Archive | Expat Living

Cleaning Up After Your Dog: Welcome To Adulthood

It would seem, on the face of it, to be another one of those cardinal sign posts of adulthood: cleaning up after your dog.

After all, it’s the very first thing we teach our kids when we give them a pet, isn’t it?

“Now, honey. If you want to have a pet, you need to learn to be responsible for it. You need to walk it. You need to feed it. You need to clean up after it.” Right?

So why is that basic lesson seemingly lost on so many adults?

Or maybe it’s just here in London where I live. As I ranted a few weeks back upon returning from the pristine, dog-poop free streets of Berlin, many Brits just don’t seem to get the whole dog mess thing.

A few statistics to back that claim up. According to Keep Britain Tidy, in 2008 the UK dog population was estimated to be 7.3 million, with dogs producing approximately 1,000 tonnes of excrement each day. In a recent survey of over 19,000 sites, dog fouling was present in over 8% of these sites. The highest level of dog fouling can be found in areas where people actually live.

It’s not because there aren’t plenty of signs around telling you to clean up after your dog. There’s even a 50 pound ($75) fine for not doing so, which can go as high as 1000 pounds ($1500) if you need to go to court.

But how do you enforce that penalty, short of cycling around Hampstead Heath and chastising random strangers when they let their dog crap all over the place? (Trust me: I’ve tried it. One lady responded “Oh, I didn’t see it.” Um….excuse me, lady, but isn’t that precisely *why* we take our dogs out in the first place?)

Please know that this is not an anti-pet rant on my part. (I’ve actually grown more fond of pets lately, at least cats, ever since that crazy lady up in Coventry casually tossed one in a bin.)

This just seems like a matter of civility and community…not to mention public health. (Read this charming little explanation of all the lovely diseases you can get from dog poop, even long after it has disintegrated.)

But unfortunately, it does rely on establishing a set of norms around this practice, and I’m just not sure how one goes about inculcating a culture of cleaning up dog mess.

In my old house, I lived in what’s known as a Mews, which is somewhat akin to a courtyard. Every day for a two month period, some person (not one of us) was apparently getting up really early in the morning, taking their dog for a walk, letting it poo right in front of our Mews and then leaving it there. The amazing thing about this little period in our lives was that the dog did his business in *the very same spot* – literally – every day. For two months. It was absolutely outrageous.

It really bothered all of the residents of the Mews and we talked about setting up a patrol to bust this person in the act, even if that required creating shifts to man the watch tower at all hours of the day. But we never got that far.

Because a 90-year old resident of our Mews – literally, someone’s Grandmother – took the law into her own hands. One night she got out some chalk and went and circled all of the poop left by said dog. And then, in huge capital letters, she wrote the following: “Shame on you! Naughty Dog! CCTV is watching you! We know where you live!”

And just like that, it stopped.

Granny’s tactics might seem a bit draconian to some, but I think she had it just right. And – tellingly – there’s actually a town in Buckinghamshire that’s using high-tech surveillance techniques along highly trafficked dog walking routes to film dog poop offenders in the act and then follow them home and bust them. (Interestingly, the person who developed this surveillance method previously used it on cheating spouses. Yikes!)

But I’ve got another idea. You know that whole Great Society thing that David Cameron and Co. are actively pushing as the signature initiative of their new administration? It’s all about volunteerism and civic virtue and getting citizens taking over some of the things that local government previously did for them.

To which I say, Hooray, Boys. And here’s your first charge: let’s develop a citizen’s brigade to go out and clean up our streets and free them of dog feces. It ain’t pretty, but somebody’s got to do it.

I know I’ll raise my hand.

*****

I was over on Politics Daily yesterday talking about the latest egregious human rights abuses in China. Have a look…

 

Image: no dog poop by monicamuller via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Teen Sex: Lessons From Europe (Again)

Well, here’s something to pop your eyes open in case you can’t quite shake that post-election torpor. A county in the U.K. has just authorized pharmacies to distribute birth control pills to girls as young as 13, without parental consent.

