BRITS VS YANKS: MERRY CHRISTMAS OR HAPPY HOLIDAYS?

The UK is not only winning this debate, but leading the US in the direction both countries are heading.

This is only the second time in 10 years that we are not going home for the holidays.  I can envision Washington and New York decked out with all the lights and window displays and wreaths. Ice skating in Central Park, the massive tree at 50 Rock, the horse carriage rides, the snow, the smell of chestnuts roasting in the street vendors trolleys.   Near the Washington Cathedral, a little round building that looks perfect for a Hobbit called The Herb Cottage, was a favourite stop for my Mom with my sister and I in tow to get ornaments and wreaths and cards. The whole cottage burst with scents of cinnamon and nutmeg spice and a cozy warmth wrapped you up like a blanket.

Very similar to Oxford Street and Regent Street here in London. It’s a festival of lights, with caroling and music and Christmas markets and an enormous “kissing” tree in Covent Garden. Kew Gardens has their Christmas lights walk, a merry-go-round and Santa’s Grotto (there are loads around the city) that transports you to his workshop at the North Pole. It’s a lovely time of year, despite the grey and dark short days.

The similarities don’t end there: although the majority of both populations is Christian (75% polled in 2015 the US, and 64% in 2010 in the UK), they base their foundations on freedom of religion.  And as we know, the US and the UK have been accepting immigrants from all over for centuries now (lest we forget the US is founded on immigrants fleeing religious persecution). Therefore it’s inevitable that we have become a more diverse society — ethnically, culturally AND religiously.

So naturally, somewhere along the way in both countries, there evolved an understanding that not everyone celebrates Christmas.  However, it’s from this starting point that we diverge dramatically.

War on Christmas

In the US for years now there have been issues with saying “Merry Christmas”. The religious right (and Bill O’Reilly and Trump) have called it a “War on Christmas”.  Which is baloney.  As far as I know, no one is trying to ban Christmas – apart from the Burger Meister Meister Burger (you have to have grown up in the US to understand that) . What did start happening is we realised that people who don’t celebrate Christmas sometimes took offence to the greeting. They would have preferred “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Kwanzaa”, so to make things easier, people just started saying “Happy Holidays”.

A growing share of Americans, 52%, say it does not matter to them how they are greeted during the holiday season

This is in line with the way the US culture is on many levels — to be ultra, overly PC about things. Don’t want to hurt or offend! Some people don’t believe in God? Then we should stop saying the “Pledge of Allegiance” to the flag of America in schools (something I grew up with in the 70s). Don’t celebrate Christmas? Then you cannot have a Nativity plays in schools (also something I grew up with).  The stores, ever worried about the all-American dollar, started putting up “Holiday Trees” instead of Christmas trees.  Over time, some religious folks started a rallying cry, claiming they felt they were being stripped of what they saw as foundations of US culture.  But in reality, the diverse culture with its diverse religions was just upholding and honouring the very laws the country was built on: Separation of Church and State.

Separation of Church and State vs. Christian-faith Based UK

In 1802, Thomas Jefferson addressed the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut in a letter saying “I contemplate…that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an

 Whereas the US put into place clearly defined statutes that separate church and state, the UK is based upon the Christian faith.

establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” He is referring to the First Amendment of the Constitution (and Article Six) but he was using the language of Roger Williams, the founder of the first Baptist church in America, who said in 1644 “A hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world”.

Thus, the very separate path our two countries have taken over the past 200+ years is quite basic:  whereas the US put into place clearly defined statutes that separate church and state, the UK is based upon the Christian faith. The Crown is a one-man corporation run by God, so to speak. As the brilliant CGP Grey says, “According to British tradition, all power is vested in God and the Monarch is crowned in a Christian ceremony.” The Head of State is the Queen (the Monarch) and the official religion of Great Britain is Anglicanism.

With this in mind, you would think that the UK would be more religious than the US, right? Not at all, just the opposite. The latest poll and survey in 2017 shows that more than half the UK population say they have no religion at all. And this tracks with the 2015 poll that says the UK is among the least religious countries in the world.

Understanding the Brits

In the UK, religion is just not discussed. It is a very private matter.

After seven years here, I could not tell you what the religion is of the hundreds of people I know well and have befriended. Religion is not discussed, it is not worn on your sleeve (likewise with politics too).  Back in the States, I know the religions of all of my friends — they wear it with pride.  Here, like many things, it is personal.  And often forgotten.  I wouldn’t be surprised if most of my friends don’t practice any faith or religion.  But nearly everyone I know do enjoy the Christmas traditions: the family dinner with roast turkey, the tree, Father Christmas and stockings, etc.  Very little is mentioned about the baby Jesus or the three wise men, but goodness me, try to come between a Brit and their Christmas Panto or Boxing Day! They do so love their traditions, regardless of the meaning or origin.

And that’s the key, there is little or no religious attachment to Christmas for the modern-day Brit. It’s a month of festive feeling, of office parties and heavy drinking.  Everyone here commonly says “Happy holidays” in their heads, but it just comes out as “Happy Christmas”. They are not thinking about going to church, but more likely about days off work, time with family.  You might possibly say that Christmas for the Brits is like Thanksgiving to us.  It’s really that simple.

And they’d be absolutely mortified if they thought they were offending anyone! They’re just bumbling through, wouldn’t think to ask one’s religious beliefs, so they fall back on their go-to.  I suspect the giant Menorah in Trafalgar Square (which was centre-stage in a beautiful Hanukkah celebration last night with Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan) is a reaction to someone in the US telling them they might be offending people.

images-1

I’m not trying to be flip, but this is a country with less than 10% of its population going to church. To them, it’s not about faith or religion. Offices still have “Christmas parties” and stores have “Christmas sales” — it’s just an excuse for a drink and a bargain. The underlying meaning is whatever you, personally, put on it.  I have friends who have said “Happy Hanukkah” to me and Muslim family members who put up Christmas trees.  We all can and should celebrate whatever belief we subscribe to, the more the merrier. You are pagan and celebrating the Winter Solstice? Go for it! Atheist and expecting “Happy holidays”? You got it. A Kwanzaa feast? Most excellent. Those winter naked people who jump in freezing cold water? Well, if that’s your thing…The important takeaway is to be inclusive.

When I first arrived here, after years of the Political Correctness in the US,  I was shocked with all the overt Christianity: our daughter’s primary school doing a Nativity play and an Easter bonnet parade. It made me very uncomfortable. But now that I get the lack of religious meaning attached, I find it’s quite nice to retain some fun traditions that I remember growing up. There’s an added bonus as well in today’s inclusive world: in both primary and secondary schools children here have religion classes where they learn about Hinduism and Islam and Judaism – even Zoroastrianism.

And I think the US is following suit.  A Pew study from 2017, reports:

“As the long-simmering debates continue over how American society should commemorate the Christmas holiday,..a survey finds that most U.S. adults believe the religious aspects of Christmas are emphasised less now than in the past – even as relatively few Americans are bothered by the trend. In addition, a declining majority says religious displays such as nativity scenes should be allowed on government property. And compared with five years ago, a growing share of Americans (52%) say it does not matter to them how they are greeted in stores and businesses during the holiday season – whether with “merry Christmas” or a less-religious greeting like “happy holidays”.

So let me end by saying Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! Whatever you celebrate, may peace and joy be with you this holiday season.

A NEW ERA ON SEXUAL HARASSMENT CULTURE & POLICIES

I couldn’t be happier that Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2017 is The Silence Breakers :

_99083977_mediaitem99083976

The time is now to make change in both societal norms and corporate policies. But this is not something only women can do. Far from it, it must be fostered from men just as much — if not more. Together we can all step up to the table to discuss change in the culture and society.  Except for those very brave few, many of us – myself included – were complicit in our actions (or non-actions) regarding sexual harassment. And we are at a moment where the momentum has shifted dramatically so we must take advantage and not lose the drive and focus we rarely get.

