellow traffic light and I just crossed the street. I know the traffic lights here by heart because I don’t like to wait and I don’t like being slowed down by crowds. Also, as a biker, I pay extra attention to this kind of stuff. I know exactly when the lights on my route are going to turn yellow, red, or green, because that helps me run red lights safely and get a head start. But that’s a story for another day. This was a one-way street, with cars coming from my left, so there weren’t going to be any surprise turns. I continued to walk on the pedestrian crossing just as cars were coming to a halt because of the red light. Perfect timing.

A guy passes me by and says, “How did you make the traffic stop?”, which, of course, made me laugh.

That’s one of the things I love about DC. You get to have light-hearted, funny exchanges with strangers.

Posted in American culture, fun | 2 Comments »

They Shoot Politicians, Don’t They?

Posted by thearrow on January 10, 2011

By now everyone who listened to the news knows that Arizona Democratic Representative Gabrielle Gifford was shot in the head at a public meeting in an assassination attempt by a mentally unstable guy who had a semi-automatic weapon.

As a European, the simple fact that people can possess guns and that their right to do so is written in the Constitution was something that took some time to get used to. From my limited understanding, people want to be able to defend themselves and hunt. I get that hunting is a big thing in rural parts of America and that, if the right to bear arms is in the Constitution, it must be a huge deal.

What I don’t understand is how a mentally ill person can possess guns legally. Why is it legal to bear concealed weapons? Why is it legal to own semi-automatic weapons? All these just boggle the mind while at the same time scaring the sh*t out of me. I’ve never even seen a real gun in my life (and have no desire for it), and yet I have to consider the possibility that I could be robbed at gun point or that some day a lunatic can walk into my building and start a rampage.

Also, I can’t help but wonder how Sharron Angle, the 2010 Republican nominee for the U.S. senate seat in Nevada, is sleeping these days, after she said during her campaign that people should take “Second-amendment remedies” against the government. As in, use guns to resolve their grievances with it.

And how Sarah Palin is sleeping after having put a map on her Facebook page with shooting targets over the districts of senators and representatives that had voted for the health care reform bill. One of those targets was on Rep. Gifford’s district. A Palin aide defended this after what happened on Sunday.

Can Michelle Bachmann, a Minnesota Rep., look Gifford’s family in the eye and repeat that she wants people “armed and dangerous“?

And I’d also like to know how the National Rifle Association, one of the most powerful lobbies in the country, really feels about this, apart from the otherwise sensible statement they put up on their website (which is really just PR). They’re the ones who advocate for these extremely lax gun laws and fiercely against gun controls. Deep in their hearts, can they feel no responsibility for this?

Yes, the gunman was completely disturbed and there are no clear connections between these examples of hateful rhetoric and his actions, but it’s hard to dismiss the role of right-wing politicians and talking heads in creating an atmosphere conducive to such a disaster. It’s rare that these dots can be connected very directly or obviously but the existence of a loose connection is not a stretch of imagination. It all makes me think of this quote of unknown source but great wisdom:

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

It’s also impossible not to notice that there’s something rotten in Arizona, which has been in the news for some very disturbing pieces of state legislation, from a very anti-immigrant (read anti-Hispanic, racial-profiling) law giving state and local police the right to check people’s legal status if they are stopped for other reasons, to, more recently, denying people on Medicaid (the health program for the poor) life-saving transplants for the sake of budget cuts. At least one patient has already died as a result of this.

Here’s a good, succinct overview of the outlandish and downright mind-boggling things happening there:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/10/us/10arizona.html.

And if you thought that this is it, you might want to read a Time magazine piece on U.S. private militias training just in case Islamists or some other enemy take over the country. Or in case President Obama and the federal government go too far, in their view (which might mean just giving health insurance to at least some of the 50 million people lacking it).

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2022516,00.html

I’m telling you, this country still feels like it’s the Wild Wild West.

Posted in American culture, American Politics | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

I’m a Soul Sister Now

Posted by thearrow on December 17, 2010

Now that it’s wintertime, I get even colder than usual. I sometimes wear a warm, thick scarf in the office even if I already have a turtleneck sweater on. Which concerned two of my older African American colleagues who are very protective of me and who asked me if I’m taking vitamins and supplements. Apparently, getting cold all the time is a sign of iron deficiency. I said I’m not taking any although I know I probably should.

One of them is this very sweet older man (a grandfather) who’s a really wonderful, warm person. “Are you eating your greens?” he asked. “Yes,” I was proud to say. “As a matter of fact, I’m eating collard greens this week.”

At which point the other colleague, a younger woman with a big mouth, dazzling smile, and a great sense of humor, yelled, “She’s a soul sister!” and immediately did a high-five with the guy. I completely cracked up.

Until just a few days before, I had no idea that collard greens are a favorite Southern dish and, therefore, a favorite African American dish. I can’t remember when I ate them the first time and not even how they were cooked, but I liked them. They are what’s called “leafy greens” and, boy, are they leafy! They are these big, thick, hearty leaves of wonderful consistency, that really fill you up. You’d never say you ate just leaves.

I saute them in olive oil with *a lot* of smashed garlic and that’s it. I figured they’re a bit like spinach, spinach goes great with garlic, therefore any other leafy greens go well with garlic. And I was right! I can eat just a plate of greens cooked that way with some bread and have a great dinner.

After relishing my conversion to their greens, my colleagues started to tell me how to cook them. And at the end of our chat, the older guy wished me “Welcome to the family!” 🙂

Posted in American culture | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Thanksgiving Stole My Birthday

Posted by thearrow on November 25, 2010

Seriously. Today is my birthday and everything’s closed. Ever since I came to the States my birthday gets lost in the shuffle, as people are traveling or busy stuffing their turkeys. That I am NOT GRATEFUL FOR. I don’t want to have a day off on my birthday. I want to have the choice of taking it off, but, because I don’t get to celebrate much, having that extra little attention from my coworkers is nice.

Although this year I got their attention in the form of a very original and funny “card.” I will laminate it and keep it forever. That’s my usual, frazzled look at work, on a bad-hair day.

However, to keep things in (my mom’s) perspective, Steve said on Tuesday, thinking that my birthday is on the 24th because Thanksgiving is always on the 25th (huh??), “well, in three hours you’re going to be that much closer to menopause.”

Posted in American culture, fun | Tagged: , | 8 Comments »