It’s a pilot project in the Isle of Wight, best known as a British tourist destination for its ye olde worlde charm. Under the project, teenagers who approach a pharmacist for the morning-after pill will also be able to get a month’s supply of the contraceptive pill without seeing a doctor or informing their parents. After that month is up, girls must make an appointment with their general practitioner or sexual health nurse in order to get any additional supplies.

The campaign is aimed at reducing unwanted pregnancies, which have crept up on the island in recent years. According to Jennifer Smith of the local branch of the National Health Service, which approved the project: “I would suggest that what we’re doing is being entirely responsible by providing [contraception to] these most vulnerable women, for whom, for the most part, pregnancy is not a good outcome. We are linking them with people most able to support them in further decision-making and appropriate behavior in the future.”

Read the rest of this post at www.PoliticsDaily.com

 

Image: one pill gone by jodigreen via flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Visit Germany

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, I spent last week in Berlin. And as I often do upon returning from a foreign country, I thought I’d devote today’s post to sharing some insights I had about my trip.

(Warning: these won’t be nearly as exotic as those I gleaned from Helsinki. Nor will they smack of the acute nostalgia I felt upon returning from Vienna.)

But they will, I hope, motivate you to go and visit Germany, and especially Berlin. Here are five reasons that it’s a worthwhile trip:

1. Germans grapple with their history. Berlin is a city where you literally can’t walk for five minutes without bumping into some reference – whether physical, historical or cultural – to World War II, the Holocaust or Adolph Hitler. They’re everywhere. They’re on the sidewalks. They’re in the museums. They’re in the book stores. It’s as if the country – and this city, in particular – is wearing a giant sign that reads: “We will not forget.” And while my six-year-old did confess at one point to being a bit “Hitler-ed out,” that’s a good thing, in my opinion. We can’t remember enough.

4. You see the East-West divide in a whole new light. Much like the Holocaust, the whole East-West divide in Berlin figures front and center in the city’s layout and architecture. It is, quite simply, impossible to miss. Because of a friend here in London who’s from East Berlin, I’d already begun to re-think the standard Western narrative about East Germany before I arrived. But what’s nice about actually going to Berlin is that you get to see both sides of that story, and not just the “Gee, isn’t a shame they lived under Communism for so long” thread. In this vein, particularly worthwhile – and especially for kids – is a visit to the DDR Museum (Museum of East Germany).

3. Germans clean up after their dogs. From the sublime to the ridiculous? Perhaps. But it bears mentioning, especially if you live in a country like I do (the U.K.) where dog poop is, quite simply, everywhere. In the four days before departing on our trip – and I’m not exaggerating here – everyone in our family – all four of us – stepped in dog poop. (To add insult to injury, I did so again this morning while taking my daughter to school). And we allegedly live in one of the “nice” parts of town. It’s actually unfathomable how little people attend to their dogs here. Whereas in Germany, this whole issue was blissfully absent. And yes, this is going to be my next rant against living in England – which I’m otherwise quite fond of – (right after I finish a tirade against the dearth of paper napkins.)

4. Germans follow the rules. I’ve never seen a country where people are so attuned to following rules. No one cuts in line. (Trust me, we tried.) If the carry-on luggage rules say that your bag can’t be larger than 30 x 20 x 15 cm, sorry, but your 32 x 21 x 18 wheelie bag just won’t cut it. The museum guards actually watch you when you walk too closely to the paintings or graze the wall with your backpack (rather than chatting or sleeping as they do in the States.) And even if it’s three a.m. and there’s no oncoming traffic, a German wouldn’t dream of crossing the street when the light wasn’t Green. Obviously, this attachment to rules can be irritating – if not dangerous – when taken to an extreme. (See point #1 on Nazis.) But as a parent of two quite headstrong kids, I can definitely see a rationale for summer camp in Germany.