Today, I am part of an organisation who made an announcement with the hopes to truly find a better way forward for the news industry.  Here is our website (and the goals we have laid out):

IMG_2713.jpg

We are still in nascent stages and will continue to grow and prioritise our goals and adapt to new directions. But beyond the above, and what’s mentioned here in the AP article today, here’s what I see as important to this cause:

  1. STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: We banded together to find concrete solutions and ways to move forward with effectiveness.
  2. STUDY: We hope — through a 6-month comprehensive, transparent, wide-reaching study — to be able to provide a blueprint that will be the foundation moving forward. This study will analyse the sexual harassment policies and culture within various media organisations.
  3. INCLUSIVENESS: We sincerely expect to do this study with the support and access from various titans of the media industry — the networks themselves and the people at the helms. But it’s important that an independent organisation like ourselves, working outside the system  and hierarchy, provide solutions and building blocks.
  4. RESOURCES: We want to provide a one-stop haven for anyone working in the media to be able to come to our website and see what their legal rights are, what support networks are out there, what counselling is available, what each company’s organisational sexual harassment policies are, what each network provides through it’s internal structure and reporting systems.
  5. LEGAL RIGHTS & LAWS: Knowledge and understanding of one’s legal rights is important.  We hope to provide sources or point people in the right direction to understand state and federal laws regarding sexual harassment.
  6. TRUST: Trust has been a big issue with sexual harassment. One of two scenarios happened in the past: either men and women came forward because they TRUSTED their organisations to protect them and TRUSTED them to help seek justice, only to find that their organisations let them down in the worst way.  Not only did they not protect them, they protected the aggressor and the victims were left to defend themselves. Or the second scenario: men and women didn’t trust the system to work for them and, fearing for their careers and advancement and being ostracised, they kept quiet. For far too long. We need to rebuild trust.
  7. DESTIGMATIZE: We must work with all of society and within organisations to destigmatize the role of the victim coming forward in sexual harassment cases.  Police officers countrywide will tell you this is still a problem within the courts as well as on the streets. As we have done on our school yards, so should we do in the workplace. The moment that a child comes forward with a claim of bullying, they are to be believed until the case is investigated. More often than not, school policy is to remove the bully at once, protecting the victim and the environment around them. We must adapt this attitude and policy for our offices.
  8. NEED FOR CLARITY: A majority of men (and women) are the good guys. However, many relationships and marriages are commenced and built within the workplace. We need a better and more clear understanding of the rules and rights within the workplace for dating, for relationships, for male-female co-existence where no one party is feeling uncomfortable. This is a grey area as many in the workplace are either above or below each other within the hierarchy, so there must be some clear policies in how to handle this.
  9. MEN: We absolutely need men to help us in our endeavours and goals for Press Forward. Having their input will be crucial to getting this right!
  10. REPORTABLE/PUBLISHABLE SOLUTIONS: We hope at the end of this we will have a positive outcome to the pain this past year has caused so many.  If, at the end of the day, we can feel part of a concrete solution that will stand as the gold standard by which others can build upon, we will have served a good purpose and fulfilled a need.

 

TAKE MEGHAN MARKLE’S (AND MY) LIFE IN THE UK TEST!

Dearest Meghan,

Congratulations on your first official week here in the UK! As the soon-to-be bride of our favourite royal you’ve seamlessly settled in to your role as a champion of his charities up in Nottingham. Hopefully you will continue supporting your own charitable work, but understand first step is all about fitting in here.  And your style!! Wow! It’s already being called “The Meghan Effect”. The handbag you wore sold out in minutes (Strathberry) as did the trench coat you wore for that first outing. So, well done, you! No faux pas, fashion or otherwise!

Next up, however, is the “Life in the UK” test. I understand from the Palace that you will be taking the steps all Americans take (no special treatment for you! How egalitarian!) and that means you are now transitioning from your Visa to the wonderfully British moniker called “ILR”.  ILR means – and I kid you not – Indefinite Leave to Remain. Think about that. Cocktail party fodder: ‘Are you a British citizen yet?’ ‘No, but I do have Indefinite Leave to Remain!!’ Ahh, er, hmm. Why not just say “Stay”?

Anyway, in order to get ILR, you have to pass the Life in the UK Test. They have changed it since I took it in 2013 and you should be thankful! It used to be something like 40 or 50 questions out of a possible 1500 questions and you had to get at least 75% right.  It was insanely hard. Questions like:

TEST #1 (OLD TEST, 2013)

  1. What percentage of all ethnic minorities (living in the UK) live in the London area?
  2. What is a quango?
  3. In the UK, the number of children and young people under the age of 19 yrs old is A) 13 mill B) 15 mill C) 17 mill or D) 19 mill.
  4. Which service does income tax NOT pay for? A) roads B) rubbish collection C) Education D) Police
  5. Scotland has their own bank notes. Are they valid to be used anywhere in the UK?
  6. What percentage of the UK population lives in Wales?
  7. TRUE or FALSE: During the 1950s, the there was an immigration shortage and the UK recruited West Indies migrants to come drive buses.
  8. TRUE or FALSE: The Queen is the Head of State of the United Kingdom.
  9. How many seats does the UK hold in the European Parliament (MEP’s)?
  10. Information about training opportunities can be found at which TWO of the following? A) your local college B) LearnDirect C) The Home Office D) the post office

*(ANSWERS TO ALL TESTS BELOW)

There was a disproportionate amount of questions (IMHO) on job centres, trade unions,  population statistics and the Welch education system, but perhaps that’s why they changed it. Now, there are online tests that include questions like (you must get 15 out of 20 right to pass):

TEST #2 (NEW TEST, 2017)

  1. When did Britain become permanently separated from the continent by the Channel? A) 50,000 yrs ago B) 10,000 yrs ago C) 15,000 yrs ago D) 18,000 yrs ago
  2. Who was reigning in Britain when Wales became formally united with England by the Act for the Government of Wales? A) Elizabeth I B) Henry VII C) Henry VIII D) James I
  3. Which flag has a diagonal red cross on a white background? A) Cross of St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland B) cross of St. David, patron saint of Wales C) cross of St. George, patron saint of England D) cross of St. Andrew, patron saint of Scotland
  4. When did the War of Roses start? A) 1462 B) 1478 C) 1455 D) 1388
  5. How many members does the Scottish Parliament have? A) 60 B) 90 C) 129 D) 120
  6. TRUE or FALSE: Pool and darts are traditional pub games
  7. Which British sportsman won 5 consecutive gold medals at the Olympic Games in the rowing category? A) Christopher Dean B) Sir Chris Hoy C) Sir Steve Redgrave D) Bradley Wiggins
  8. When did the UK join the EEC (European Economic Community)? A) 1963 B) 1957 C) 1973 D) 1977
  9. Which court deals with the most serious cases of children aged 10 to 17 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland? A) Youth Court B) High Court C) Magistrates’ Court D) Crown Court
  10. What is the name of the best preserved prehistoric village in northern Europe and which traces its origin back to the Stone Age? A) Skara Brae B) Maiden C) Bayeux D) Stonehenge
  11. When was the National Trust founded? A) 1890 B) 1895 C) 1980 D) 1910
  12. After the Black Death, new social classes appeared in England, including owners of large areas of land known as: A) Clans B) Nobility C) Gentry D) Judiciary
  13. Which of the following operas was written by Gilbert and Sullivan? A) Cats B) The Mikado C) The Mousetrap D) The Phantom of the Opera
  14. Who was the first English Prime Minister? A) Admiral Nelson B) Oliver Cromwell C) Henry Pelham D) Sir Robert Walpole
  15. How old do you need to be to apply for a free TV license? A) over 70 B) over 60 C) over 75 D) over 65
  16. Which British sportswoman won two gold medals for running in the 2004 Olympic Games? A) Dame Kelly Holmes B) Dame Ellen MacArthur C) Jessica Ennis-Hill D) Jayne Torvill
  17. What percentage of the total British population is located in England alone? A) 84% B) 79% C) 58% D) 60%
  18. Which court deals with cases involving personal injury, family matters, breaches of contract and divorce in England and Wales? A) Crown Court B) High Court C) County Courts D) Sheriff Court
  19. In which period did British film studios flourish? A) 1940s B) 1950s C) 1930s D) 1920s
  20. Where was the first tennis club founded? A) Brixton B) St Andrews C) Haywards Heath D) Leamington Spa

So much easier, right? 🙂 But you are a smart cookie.  You went to Northwestern, you’ll do fine!