5. Germany has delicious Turkish food. I’m not a huge fan of sausage. (As a friend of mine put it bluntly, there’s something profoundly unappetizing about chopping up a pig’s innards into little bits and refashioning it into a phallus.) So German food will never do it for me. But Germany has a large Turkish population. And, boy, did I have the most delicious kebab in the Kreuzberg section of Berlin.

*****
I’m over on www.PoliticsDaily.com today talking about a new study arguing that alcohol is the most dangerous drug in the U.K.

Image: Scoop The Poop by teaeff via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Lessons Of Adulthood: The Art Of Non-Conformity

Re-entry is always difficult.

This is true whether you’re going back to school after a long summer vacation, going through your mail when you’ve been gone for a while or – as in my own case this morning – sitting back down to work after taking a week off to travel with my family.

Imagine my delight, then, when I opened up the International Herald Tribune and happened upon this gem. It’s an article by Alice Rawsthorn, the New York Times‘ design columnist, in which she sings the praises of grinding and brewing your own espresso over and above resorting to the dreaded pod espresso machines of Nespresso et al. (The indisputable allure of George Clooney notwithstanding, natch.)

I loved this article for so many reasons. For starters – as erstwhile readers of this blog will know – our own hand-brewed espresso machine holds a hallowed place within our home. As I said to my husband – who taught me to know and love what it is to brew your own coffee – this was an article that was – quite literally – written for him.

Rawsthorn has many reasons for taking a principled stance against automated espresso machines. They’re boring. They’re ugly. They’re environmentally questionable. (Turns out it’s really hard to recycle all those tiny sealed containers.)

But the main reason she rails against them is that they suppress variety, experimentation and – yes – inconsistency. Part of the joy of grinding your own espresso, she argues, is precisely that you never quite manage to brew the same cup of coffee twice. And therein lies the fun – and true beauty – of doing it yourself. It’s the ultimate act of personalizing your consumption.

Which brings me back to my week away from this blog. We spent the week in Berlin, one of those über – (no pun intended) – European cities. While we were there, one of the many museums we visited was the Bauhaus Archive, a museum devoted to the Bauhaus school of design.

For those of you who missed that chapter in 20th century intellectual history (I did) – the Bauhaus movement was a school of modern art and architecture that sought to fuse the gap between art and industry by sublimating “art” in the romantic sense to the exigencies of 20th century technological progress. This school of thought was urban, minimalist, and sought, above all, to privilege functionality in design (so well captured in its motto, “Form follows function.”) In many ways, it was the aesthetic movement that paved the way for mass consumption.

With its hyper-utilitarian streak, the Bauhaus movement sought to hide the messiness of artistic creation – its flourishes, its sentimentality, its “coffee grinds” if you will. And while that yielded some really cool buildings and furniture (click here for some iconic Bauhaus chairs), the overall feel was one of clear lines and uniformity of purpose, if not form. (Read Tom Wolfe’s From Bauhaus to Our House for a particularly trenchant treatise on this point.)

Which is a long way of saying that as with architecture, so too with espresso machines:  sometimes the beauty of adulthood lies in that which is unpredictable and highly personal.

Which is also why – as I stood there grinding my highly messy-yet-original espresso this morning – I decided that today’s re-entry wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Image: Bauhaus Dessau by Mark Wathieu via Flickr under a creative commons license.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Tips For Adulthood: Five Things Worth Doing In London (Part 2)

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last week, I brought you my very own “bucket list” of five “on the radar” things you really ought to do in London.

As promised, this week I’m following that up with a list of five “under the radar” things you ought to do in London, but probably don’t know about:

1. Open House London – This has to be one of the all-time coolest things I’ve ever done in any city. Once a year in September, Open City – a non-profit, architecture education organization – identifies buildings in London of architectural interest and opens their doors to the public. Through Open House London, we’ve toured super-modern private flats, normally-closed-to-the-public government buildings, turn-of-the-century guild halls and environmentally-friendly houses. And all of it for free. This is something our family looks forward to every year when autumn rolls around. If you live here, or happen to be visiting in mid-September, don’t miss it!

2. Christmas Pantomimes – Here’s another seasonal treat, albeit for Christmastime. One of the signature cultural events that accompanies Christmas in London (sort of akin to ice skating at Rockefeller Center in New York City) is the Christmas Pantomime. A “panto” is a musical-comedy theatrical production based on a traditional story or fairy tale that typically includes song, dance, slapstick, cross-dressing and – most important of all – audience participation. They’re often quite bawdy, though usually aimed at a family audience. My favorite venue in London is the Hackney Empire. Brill! (As we say over here.)

3. Brick Lane – While London is justifiably renowned for its rich royal palaces and history, it’s also important to take in contemporary London. My recommendation on this score is to go over to Brick Lane in East London on a Sunday afternoon. A walk up and down this bustling street market will tell a story of London’s recent immigration history, with the bagel shops of yore sitting cheek by jowl with today’s Bengali curry shops. Afterwards, take a tour of the neighborhood with one of the seasoned guides from London Walks and learn more about its rich history, which dates from Jack the Ripper.

4. The Geffrye Museum – As long as you’re over in East London anyway, be sure to pop into the Geffrye Museum, a museum of – yes- living rooms through the ages. If you’re into social history, you’ll love this place, as it enables you to trace middle class life in England from 1600 to the present. Each room is – literally – a recreation of the average living room in any given period. Splendid fun for the whole family.

5. Sir John Soane’s Museum – I’m not even sure that I really know who Sir John Soane is, other than that he was an architect who lived and worked in London back in the 18th and 19th centuries. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that this guy assembled the neatest (and most varied) collection of art, sculpture and personal effects and they now constitute a small museum in his home right in the heart of London. It takes less than an hour to tour, but you’ll see things ranging from a Roman sarcophagus to a model of the Bank of England (and back again…) Once again, the kids will love it.

*****

I’m over on www.PoliticsDaily.com today talking about health care reform in the U.K.

Image: Brick Lane by roboppy via flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Tips For Adulthood: Five Things Worth Doing In London (Part 1)

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I was having coffee with a friend the other day who may be leaving London soon to return to the States. Like me, she’s an American who’s been living here for several years. As we chatted about what it might mean to “Go Back” (capital G, capital B), she told me that when she mentioned this to a friend, he immediately asked: “Do you have a bucket list?”

A bucket list – according to the Urban Dictionary – is a list of things you need to do before you die. Presumably, this man wanted to know if my friend had a list of things she wanted to do in London before she departed. She responded that a. she doesn’t “do” lists of any sort (right on, sister!) and b. she’s made a point of already seeing everything she wants to see in London.

I know what she means. While I can’t profess to hate lists, my family has also made a point of really “doing” London during the four years that we’ve lived here. Precisely because we were never quite sure how long we’d stay, my husband and I always approached each year as if it were our last and tried to make the most out of our fair city.

Since I’m told that expats know best when it comes to travel tips, here are my suggestions for five things worth doing in London. (This week’s list focuses on some “obvious” places to see; next week will focus on the less obvious):

1. The Tower of London – Yes, it’s touristy as all get-out, but this historic castle on the North bank of the River Thames is a real gem. It’s loaded with…um…gems, but also armour, torture chambers and even its very own collection of ravens. Extra-special, supercalifragilisticexpealidotious tip? Go to the Ceremony of the Keys which is held every night after dark when the castle is locked up, and has been going on for 700 years. If you’ve read Hilary Mantel’s spectacular, Booker-prize winning Wolf Hall you will be dying to see this place up close.

2. Houses of Parliament – Don’t just go look at them, take a guided tour of them. We’ve done this twice, once when the kids were very little and more recently, when we could actually listen to what the tour guide had to say. These hallowed chambers of British government are chock full of history. And it’s very cool to meld that visual history with the live history that still goes on in the House of Commons and House of Lords to this very day. (After our most recent tour I promptly sent our M.P. a request to watch Prime Minister’s Questions live.)