ADVICE: LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES

images-6

My advice: Don’t do what I did. I sorta took it for granted that it would be a piece of cake. Most people going in there are refugees or immigrants who have scraped and scrabbled to get here. English isn’t even their first language! I was cocky – how hard could this be? There were about 20 of us in the waiting room and the ones who were cramming, noses in their books, until the very last minute were all the Eastern Europeans and the Asians (Chinese and Indians, mostly). The ones sitting back with arrogance and a yawn were us Americans, Canadians, Aussies, and New Zealanders.

What I did find somewhat ironic was when I went to take the exam, they give you a list of test centres closest to your address. For me, this was the Iranian Association in Hammersmith. Yes, I was taking a Life in the UK test at the Iranian Centre (?). I wasn’t entirely sure it was official — especially when i pulled up to a little run-down, nondescript store front on King’s Street in Hammersmith.

As we were about to be called, an Asian woman turned to me in broken English and asked “What day is St. David’s Day?” I replied, very self-assuredly and probably somewhat patronising, “Oh, I don’t think we need to know the exact date. We just need to know that St. Andrew is for the Scottish, St. David is for the Welch, St. George is for the English and St. Patrick is for the Irish.” “No, we need to know dates!” she said very frenetically, and started rifling through her book. I started to sweat. I hadn’t learned that! I started consulting my book too. March 1st for David, November 30th for Andrew, April 23rd for George and of course, because of my Boston roots, I already knew St. Patrick’s Day of March 17th.

The exam was quick and multiple choice or True False (and yes, there was a question about St. George’s Day). Once finished, you wait in the waiting room for them to call you into a glass-fronted office where you can all watch as they either hand you a certificate or they don’t.  I quickly called my husband “Can you use Scottish money in London?” “In Wales, do schools follow the Welch National Curriculum or do they have the same curriculum as England?” “Does the Queen appoint Life Peers or does the Prime Minister? Or does he advise her to do it and then she does it?” I was panicking. I watched as two Aussies – a boyfriend/girlfriend team who showed up with no books to hand – went in together and they both got rejected, came out looking rather sheepish.  Damnit! I should have studied more!

Needless to say, I did pass, but probably just barely. I know I got at least 4 or 5 questions wrong, so I was borderline.  So DO NOT do what I did. Study! Take it seriously! And then you’ll be on to learning how to drive on the wrong side of the road!! Another outrageously hard test here in the UK, which many people fail MANY times (there’s a story of a woman who has failed 90 times!). Perhaps, as you are going to be a Royal and all, you might not need it. But still, I shall guide you through.

 

ANSWERS:

OLD TEST: 1. 45% 2. non-departmental public bodies carrying out functions on behalf of the public 3. B. 4. B. 5. YES 6. 5% 7. TRUE 8. TRUE 9. 78 seats 10. A. and B.

NEW TEST: 1) B. 2) C. 3) A. 4) C. 5) C. 6) TRUE 7) C. 8) C. 9) D. 10) A. 11) B. 12) C. 13) B. 14) D. 15) C. 16) A. 17) A. 18) C. 19) C. 20) D.

 

MEGHAN MARKLE TOP 10 LIST: DO’S & DON’T’S

Dearest Meghan, Congrats! I know you have a lot on your plate today.  You don’t want to make a dog’s breakfast of this royal photo shoot this afternoon, hence I’m sure you are quite quite busy! However, if and when you’ve got a few minutes, here are some helpful tips for adjusting to life in the UK. Transplanted from the US myself for 7 years, and being married to a Brit for nearly 17 years, I thought I could be of some help. So if you need any, just get on the dog (cockney rhyming slang that Harry may or may not use (?). Translation: dog and bone = phone) and we can talk.

  1. Learn the difference between the geopolitical terms U.K, Great Britain and England. Most Americans don’t know what separates one from the other. Do the Brits? It’s so confusing!  And where do Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland fall? Learn all these! Be very careful what you call the Scottish (they’d be offended if you said they were British, even though the Welsh and the Scots come under the “British” heading technically). There is no better video to untangle all this than this excellent explainer that I used to show my American university students studying here in the U.K.
  2. When wearing a skirt at a garden party and it’s rather chilly, do not say to The Queen “I should have worn pants today”. This will be taken to mean you have decided to forego all undergarments and are going commando. Pants = Underwear. Trousers = Pants. Likewise, if anyone asks you at the wedding “How’s yer father?”, they are NOT inquiring as to the health or status of your Dad, in any way, shape or form.  And do not ask anyone else about their father. In this strange context, it is euphemistically referring to sexual intercourse and your sex life.
  3. BARKSHIRE (or as the Brits say BAHKSHER) and BERKSHIRE are NOT two different counties outside of London. They are, in fact, the same county! Similarly, with DARBYSHIRE and DERBYSHIRE, BARCLAY Square is Berkeley Square, etc. The vowels are what really mess us up here. And the R’s or lack of them. And just when we think we’ll be the same (i.e. Pall Mall, we Americans say it with long A’s. Surely they will too?), they go and do a reverse switch on us (and use short A’s: Pal Mal)! And then there’s just the weird pronunciations like Leicester is Lester, and Cockburn is Coburn and Chiswick is Chissick.
  4. Forget the word VERY and replace it with QUITE. “Very good polo-playing, Harry!” becomes “Quite good polo-playing”. In fact, remove ALL hyperbole from your lexicon and replace it with very subdued tones. “That was a super awesome ballet we saw!” Becomes “It was really rather good.” Or “You did such a great job on that speech! You nailed it!” becomes “Not bad. Well done.” I’ve already posted, but there’s an excellent explainer of what the British mean and say here. It’s a mine-field!
  5. You can fancy a pizza or fancy going to a movie, but do NOT fancy anyone other than Harry. Fancy can be used for many things but for people, it’s your Significant Other.
  6. Rent the Railway Children. It’s actually not a very good movie, and totally dated, but these crazy Brits absolutely LOVE it. They can quote from it, remember every actor in it (Jenny Agutter gets particular mention from men), and you offend their national pride if you say you don’t like it.
  7. The Importance of Tea: I’ve written about this before, but it’s a cultural staple that runs the generations. It’s in every office, home, school and very likely, the palace. If there is EVER a break in any conversation, some Brit will likely use tea as a way of dealing with awkward silences. If you are sitting with Charles and Camilla and running out of things to say, throw in “Fancy a cuppa?” and then signal for the butler to bring you all some tea. It’s also their go-to at trying moments. There’s a wonderful comedy skit where a family is gathered round the radio listening to Neville Chamberlin make the sobering announcement that Britain has entered into war with Germany (World War II) after which there is a silence and then the Grandad says “Cuppa tea, anyone?”. It’s brill.
  8. Land of Backwards Doors: It takes some getting used to. After the Cocoanut Grove Fire in Boston in 1942, major changes were made to building codes all across the US to make sure that all doors in public spaces opened outwards. This means office buildings, coffee shops, sports centers, grocery stores, houses, gas stations, etc. Here, there are no such codes and therefore you often go SLAMMING into doors because your mind is telling you they will go one way and they go the other. Don’t know the palace set up, but just be aware!
  9. Vernacular/Lingo: So much to learn!! Brill for brilliant. Dog’s breakfast, cock up, toad in the hole, spend a penny, blimey, crikey, etc. Likewise, they have no idea what “khakis” are – never heard of the word. And Fall means when someone actually takes a tumble. It does not mean a season of the year. Autumn is what we are in right now.  And, Will and Kate might giggle when you say “Guys, up ahead past the median, near that private school and past the grocery store, can we pull over so I can hop out on the sidewalk and then you can pop the trunk please? Gotta get my umbrella.” Translation: “Mates, once past the central reservation, near that public school and past the supermarket, could we please pull up so I can step out onto the pavement and open the boot? I would like to get my brelly.” Two nations definitely separated by a common language, as George Bernard Shaw said. By the way, they say BERNerd, not Bern-ARD.
  10. Pantomime: A lot like the Railway Children. It’s a cultural thing that is sorta lost on Americans but a huge part of Christmas, so you may be seeing one soon with the family. I’ve tried to explain it to Americans for years and it never comes out right: OK, it’s this play where they take a children’s fairy tale and sorta tart it up and mix it up. The lead female characters are always played by men, and vise-versa. “So it’s for kids?” Well, yes and no. Also for adults as there is some nuanced humour that goes over the heads of the kids. “So it’s a comedy?” Yes, but not like you think. It’s usually really bad jokes and slapstick. And lots of talking back and forth to the audience in a very silly way. Actor: Oh, yes I did!! Audience: Oh, no you didn’t! and that goes on for a while. It really doesn’t translate well, and Americans go in with all the wrong expectations, but it’s actually crackin’ good fun!