3. Borough Market – London is famous for its outdoor food markets, and this is the largest of them all. Located just a stone’s throw from London Bridge, Borough Market is positively bustling every Thursday-Saturday with food, people and activity. I’m not much of a gourmand, but I love walking around and seeing the hares hanging upside down in the butchers’ stalls alongside the jars of English jam. It’s a fundamentally social experience.

4. British Museum – Yeah, yeah, I know. This is obvious. With items ranging from the Elgin Marbles (shhh…don’t tell Greece!) to the Rosetta Stone, the British Museum is one of the famous museums in the world. But what I think a lot of people don’t appreciate is how great this museum is for kids. If you wander into the small library that’s tucked away in a far corner on the first floor, you’ll find that you can take out back-packs for children ages 5-11 that will engage them with exhibits on Ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt and many more. And kids over 8 can become a Young Friend of the Museum, which qualifies them to spend an overnight there. (Warning to parents contemplating this activity: get an air mattress. Trust me.)

5. BBC Proms – If you visit London during July- September – and definitely if you live here – you’ll want to take in the BBC Proms. This series of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall features leading international performers of classical, jazz, choral and world music.  There are even Family proms. And for those who don’t want to shell out a lot for tickets, you can queue the day of any performance (get there early!) and see it for 5 pounds, as long as you’re willing to stand!

*****

Speaking of London, I recently came across this list of 10 Things Not To Do In London. I agree with all of them, except for the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, which I do think is worth seeing, once.

Image: Changing of the Horse Guards – Buckingham Palace by Popov2007 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Yom Kippur, The Pope And My Reluctant Secularism

Sometimes the easiest questions are the hardest ones to answer. Like: What religion are you?

I had reason to think about this issue the other day during a routine doctor’s appointment at a local London hospital. As we were winding up, the doctor turned to me and asked: “Oh, yes, and what religion are you? It could be relevant to your treatment.” He was holding a clipboard and a pen, ready to tick the appropriate box on his chart.

I paused, as if he’d asked me the solution to Fermat’s Last Theorem. “Umm . . . well . . . I used to be Catholic.” I heard myself say. “But my husband’s Jewish . . . so I guess . . . um . . .”

The doctor raised his eyebrows. As polite as the Brits tend to be, you can tell when you’ve tried their patience. And I could see that this kind gentleman was thinking: “Honey, just answer the question. I’ve got loads of patients to see in the waiting room and I really don’t need an American confessional right now.”

“I guess I’m nothing,” I told him finally. “Yeah, that’s right. Just tick ‘nothing.’ ” But what I really wanted to say was: “Do you have a box for ‘formerly Christian’? Or perhaps for ‘wanna-be Jewish’?”

Read the rest of this post on www.PoliticsDaily.com

Image: Yalmukes by Bekah Stargazing via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Stepping Down From The PTA

I hit a milestone of sorts yesterday morning. I attended my last-ever PTA meeting at my daughter’s school.

I hesitate to say “last ever” because who knows what the future will bring? I did, after all,  *just* volunteer to sell cakes at my son’s school yesterday morning. And as all those who’ve ever been involved in a PTA well know, once you start selling cakes, it’s a slippery slope from there. (I once walked into a meeting intending to volunteer to bake some brownies and somehow walked out running the school’s largest fund-raiser for the next three years.)

But for this year at least, and quite possibly the next several, I’m done with the PTA.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I’ve made a ton of friends through the PTA. It was the first way that I plugged into British society when I moved here from the States four years ago.

Raising money for the school has also made me feel like a responsible, engaged, committed parent. And it’s been a great use of that lonely, frustrated, administrative “project manager” who lives inside my writer body, crying out to anyone who will listen to set her free to just…run something.

And, hey, let’s face it, it’s the PTA that’s really given me the platform with which to run for Mayor of Hampstead.

On the other hand, it’s time to step down. I just got an incredibly detailed point-by-point email in my inbox from a fellow parent who’d like to see other parents coordinate more with teachers on how to bring additional resources to the school in these cash-strapped times. It’s a perfectly good idea and one that we may well need to implement. But whereas my inner Manager would have once gobbled up this email and skipped off to try to implement it, today I just hit “delete.” And happily so.

And that decision is not dictated by anything personal or even professional. It’s just that I no longer have the energy to put into the PTA. Or, better stated, I have that energy but it’s not energy that I wish to devote to the PTA anymore.

Because like jobs and careers and houses and seasons (cue The Byrds performing Turn, Turn, Turn), everything has a life cycle. Even your extra-curricular activities. And you need to acknowledge when you’ve lost your mojo and it’s time to move on.

So, farewell, class teas and school raffles and the laminator-for-making-posters-that-never-really-laminated-but-that-was-half-of-the-fun and all those local business owners who greet me by name and still offer me freebies in their shops just out of habit. It was a great ride.

And to the incoming crew, I say Godspeed.

*****

Today I’m over on Politics Daily talking about the Pope’s Visit to the U.K.

Image: Charity Bake Sale by Shereen via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Tips For Adulthood: Five Signs You're Not A Sports Mom

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last year about this time I wrote a post for Politics Daily called A Reluctant Soccer Mom. The occasion for that post was attending my first professional football (soccer) game over here in the U.K., and the begrudging recognition that I actually knew way more about the sport – (courtesy of my son) – than I’d ever imagined was possible.

But now I’m wondering if it’s time to rethink the label “soccer mom” for myself (which I use in the strictly sporty sense, BTW, not as a reference to an American electoral demographic.) And that’s because on Saturday, I attended my son’s first competitive football match on a club team. As I stood there amid all the other parents cheering on their boys in “The Hub” at Regent’s Park, I realized that perhaps I didn’t fit in quite so well after all.

To wit, here are five signs that you’re not a Sports Mom (or Dad):

1. You come to games in the wrong outfit. I’m not quite sure what came over me when I got dressed on Saturday morning but somehow I decided that getting ready for a football game on a potentially muddy field meant that I needed to come dressed as a farmer attending the first County Fair of the season. I dug out some overalls (dungarees) from Lord knows what era of my life, a pair of Wellies and a windbreaker. Yes, I did don a baseball cap which should have upped my sporty cred. But coupled with the jumbo-sized overalls, I at best looked like a painter (as one sports Dad friend observed with a chuckle.) We all know that if your kid plays sports, you yourself need to look sporty as well, wearing some combination of sweat pants, running tights, hoodie and the du rigueur visor. So instead of looking like this, I looked more like this. What on earth was I thinking?

2. You’re not really interested in the game. OK, it probably wasn’t a great sign of my inherent enthusiasm in the game that I brought along two International Herald Tribunes and one New Yorker just in case things got slow. As the match went on, I also found that other parents were conducting a running commentary alongside the coaches – yelling things that you only hear in British football like “Good tackle!” when someone blocks another player or “Unlucky!” when your team fails to score a goal. I, meanwhile, was absolutely mesmerized by the extent to which Hungarian does or does not resemble any of the other European languages. (Another mum was Hungarian.) Needless to say, she had to keep averting her eyes from me so that she could actually watch her son play the game. (Clearly I should have also brought this along to read.)

3. You cheer for the other team. At one point during the match, the other team scored its first goal. (We were already up by two at that point.) I instinctively clapped for them and yelled “Well done!” only to be greeted by a glare from another Dad. “What? You mean I can’t clap for the other side?” I asked, chiding him. “Clapping’s fine,” he retorted. “But you don’t need to say ‘Well done!'”

4. You secretly wish that your child was doing drama. Hey, what can I say? I was a drama geek all throughout elementary, junior high and high school. I think that drama is good for kids in precisely the way that sports are good for kids – it teaches teamwork and cooperation and instills a sense of identity and belonging. And yes, it goes without saying that I also watch Glee.

5. Your own best sports are indoor. By which I mean pool (billiards) and bowling. Nuff’ said.

Image: Jogging by Julie70 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Five Reasons Standing In Line Can Be Fun

Well, I’m back from my staycation. I wasn’t sure how I’d get on running around London with both kids for seven days straight while my husband was out-of-town on a business trip. But we had a great time.