So, there you have it! Just a beginning cheat sheet for you.  And yay for another royal wedding! I think we Americans love the royals way more than Brits do. So we are all rooting for you to settle in nicely. It’s a lovely lovely place, this little island, and I’m absolutely chuffed you are coming over. Gobsmacked, in fact. Fabulous news. I truly hope the Brits will welcome you as I do. And congratulations again! Many secretly say they think Harry is the best royal, so well done, you!

images-2

Do NOT have difficult conversations on Fridays!

I’ve found that Friday’s are the hardest day of the week interpersonally. We are all tired. We’ve had a long week. We are looking forward to the weekend to catch up on sleep or relax. But with work, kids, friends and my husband, I am at my lowest emotionally. I am grumpy. I am short with people. Or even on the rare occasion I’m not, then they are.

An old boss at Nightline gave me the best advice ever: he said never have tough conversations with colleagues or bosses on Thursdays or Fridays. You are less understanding, less forgiving. Most office arguments occur at the end of the week. Have a gripe? Wait until Monday. Need to tell a subordinate they are not performing well? Give it the weekend.  I looked back at all the difficult conversations I had had that DIDN’T go well, and damnit, he was right.

At home, it’s the same. All my arguments with my husband are usually Thursday or Friday when we’re both tired and don’t have anything left in the tank to deal with each other. And with kids, my fuse is short and many times I didn’t know it until I looked back later and saw that I wasn’t myself.

The Meltdown

One Friday I had to pick our daughter up from pre-school. We had just moved back from South Africa and everything was topsy-turvy. Our sea shipment hadn’t even arrived yet so we were living out of boxes. We were having a dinner party for 7 and I had to get home to cook and prepare. And yes! We got a flat tire on the way home so I pulled into Wagshall’s Deli where there is a gas station to get it fixed while I did some quick shopping for the party. Then my husband rang while I was picking up some cheeses to say the dinner had gone from 7 to 11 people, and that won’t be a problem right? At 3 PM he tells me this! Sigh. I get more cheeses and head to the cash register when it all kicked off. The 4-yr-old Child wanted a Diet Coke and I told her no (of course). She went into a full-on tantrum. It was Exorcist-child worthy. Complete raging melt-down (see? She was tired, too, at week’s end, but did i realise that? Noooo….I was just thinking about the car and my dinner party).

images-1

I gathered up the groceries,  got to the counter to pay, but while doing so, she had grabbed a bag of potato chips off the rack nearby. Not the small ones — no, she went for the American Extra Large Supersize bag of potato chips — almost as big as she. Glaring at me the whole time with an evil look of defiance, she plopped them on the floor and ever so quickly sat on them with gusto. The air-tight bag burst and potato chips went flying everywhere. I was trying to hold onto a wriggling, arms and legs flailing, strong 4-yr-old but it was impossible with my oversized purse and 3 bags of groceries. I withered, looked at the horrified clerk at the till and said “Add that on my bill please”.  By the time we got out of the shop, she’d done it again.

On the sidewalk, I let her just writhe on the ground as there wasn’t much I could do to control her. She was pinwheeling around on her side, kicking and screaming.  Looked across to the gas station to see the car up on the hydraulic getting its tire changed, and sighed again. A woman came out of the dry cleaners next door, saw the Exorcist child, stepped delicately over her, gave me a look for sympathy and camaraderie and said, “Been there, done that.” I loved her. She was my saviour.

images-5

Then as quickly as it came, it stopped. The car was fixed, I buckled her into her car seat and as we drove off she exclaimed “I’m done now, Mommy. All fine.” Of course, I was seething at this point. It had been 45 minutes of Crazy Tantrum Child. Everyone and their grandmother within 3 miles probably heard her.  My herculean embarrassment had been building up since the deli and all the “Bad Mother” stares I got, and continued as I was trying to pay for the car. I didn’t realise how angry I was. At home, I had a terrible headache and got out some frozen peas to put on my forehead.  I can’t remember what it was that triggered it, but we started up again.  She was really testing my patience and, while I was putting the groceries away, she grabbed a handful of frozen peas in her little hands and brought her arm back in the baseball throw position.  Very slowly and carefully I said, “I need to tell you that if you throw those peas, Child, there will be consequences.  I need you to understand that.” The arm came down. It was a perfect pitch. Peas flew everywhere through 3 rooms.

My rage erupted. I sent her up to her room for a “time-out” as she had melted down again.  But as I look back now, so had I.  It was 5 PM and 11 people were coming in two and a half hours. I called my husband and said get home right now. I need help. I did NOT trust myself to deal with her. As he came in the door, I was cooking and things had gone quiet upstairs. Before heading upstairs to Child, he sweetly pulled a pea from my hair and soothingly offered to pour me a glass of wine, to which I (very rare) said no. I really didn’t trust myself to start drinking because I was worried I’d never stop.  He went up to deal with her and calmed us all down. By the time guests arrived, she was fine, I was a bit fragile and shaken, but we recovered for a lovely evening.

But it wasn’t until months later that I realised how these events unfolded. The stress of a long, busy week, arriving back into the country with no furniture and new routines and environment, a dinner party exploding in size, a tired child, a tired mommy, a flat tire, frozen peas in every corner of the house, all those things contributed to the bad karma.  But I can’t shake the feeling that – would this have happened on a Monday morning, for example – I might have been a little more patient, a little less tired, had a little more energy to deal with her. Or a little more clarity to see the stress mounting at my door.

So, best advice that’s stayed with me for years: Do NOT make any harsh decisions on Fridays. Do NOT have any difficult conversations. Wait. Give yourself until Monday and if you still feel the same, then you can act — but likely you will be more clear-headed about what it is you are angry or frustrated or upset about.

 

EXPLAINING THANKSGIVING TO FOREIGNERS

It’s not just about the Pilgrims and the Native American Indians.  Not just about the turkey or the pumpkin pie or the cranberries.  Unless you grew up with the Thanksgiving ritual, or unless you lived here in the US for a while,  it’s really hard to explain the full meaning or experience of it. It’s stressful. It’s peaceful. It’s giving thanks. It’s being with loved ones. It’s full-blown family arguments. It’s high expectations. It’s low expectations. It’s no expectations.  It’s a lot of things but as a society, in the end, we share a love of the Thanksgiving holiday that is second only to Christmas consistently in polls. Here’s my take on why.

For a quick history of the origin of Thanksgiving, here’s a little video from National Geographic that lays it out in 35 seconds.

But to me, it’s the mass migration — a pilgrimage — that we take no matter how gruelling.  And it’s a holiday with no religion attached. It’s family – in whatever shape or form that comes in. It’s a time to have fun but also to reflect and appreciate your life and those around you.  It’s the simple basics: Love, family, friends, community and thankfulness. And traffic. Happy Thanksgiving, all!

THE TRAVEL: Nearly 51 million people hit the roads the day before Thanksgiving (yesterday), travelling 50 miles or more, with more than 45 million of those in their cars – making it the busiest travel day of the year in the US.  Another estimated 28.5 million people will fly between the weekend before and the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

VIDEO-World_s-Worst-Traffic-Jam-Caught-On-Camera-_Thanksgiving-2016

I will try to put this into context: That’s 80 million people travelling around the country. Imagine the WHOLE of the United Kingdom getting up, walking out their doors and driving up and down the M-1, the M-2, the M-3 and the M-25 for a day. Granted the US is far bigger geographically, but most of the population lives on the two coasts. The middle of the country has enormous states that are scarcely populated. For example, Wyoming is about the same size as the U.K. geographically, but has only 585,501 people (2016). And although the population moving around is less than a third of the total population of the US, that movement is concentrated the coasts and the city hubs. Plus, public transport is nearly non-existent. Brits are always confounded by the lack of public transport, but with a country this big, it’s difficult. And then there’s the obsessive American car culture. Try to break Americans of that bad habit.

Air and road travel during Thanksgiving is a nightmare. One Thanksgiving, with the whole family (including 2 dogs, a cat and a goldfish) crammed in the wood-paneled Country Squire station wagon, we were going back home to Connecticut from Washington D.C. Normally a 6-hour drive, we were at a stand-still on the George Washington Bridge in NYC with the other millions trying to get home. The 11-year-old me told my Dad how much I loved that moment: “We’re all part of something bigger, Dad! All these people are doing the same thing as we. How cool! We are in this together! It’s so cosmic!” It was my first realisation of being part of a mass movement.  I was electrified, sitting there staring at the toll booths up ahead that never got closer.  My Dad gripped the steering wheel tighter, knuckles white, while he maintained patience and calm, but after 10 hours on the road, I’m sure he poured himself a hefty Scotch when we finally arrived home.

screen-shot-2015-11-05-at-11-03-14-am

NO RELIGION: At ABC News/Nightline, we often bartered our holidays. While you are sitting at home, sipping your lovely cuppa tea, someone is making sure you don’t have a blank screen when you turn on the telly.  The news never stops — newsrooms are staffed day and night — so working with a diverse group helped. “I’ll take your Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur if you can take my Christmas?” or “I’ve got you covered for Ramadan and Eid if you wouldn’t mind taking Easter?”

But the one holiday no one wanted to trade was Thanksgiving. This is an all-inclusive, religion-free celebration.  Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, agnostics, you name it.  Religion being such a contentious issue today in America, this is a very welcome relief.  And ironic, too, given the roots of America’s beginnings by European settlers, eh? But by removing the religious aspect, you take away unnecessary distractions and pressure, allowing all to share in celebrating. [I am setting aside for now the issue of the rightfully bitter Native Americans, who use Thanksgiving as a day of mourning]. At ABC, I ended up taking Thanksgiving because my travel time was a breezy 20 minutes heading up a very empty Wisconsin Avenue on Thanksgiving morning.

NO COMMERCIALISM: Apart from food presented on a typical heaving Thanksgiving dinner table – the turkey, the cranberry sauce, the cornbread, and the pumpkin pie – there is very little to no commercialism attached to the DAY ITSELF.  There are some school plays and pageants, and of course, there is the spectacular Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with all the floats and balloons, but there are no presents to be expected. So there’s no pressure for buying and gifting. It’s just about being at home, hanging out with your peeps.  There are college football games on TV and the advertisements. And of course there’s Black Friday which is the day AFTER Thanksgiving and that’s the most heinous, revolting display of consumerism I’ve ever seen, but besides all that, there’s no…OK, I might have to rephrase that.

images-4

FAMILY: There are so many meanings to ‘family’ these days. This could be your work mates, your core group of friends from university, your community, or your actual family — both as a unit or extended. But Thanksgiving means sharing a meal – a day – with family, in whatever form that takes.

Most people try to go to their family homes for Thanksgiving — where they grew up.  This is what leads to the mass travel. You live in DC but your home is San Francisco.  You go to school in Texas, but home is Boston.  As you can see, the idea of getting “home” ain’t so easy for us.  Even on a really bad day of traffic, you can get from London to Leeds in about 5 hours.  To go from Atlanta to Cleveland would be a 10-hour drive on a good day.

Thanksgiving is always the 4th Thursday in November and the Wednesday before is considered a half-day in many offices and schools.  By also taking off the Friday after Thanksgiving (it’s actually not a holiday in many companies), the holiday becomes a 5-day break, leaving on Wednesday to travel and returning on Sunday.

Over time, it’s morphed.  Americans don’t get very much vacation time (the average is 10 paid vacation days for the American worker), so finding ways to stretch this holiday is key. As the Wednesday-Sunday travel got too popular, another ritual is to take off Monday and Tuesday and make a week out of it, thereby having 9 full days vacation, when only having to take 2.5 days off from work. Even as a university student in Boston, I would arrange my class schedule so that I could leave either Monday night or latest Tuesday to capitalise on as many home-cooked meals as I could.

crowded-airport

My point in all of this is that we will do whatever it takes to be home — with family and friends — in time for Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday (today).  It’s a ritual that we’ve grown up with, embedded in our collective memories. As our families change and grow or as we move apart (or overseas), the day never loses its importance and meaning.

GIVING THANKS: It’s a time to be grateful for what you have. It’s a time to slow down long enough to appreciate the little things. To be together as a family and be able to look around the dining room table and know that yes, this is where I’m supposed to be. There might be absent places. Or there might be mental stress or financial troubles. There could be sadness and loneliness or illness. There could be loves lost, or anger simmering between couples.  There could be political differences or moral stand-offs.

thanksgiving-table.jpg

But today, at this table, those are all put into perspective.  Today, we celebrate what is good. We look at the glass half full and we see what we have, not what we don’t have.  Of course, we must manage expectations and keep reality front and centre. There is no perfect family. And there is no perfect Thanksgiving. But we remind ourselves of our fortunes — whether it’s as small as being able to pay off a parking ticket or as large as paying off a student loan.  Being thankful for your pet hamster or your beloved family dog. Being grateful that you had the opportunity to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all. Remembering loved ones who are no longer with us and sharing their memories with those that never met them.  Hearing a story, telling a story, playing card games, eating too much, going for a run, participating in a touch football game, watching a movie, reading a book, playing charades, volunteering in a local shelter, helping a neighbour, inviting in a friend who has nowhere to go, walking with pride in a Thanksgiving Day parade.  At the end of all that, gathering at Thanksgiving tables all across the US today, people are doing exactly that – giving thanks for all that they have.

And then it’s back to the traffic.

 

 

 

 

UNDERSTANDING THE BRITS

IN THE BEGINNING…

The cultural chasm was pretty obvious from the very start. Towards the end of 1998, my husband and I met in DC while I was a producer at ABC News/Nightline and he was an economist at the IMF (International Monetary Fund). The accent for me – the American – was a definite turn on (since that time, my husband has admitted to ‘turning it up’ a notch as he found saying literally anything with a British accent at a party would immediately leave him surrounded by admiring and flirty women within earshot. Think scene from the movie Love Actually).

Back then, I had the best job in the world with the best team as a producer for Ted Koppel and Nightline, interviewing world leaders, celebrities and the average Joe Citizen, bringing issues that made a difference to the public eye.  We were usually on a plane to go cover a story or in the editing room cutting pieces to make air, so I had very little social life.  And given Nightline went on the air after the local news, many nights I didn’t leave the office until midnight.  When I did have the opportunity, most D.C. men I encountered were too self-involved and politically ambitious to see beyond their puffed up ego. The rest either wanted trophy wives while others had no backbone whatsoever.

Lesson: You can fancy pizza or a movie, but do not fancy anyone other than your boyfriend!

Yes, it was rare to walk into a Christmas party and find this handsome, tall, British rower & economist who was refreshingly honest when I peppered him with my standard questions that would suss out what kind of guy he is. “Most embarrassing moment?” was one, to which he proceeded to tell me a story so horrible, so embarrassing, that I had no doubt it was true. It was surprisingly transparent and genuine.

By the time we got into the cab to go to another party, I had moved on to “What is the first 45 you bought?” [Younger readers: a 45 is a small record with a main single on one side – the A side – and lesser known song on the B side]. We both discovered we had a ridiculously insane obsession with music for two somewhat nerdy people.  We definitely “clicked”. He was smart and funny, grounded and adventurous.  A quiet confidence, but sure enough in his own skin to reach into a conversation with people he didn’t know and make one small, witty comment that surpassed the mindless chatter around us. And that lovely accent.  The spark was there and so it began.

THE IMPORTANCE OF TEA

There were hiccups here and there, but the first hint that there were some deeper, more ingrained, more innate cultural differences to me (and most Americans) was after we started dating.  He was staying over at mine and knowing that tea was essential to his morning routine, I got up early and skipped out to the 7-11 at the end of my street in Adam’s Morgan where I bought some Lipton tea bags. Upon returning home, I thoughtfully poured some water in my era appropriate coffee-maker, placed the bag in a mug, and waited for hot water to come out the coffee maker.

Unknown-2

As I handed it to him, I saw the look of what I can only described as disgust mixed with horror mixed with the look of someone who just smelled a very bad fart.  “Wha..? What is wrong? You don’t like Lipton’s?”  I couldn’t fathom what had caused this reaction. This rare show of emotion…over tea.

It wasn’t the Lipton’s – that he could have settled for – it was the fact that the water was not boiling! Not scalding, McDonald’s-lawsuit-waiting-to-happen hot! And huge, huge mistake: I poured the milk in immediately afterwards…yes, I know you Brits are cringing at what I’m going to say next…WHILE the tea bag was still in the mug! Or as y’all would say WHILST the tea bag was still in the mug!

TWO NATIONS DIVIDED BY A COMMON LANGUAGE

After that initial mistake, through the dating and subsequent visits to his native land, we realized the George Bernard Shaw quote rang all too true. We really are two nations divided by a common language.

However, we couldn’t even quote that without getting into an argument regarding the pronunciation of his name!  Americans say George Ber-NARD Shaw, while (whilst) Brits say George BER-nerd Shaw. Yet being in that “honeymoon” period of dating, we found ourselves laughing smugly in that “Oh, we are so different and yet so in love and completely smitten” way that was probably extremely irritating for all around us. We marvelled at how often and unexpectedly a new confusion or question arose:

Me (to he and his friends on our first visit to the UK): C’Mon!  Let’s go out exploring and get some lunch! So much to do and see (we had rented a big group house in the country for the weekend and they had plopped their asses in front of the telly for a cricket match). How long before this match is over?

They, in unison: Tuesday. (It was Saturday)

Me: Hah-hah, very funny!

They: Silence (Continuing the concentrated stares at the TV)

Me: Hang on, seriously, when will it be finished?

I truly thought they were pulling the wool over my eyes. Apparently not.

Or another BIG misunderstanding: Once his friends were visiting us in the States and I had picked up on the fact that everyone British said things like “I’d fancy a pizza right now” or “Fancy going to a movie?” so I thought I was being so hip and with it when I said “You know your friend Peter? I really fancy him.” He was grumpy and snippy with me for an hour. I thought I was trying to let him know I approved of his friends – he’d chosen well which shows what a good judge of character he is. Lesson: you can fancy pizza or a movie, but do NOT fancy any person other than your current boyfriend!

Likewise, he and his friends would bowl over with laughter when I told them I had gone horseback riding. “So, why didn’t you go horsehead riding?” they’d giggle. “Or perhaps tomorrow you’ll go horsetail riding!” Apparently, here, they just say “horseriding” and find anything else redundant (which it is) and hilarious. The list of faux pas and misunderstandings during our first few years were endless.

AMERICAN & BRITISH UNITY (and a lot of bickering)

In the end, however, we found we had more in common than we realised; all the things that were important to us like a decent moral compass, outlook on life, sense of humour, ambitions and dreams.  Between the similarities, the differences became a fun distraction, a sidebar, to what we soon embarked on as a lifetime together: marriage, child, travel, dual careers, expats in my land, his land and both.

I discovered what “chuffed” meant. He found out what having your “druthers” means.  I learned about cricket and rugby and Fifa. He became such a fan of baseball that – after we married – he enthusiastically suggested we spend every anniversary visiting a different baseball park in the US until we had seen them all (we stopped at 1).  I bought “aubergine”, “courgette” and “rocket” in the UK, he bought eggplant, zucchini and arugula in the US.

He told me years later that first date was like the Spanish Inquisition and he just marked it up to me being a journalist, but perhaps it was the beginning of what is culturally, fundamentally different. Americans are more direct and upfront. And they tend to exude confidence in a way that is unsettling to Brits.  They say what they mean and mean what they say, generally.  On the other hand, the comedic mockumentaries W1A and Twenty-Twelve have made the British “indirectness” into a hilarious sketch theme.  Trying to read the Brits can be (should be? is?) a university level class. In my humble opinion, Passport Control should hand out this handy chart (via the website Today I learned Something New), it would have saved me about 3 years of confusion and frustration.

enhanced-buzz-orig-13765-1372685755-19

On the other hand, Americans complete and total overuse of and infatuation with hyperbole is irritatingly grating on literally the entire world (see what I did there?). We love hyperbole: “It was AMAZING!” “That is so TOTALLY AWESOME!” “That wine is the BEST I’VE EVER HAD!”. By doing this ALL the time, the meaning is lost and the exact opposite occurs. If everything is the best, how can something be better? Or, worse? Newsreaders in the US are frequently calling any given story or event “the WORST EVER”. Until the next one…5 minutes later. Brits are more measured, more reserved. They will save that “best I’ve ever had” comment for very rare occasions.

Americans love hyperbole. If everything is THE BEST, what happens when something better comes along?

Unknown-3

Case in point, we had a group of friends over for a wine tasting where we each brought a bottle of cheap wine and one rather expensive. We blinded the wines and had people rate them. The Brits were so frustrating. They never gave the highest rating (5 out of 5).  We had 5 Americans and 5 Brits and at the end of the night I asked all the Brits how many 5’s they gave. Not one single Brit gave a top mark (and there were some exceptional wines!). Asking the Americans, we all had given at least one 5.  My husband and his friends explained their rational as such: if you hand out a 5 at the beginning or middle, what happens when you come across a wine that surpasses you last 5?  They showed restraint because handing out too many superlatives means they are no longer superlatives but, in fact, just like everything else. As an aside, like most wine tastings, the wines got progressively better as the night went on, and the wine that won was the cheapest – a £5 Anjou from Sainsbury’s.

Anyway, it made us realise our starting points were remarkably different.  We spent a total of 8 years in the US together and now more than 7 years here in London (with 3 years in neutral territory, as we call it, or South Africa). We’ve come to realize that both countries with their customs and stereotypes and general culture have influenced us. I am no longer completely American, he is no longer completely British. But we love both places equally.  Neither is perfect – far from it. But both are home. And because I can observe and be enchanted with English culture as a foreigner, he sees it through a new perspective.  Likewise, he points out things about America that I had forgotten were good or, more important, that I took for granted.  We embrace the cultural rivalries with a mutual understanding and growth and bickering. Lots of bickering.

So this blog, and subsequent ones, will celebrate all that is different between the US and the UK. From our observations, perspectives and constant nattering for the past 20 years!

Unknown-7

BAD PARENTING, CHAPTER ONE

Isn’t it about this time of year that we all start to feel the pressure? Had it up to here with everyone’s perfect lives on Facebook? The holidays are nearly upon us and you are struggling…with work, with kids, with partners, with parents, with life. You take stock in the last year – or decade – and wonder how did you fall so far behind? Why are the expectations so high?

It doesn’t help that society seems to sell us this unattainable, successful, exemplary family, or children, or friends. You know who I’m talking about. The endless posts from that certain person in your life who always has something wonderful to say about themselves, or their husbands, or their kids, or themselves, or remodelled kitchens, or themselves, or…you get the picture.

With that in mind, I thought it’s time to pull back the curtain. Take down the smokescreens! No one’s perfect. Life is hard. We all make mistakes. Oh, Lordy, do we make mistakes. Mine would fill a book larger than War and Peace.

So I’ll start with one category: Parenting. Let’s call this Bad Parenting, Chapter 1 (as I’m sure there’ll be more). Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes, or laugh at them. Either way, it might help to put things into perspective as you head into the holiday season. Main takeaway? Most parents have absolutely NO CLUE what they are doing. And yet, kids are remarkably resilient and (usually) turn out fine. If I could tell my younger self one thing I’d say don’t sweat it. All will be fine. But at the time, it’s terrifying and you question everything about your judgment, your instinct and your I.Q.

DAY ONE: FIRST BIG MISTAKE

Our very first mistake! On the day we arrived home from the hospital! Mom had given us an old copy of Dr. Spock’s bible on newborns from the 1960s and my husband, trying desperately to partake in this birth process proactively, read it cover to cover. I think it was chapter two that opened with “You can never overfeed a new born”. Ahhh, well, no. Not entirely true.

Walking in the door 36 hours after she was born, we put the Child in her little car seat on the dining room table, looked at each other with genuine panic and wondered “What now?” I think every parent wishes there was a set of instructions to go home with, some manual you are given as you leave the hospital “How To Care For Your New Child!” like you’d get when you bring home an orchid from the garden centre.

I had breastfed her and she was still fussy. I breastfed some more. Still fussy. I breastfed until there was nothing left. Still fussy. We skipped anxiety and went straight to panic-mode. Made up a little bottle of formula and fed it to her. She guzzled it all and got even fussier. Then it was wailing and crying. We really panicked. Called the paediatrician who asked us how much from the bottle we fed her. Apparently we fed her the amount you’d feed a 2 month old – not a day old child – plus the breastmilk.

She calmly told us to lie her on her back, wiggle her teeny legs like she’s riding a bicycle, try to gently smooth down her stomach. After which, in about an hour, “there will literally be a river of poo coming out of your child” as she so eloquently put it. And oh, was she right! It was phenomenal how much could flow out of that little being. Like a Volkswagon Beetle full of clowns. Amazing Scientific Discoveries would have been impressed. Of course, right after, she fell soundly and snugly asleep. I never looked at that dining room table the same again.

Unknown-1

MONTH 3: AIRPLANE MISERY

We were returning to the States after going to the U.K. to introduce her to all her English relatives. I had just cut down and completed breast-feeding before going back to work after 11 weeks off. I didn’t feel comfortable working in a male-dominated environment, being in meetings, talking to my executive producer and news anchor with leaky breasts. Just wasn’t me. And good old “family-friendly” Disney – owner of ABC News — only gave us 6 weeks off maternity leave, so I had to make up the rest in sick leave, holiday time and a very sympathetic boss.

The day before getting on an 8-and-a-half hour flight, I ran out of the soy milk formula I brought for the transition as she was intolerant to cow’s milk (remember? Day One?). Without any breast milk or soy milk, though, my only choice in Boots chemist at the time was regular formula. We got on the plane and it all kicked off. She was sobbing and wailing in decibels I had never heard. People around us were glaring. The flight attendants came by several times politely asking if we needed help. We were patting her back, bouncing her up and down, giving her the pacifier. We were miserable failures. Soon the whole plane was throwing dagger looks. As a parent with a wailing kid, you DEFINITELY notice. They’re thinking “Why can’t they shut that kid up!?” I know because until I had the Child, I used to be that person!

Slow that we are, it finally dawned on us that it was the whole “river of poo” thing except maybe the opposite. Perhaps she was constipated? We took her to the Lilliputian airplane bathroom and both of us squeezed in with her. At least the screeching was now behind a door. After undoing her diaper, the problem was obvious. Yes, there was a rock-like poo stuck half-way trying to come out. Poor little thing! My news producer mode took over. “OK, let’s move her little legs in a bicycle”. Husband was moving them so fast she would have won the Tour De France. He was very stressed. I was rubbing her belly and trying gently to push that little poo out. Nothing was happening. We were in there for what felt like hours, but it was probably only about 20-30 minutes? We definitely heard maybe 2 knocks on the door at some point.

Anyway, I finally did what any mother would do and took my little pinkie fingernail and started scraping away at that poo to get it out. Sure enough, that little pebble shot out like a bullet, hit the door and ricocheted to the floor. “Which way did it go?” my husband yelled. “We’ll get it later!” I yelled back. A few smaller little pebbles shot out too, like one of those tennis ball machines, pop pop popping out in succession, but we actually caught those. And then, like before, the crying stopped, and she fell sound asleep. Problem solved. My husband went back to the seats with her while I cleaned up the bathroom. I was fine, but he was clearly shaken. Speaking later, we both realized how helpless you feel in a long metal tube 40,000 feet over the Atlantic with only Greenland insight. We’ve all been there, right?

images

MONTH 9: GERMS (AND A HIT ON THE HEAD)

I was working hard, had a full-time nanny, husband back at work and all is fine! We can DO this parenting thing! Travelling alone up to Nova Scotia to meet up with my husband and the family, I was sitting in National Airport getting work done and the Child was a crawling phenom. Fine. Let her be free! She was crawling all over the floor, the carpet, the chairs, lifting herself up to stand by the trashcan (in retrospect, should have seen the danger there), getting her little fingers on everything and then putting them in her mouth as she was teething at the time.

We got on the plane, switched in Montreal to a little 16 seater plane and as I arrived at the gate the overhead speaker announced “Can Dianna Pierce please return to the Security Area?” Apparently, as I went through security and left the sippy cup, passports and boarding passes at the magnetometer machines. That’s Mommy-brain for you. So had to double back running through the airport OJ Simpson-styel with the Child in her handy-dandy forward facing papoose. Completely breathless, went up the stairs of this really teeny plane and everyone was already seated and glaring. Standing in the middle of the aisle I had to pull her out quickly from her papoose but in doing so, lifted her up and out so fast I didn’t realize how tiny the plane was (did I say? It was VERY tiny!) and literally banged her head against the ceiling. Another trip with passengers unhappy with us.

Got to Nova Scotia, lovely holiday for about 48 hours after which she got a very high fever (103.5 degrees) and the Tylenol wasn’t helping. We rushed her to the hospital in Halifax where the doctors asked “Has she been anywhere recently where she could have picked up some germs?”. Ahhh, er, hmmm. All of National Airport’s floors? Bad mother. Bad, bad mother. She picked up a virus and the doctors tended to her. But these little babies are resilient and after 3 days of misery, along with lots of love and care, she was fine.

Unknown-2

18 MONTHS: LOOKING AWAY…JUST FOR A SECOND…

My last instalment for today was while we were living in South Africa. We’d gone to a bicycle shop to pick out a new bicycle for my husband’s birthday. In tow I had her…and the GINORMOUS bag of paraphernalia that comes with an 18-month old: the diapers, wet wipes, diaper disposal bags, binkies, burping cloth, an extra hat, or sweater, her blankie and her favourite stuffed animal.

In the shop was a short set of stairs (I counted later – exactly 8) leading up to a platform with more bikes and tires. I walked up the stairs with her in my arms and the bag over my shoulder. I set her down on my right as she fingered the tires. I turned to my left to put my massive diaper bag down and as I was setting it on the floor, thought “hmmm, I put her down awfully close to the stairs.”

I turned around in time to see her little feet teetering on the edge of the stairs, she facing me with a look of surprise, and waving her arms.  As she’s falling backwards, I lunge out in desperation. This was all happening in extreme slow motion. My outstretched hand reached out and snatched…air…about one inch from her little coat.

My next thought as she tumbled down was to watch carefully as she went to see where she hit what, watching for possible breaks. The good news is she was dressed to the hilt in winter clothes, covered up like a little Michelin man. And she cartwheeled down in a way that, as best as I could tell, an elbow got a whack but everything else seemed ok. She landed on her stomach, arms and legs splayed.

The whole shop was silent for about 2-3 seconds as everyone had turned because, without realizing it, I had shouted out. The delay was interminable. She had this look of shock…then wonder…her eyes blinked, then hang on! I’m in pain! And then the wailing. Most parents will tell you the longer the delay, the better, as that means they are processing the pain and hurt and it’s just dawned on them that something scary has happened to them, and THEN they start to cry. If it’s really real pain, it will come sooner.

Anyway, she had a bruised elbow, a teeny bruise on her cheek, but all was fine. I never set foot in that shop again. And my husband bought an insanely expensive bike with the guilt he felt for traumatizing everyone.

        ————————————————–

So, there you have it! Just a few examples of bad parenting mistakes. And we’re only up to 18 months old! Many many more. I should point out that said Child is now a lovely, well-adjusted, bright, intelligent, funny, athletic 13-yr-old. She remembers absolutely nothing of these moments that have scarred my husband and I for life.

I suppose perspective is everything, isn’t it? I look back at any of the more trying moments of my life and realize I just did whatever it took to get through them. In retrospect, I’m somewhat amazed at what we did. I think there were 14 cross-Atlantic flights between the US and UK and South Africa before our Child was 4. I have no idea how we did it. In the moment, it’s awful. But now we look back and laugh.

Next, I’ve got more from the toddler years (trying to catch projectile vomit with our hands (!) on another plane journey as she covers us and the South African rugby team captain with throw-up), a fabulous 4-yr-old tantrum story, and then we can move in to the horrendous first generation parenting of kids with mobile devises!! Fun stuff!

U.K. Does Remembrance Day Beautifully

Remembrance Day always gets to me here in London. Literally, the whole city (and country) comes to a standstill for 2 minutes of silence on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, and it’s a sight to behold. Today I was in Sainsbury’s doing a quick shop when literally every shopping trolley, every till, nearly every customer, all the employees came to a halt, bowed heads, and remembered. Always gives me the chills.

It’s not just Sainsbury’s. It’s the fact that the whole country, collectively, on a busy Saturday morning, stops its every day activities for 2 minutes and observes, remembers, reflects on those who died fighting for their country and our freedom during World War I. One year I came up out of the Tube at Sloane Square and the the whole square was motionless, like a mass mannekin challenge that had yet to be invented. The busses, the taxis, the people, the movement literally ceased. Engines turned off. Conversations stopped. All was still and silent. Absolutely beautiful.

I don’t think we can do this in the U.S. because of the time-zones, perhaps? Or because just too many people? My thought is that we Americans have a tendency to put weight, focus, thought, energy towards the future a little too much rather than reflecting on the past.  I think the Brits lean just the opposite (I’m sure there’s a happy middle somewhere), but in this case, they are very good at giving due reverence to history — perhaps because it was so close and so tangible and right here on Europe’s doorstep. They also have the poppy lapels out in force for about 2 weeks leading up to November 11th. They sell them for a pound outside grocery stores, at schools, in offices. You see them in all your meetings, on the telly with all the news anchors and presenters. A few years ago, there was a wonderful display of poppies at the Tower of London.  If you ever have a chance to be in England in the beginning of November, don’t miss this moving and emotional commemoration of Armistice Day.2014-11-04_poppies

We’ve Never Had It So Good

Are you sick and tired of bad news 24-7? Is the culture of fear paralysing you? Every time I turn on the news these days, my brain is about to explode. Someone turned the fear factor dial up to 11. Gets me seriously depressed. I start thinking what’s the point?

Facts and perspective. That’s what’s important, right? So, today I’ve compiled a list that will help you, well, just live and not be weighed down by all the gloom and misery. Guess what? We’re not all doomed! Repeat it over and over to yourself and you will start to feel better.

Also, what’s your favourite good news fact or statistic? Feel free to add/comment.

And yes, I have deliberately left out some numbers that are more pessimistic (homocide numbers up in the last few years in the UK and US).  The fear-mongering needs a break every once in a while, and although some things are having a downward trend, we are still living far better than any previous generation in the history of man.  My day job focuses a lot on those dire statistics and how much more we need to do to get things right, to make things better.

But, just for today, let’s set those aside. Let’s put things in perspective. Add some context. Cheer up, it could be worse, and it mostly was. Enjoy the weekend!

The Good News List*

*(List of sources below)

• We are living in what is arguably the best era in all of human history. On a global scale, in terms of economic security, poverty, life expectancy, infant mortality, health, social freedoms, incidents and exposure to war, violence or disease, we – as a planet – are living in a gilded age that is completely unprecedented.

LIFE EXPECTANCY, LITERACY & POVERTY

• In 1900, average world life expectancy was 31 years old; now its 71 years old.
• In the U.K., a new public health report shows life expectancy has risen to its highest level ever in 2016.
• In 1800, 43% of the world’s newborns died before their fifth birthday. In 2015, child mortality was down to 4.3 percent globally.
• By 2030, South Korean women will be the first in the world to have an average life expectancy above 90.
• Across all of Europe, life expectancy keeps increasing for both men and women, with France, Spain, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Iceland and Austria all in the top 20 countries with the highest life expectancy (those born in 2017).
• In the last 25 years, for the first time ever, extreme poverty has dipped below 10 percent of the population, mass famine has been wiped out and mass literacy has become more common than rare.
• In 1981, nine in ten Chinese lived in extreme poverty. In 2016, it’s 1 in 10.
• In 1820, only every 10th person was literate, in 1930 it was every third, and now we are at 85% literacy rate across the globe.
• By 2100, projections show that there will be more than 7 billion people with at least a secondary education.
• For the last 25 years, 285,000 new people gained access to safe water every day.

TERRORISM, VIOLENCE & DEATH

• Numerous studies show the world is becoming a less violent place. Warfare is on the decline. Anyone alive right now is far less likely to die a violent death (from either war or homicide) than in any previous era.
• Globally, the chances of being killed in a terrorist attack are about 1 in 9.3 million. (compared to drowning in a bathtub: 1 in 685,000, or being struck by lightning: 1 in 576,000 or a car accident: 1 in 18,565).
• In the U.S., being killed by a foreign-born terrorist is about 1 in 45,808. But being killed by heart disease (1 in 7), pneumonia (1 in 70), falling (1 in 133), assault by gun (1 in 358), motor vehicle incidents (1 in 113), drowning (1 in 1,183), choking on food (1 in 3,409) are far more likely.
• In Europe, terrorist attacks are up, but we are still far below the numbers we had in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s.
• Terrorism is killing far fewer people in the UK now than in the 1980s. Between 2000 and 2017, 126 people have been killed in the UK in terrorist attacks (as of October 17, 2017). Although not on British soil, another 30 Brits were killed in Tunisia in a terror attack on a hotel. Compare that to 1,094 deaths from the previous 15 years (1985-1999) and a further 2,211 deaths between 1970 and 1984. The worst year for terrorism in the UK was 1988, due to a majority of deaths in the Lockerbie plane disaster when a bomb blew up a Pan Am flight with 270 aboard.
• In the U.S., violence against women and sexual assault is down. Also, violence against children has dropped dramatically from 1990 to 2012.
• Chances of being killed by an asteroid or meteorite globally are about 1 in 75,000. In the US, those numbers go up to 1 in 1.6 million. Compare that to 1 in 8 million death from a shark attack, or 1 in 60,000 from a tornado.

GLOBAL/COUNTRY ECONOMIES

• As of March, 2017, the US economy is the largest in the world, representing 24.3% of the global economy. China is second with 14.8 % of the world economy. Japan is 3rd, Germany 4th, the UK 5th, France is 6th and India is 7th. Brazil is 9th and Canada is 10th.
• As of January 2017, UK remains the fastest growing economy in the western world (“western” being key).
• Globally, in 2017, the fastest growing economy was Ethiopia. Followed by Uzbekistan. Nepal is #3, India is fourth.
• The fastest growing large economies are India and China, one and two.
• In September of this year (2017), Australia broke the record held by the Netherlands for the title of longest economic expansion on record, with 104 quarters of economic growth without recession.
• Indonesia has the largest economy in Southeast Asia, with GDP per capita steadily rising, and they are closing in on Canada for top 10th economy globally.

From The Business Insider: 

IMG_2317

(Courtesy of: The Business Insider. For the full article, click here)

LIST OF SOURCES

https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2017/09/economist-explains-3

https://www.salon.com/2014/01/15/were_living_through_the_most_peaceful_era_in_human_history_—%C2%A0with_one_big_exception_partner/

https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-10-23/world-actually-safer-ever-and-heres-data-prove

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2014/12/the_world_is_not_falling_apart_the_trend_lines_reveal_an_increasingly_peaceful.html

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/life-expectancy-at-older-ages-is-the-highest-its-ever-been

https://www.statista.com/statistics/274514/life-expectancy-in-europe/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-39040146

https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2016/12/23/14062168/history-global-conditions-charts-life-span-poverty

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/03/worlds-biggest-economies-in-2017/

https://www.statista.com/topics/3788/terrorism-in-europe/

https://www.europol.europa.eu/newsroom/news/2017-eu-terrorism-report-142-failed-foiled-and-completed-attacks-1002-arrests-and-142-victims-died

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/many-people-killed-terrorist-attacks-uk/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/a-history-of-terrorism-in-europe/

https://qz.com/898207/the-psychology-of-why-americans-are-more-scared-of-terrorism-than-guns-though-guns-are-3210-times-likelier-to-kill-them/

http://uk.businessinsider.com/death-risk-statistics-terrorism-disease-accidents-2017-1

http://www.lifeinsurancequotes.org/additional-resources/deadly-statistics/

https://www.techjuice.pk/a-data-scientist-explains-odds-of-dying-in-a-terrorist-attack/

https://www.vice.com/sv/article/dpkd4m/right-now-is-the-best-time-in-history-to-be-alive

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2017/01/26/uk-remains-fastest-growing-economy-western-world-growing-06pc/