We visited Buckingham Palace (or as my daughter calls it “Bucklingham Palace.”) We took a tour of the Houses of Parliament.  We made a special trip up to the Roald Dahl Museum in Buckinghamshire to see the place where this great author did his magic. And we spent a day at the seaside out in East Anglia.

Each of those trips was a lot of fun. But in some ways, the most fun of all was the day we spent…standing in line. Yes, you heard that correctly. We spent the better part of one day just waiting in a long queue with nothing to do but wait.

The occasion was the opening of a new art store in my neighborhood. As a promotional offer, the store was giving out 50 pounds worth of free art supplies to the first 1,000 people who visited last Saturday. And all you had to do was spend 10 pounds at the store to collect the prize.

The doors opened at 10 am and we arrived at 9:50, fresh on the heels of a full English breakfast at our favorite cafe. By that time, the line to get into the store was already snaking around two full city blocks but I figured – meh – the kids don’t have a haircut until 11:00 a.m…what have we got to lose by just hanging out here for an hour and killing some time?

Four hours later, I had good reason to rethink that logic. But the truth is, we *did* have a good time. Here’s what I learned about why standing in lines – even long ones – can be fun:

1. You feel part of a community. One of the nicest parts of standing in a queue all day long in the middle of Hampstead Village was realizing just how many people I know in my neighborhood. I saw friends…neighbors…teachers…merchants. Those of us who formed part of the line saluted one another in solidarity. Those who were just passing by came up to say “hi.” It was such a lovely – an unexpected – reminder of the many different ways we all connect to our respective communities and how broad and diverse those communities are. (Hidden bonus? I have now confirmed my long-held suspicion that should I ever decide to run for mayor of this village, I’ve got it in the bag…)

2. You meet new people. Even more fun than running into old friends and acquaintances was the chance to meet new people. I stood next to a mother from an adjoining neighborhood and an administrator from her daughter’s school and chatted to them for the better part of four hours. By the end, we were already fast friends and had moved on from chit-chat about schools to lengthy discussions about our respective blogs (confirming my suspicion that everyone’s a blogger) and the perils of cell phones for your brain. When I had to say good-bye to them, I actually felt sad!

3. You rethink your surroundings. I’ve long been of the opinion that Brits just don’t get customer service. You have to chase down your waiter when you want your bill. Phone calls to customer service teams go unanswered. Brits also don’t get the whole concept of promotions – a sale here means something like 10% off on a rack of last year’s clothing. So to witness a store actually doing a proper giveaway – where you get something valuable (and four hours or not, the art supplies in that bag were truly something!) – is unheard of. And I’d never seen a line that long anywhere in London – even on the day the iPhone 4 was released! Friends tell me that there were still people there after 6 pm when the store closed. All of which made me realize that things really are changing around here.

4. You grasp group psychology. By the time we were well into the third hour of our wait, I’d forgotten what we were even waiting for. I’m sure I’m not alone. If you stand in front of a door long enough, after a while all you focus on is getting through that door. They could have handed me a toothpick by the time I made it to the front of the queue and I would have been delighted. I’m sure there’s some handy theorem in behavioral economics that can explain the psychology behind this. But there’s no question that the longer I waited, the less I cared about the loot that awaited us. I just wanted to get in.

5. You let go of schedules. This was perhaps the most valuable lesson of all. As a parent, I often have an irrational fear of down-time. I think that I need to schedule in every moment of the day lest…well, I don’t know what “lest.” I’m just driven to fill up their days, especially when my husband is out of town. But my stint standing in line that day taught me that sometimes just hanging out and doing nothing is just as much fun as tackling some major cultural outing. Which is another way of saying that sometimes you just need to throw away the outline.

Everyone who saw me in line that day keeps asking me: Was it worth it?

To which I’d have to say: yes.

Image: The line went around the block! by scary cow via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl