Archive | Expat Living

Talking To Children About Evil

My daughter came home from school yesterday and told me that her best friend had a “hate list.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s a list of all the people in the world that she hates.”

“Don’t make one yourself,” I said quickly. “That’s not nice.”

“Yeah, but I only have one person on it,” she responded.

“I don’t care. You’ll hurt someone’s feelings.”

She looked up at me, wide-eyed. “But it’s Hitler.”

Pause.

At first – of course – I laughed. But then I kept on thinking about it and I realized that not everyone would find it funny that their six-year-old knew about Hitler. I remember once writing a post about talking to your kids about death, which dealt with my (failed) attempts to explain death in any meaningful and convincing way to my then five-year-old daughter. The post also touched upon our visit as a family to The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. And I got more than a few comments from people who thought that it was really bad parenting on my part to have exposed such a young child to the Holocaust. As one woman wrote in the comments section: “I think we have a parental duty to protect children from even knowing about the worst aspects of evil.”

Do we?

In my case, my husband is Jewish, we’ve been to Israel as a family and my nine-year-old could practically write a book on World War II at this point. So somehow I don’t really think that we could “hide” the Holocaust from my daughter, even if we wanted to. But I also feel strongly that the Holocaust is quite recent world history. And at some point children need to know that the Holocaust happened in order to comprehend its magnitude and horror and very possibility, if for no other reason than to guard against it happening again.

But the Holocaust isn’t the only evil we’ve talked about with our kids. I moved to London 3½ years ago, the day before a group of home grown British terrorists was arrested for a “liquid bomb plot” at Heathrow airport. The next day, as we tried to settle our new home/country/life, there were TVs on everywhere we went. People were jittery. My then five-year-old son asked me what was going on. Should I have lied to him? Perhaps. But I didn’t.

As I wrote about subsequently, 9/11 and all that has come since has permanently changed the way Westerners perceive and experience terrorism. It’s no longer something that happens “over there.” It is woven into the very fabric of our daily lives through things like threat levels (ours just went up to “severe”), how much freedom of speech is permissible at universities, even what kinds of liquids we can bring on board an airplane. Living – as we now do – in that sort of environment alters the equation for what kids need to become aware of at an early age.

You could also extend this line of argument to encompass natural disasters like the recent earthquake in Haiti (while understanding that this is a very different form of tragedy.) Is it distressing for a six-year-old to learn that 150,000 people just died in an earthquake because they happened to live in the wrong place at the wrong time? Sure it is. But my daughter and I have talked about Haiti too. Whether that’s to make her appreciate just how fortunate she is or to begin to teach her about charitable giving, it’s a worthwhile lesson, IMHO.

So, at the end of the day? I’m totally down with the I Hate Hitler list.

But how about you? When do you think we ought to begin discussing the reality of “unnatural” deaths with your children? And are there certain topics that ought to remain taboo?

*****

For those who are interested, here’s a post I did yesterday about what Gordon Brown can learn from the recent elections in Massachusetts and Chile.

Image: Mai piu’ by maxgiani via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Defending Burqas In Adulthood

For those of you who live in Europe – and even those who don’t – you’ll know that headscarves – and now burqas – have been a hot-button political issue in France for awhile now.

Today, a colleague of mine over on PoliticsDaily.com – Bonnie Erbé – wrote a post suggesting why she thinks France should go ahead and ban the burqa…and why The United States should do the same thing.

As with so many issues, my feelings on burqas and headscarves have changed dramatically since living in a country where they are a part of everyday life.

Please come visit me over on PoliticsDaily.com today where I find myself in the unexpected position of…defending the burqa.

Image: Burqa a Meta by fotorita via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Are Americans Polite Because They Feel Superior?

Over the weekend, the English writer Geoffrey Dyer wrote a wonderful essay in The New York Times magazine entitled “My American Friends” in which he argues that Americans are actually remarkably…polite. To which one’s natural instinct is to reply: “What?????” (Or rather…”Pardon???”)

Today I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about his thesis and adding my own two…pence.

Have a look

Image: Smiley American Girl by cproppe via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Time Marches On: Vienna, And Feeling Nostalgic For The Last Century

Yesterday was New Year’s Eve, which is  – as we sit back and contemplate our various “top 10” lists from the past year – often an occasion for nostalgia.

I was also feeling nostalgic yesterday, though my nostalgia wasn’t for what changed in 2009 so much as for what’s changed over the last century. I’m just back from a vacation in Vienna, you see. And unlike other European capitals I’ve visited in recent years — Paris, Amsterdam, Helsinki — Vienna feels decidedly less modern and cosmopolitan. Instead, it’s got that proverbial “Old European” feel, the kind that makes you reach for one more hot chocolate mit schlag, crank up the Johann Strauss and break out the Wittgenstein.

Find out the five things Vienna made me feel nostalgic for from the last century at PoliticsDaily.com

Image: Vienna State Opera by tm boris via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Religious Identity in Adulthood: Is It Who You Are Or What You Do?

Last week I posted about my ongoing struggle to forge a religious identity as an adult by borrowing from different faiths.

Today I continue that discussion of religious identity in adulthood – with a particular eye towards Jewish identity – over on PoliticsDaily.com. It’s a question directly raised in a landmark decision by Britain’s Supreme Court, which ruled last Wednesday that it was illegal for a state-funded Jewish school to base its admissions policy on whether or not the applicant’s mother was Jewish.

And so the thorny question arises that bedevils all of us who struggle with religious identity, but particularly Jews:  whether our identity is determined fundamentally by what we do or by our blood.

Have a look and be sure to weigh in…


Image: Metal Menorah by Skyco via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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The Ladies Who Lurch: Why Do Working Women Drink More Alcohol?

Well, ladies, as you reach for that holiday drink of choice — mulled wine, Christmas punch, or spiced eggnog, perhaps? — you might want to think twice. A new study in Europe shows that highly educated, professional women drink more often and more heavily than almost any other female group.

Today I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about what the data show and why working women might be hitting the bottle especially hard…have a look.

Image: 2008 04 -12-05 Lunch at Bouchon – 13 Waiter and Table of Ladies by Bewarenerd via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Night At The Museum: Why I Hate Camping

I figured out something important about myself over the weekend. Or, more accurately, I figured it out again:  I’m not a camper.

This realization came to me whilst attending a sleepover at the British Museum on Saturday night with my 8 year-old son. He’s a “young friend” at the museum and as with all things, membership has its privileges. In this case, he was invited to attend an evening of workshops surrounding the current Montezuma exhibit, followed by a sleep-over and early morning access to the exhibit.

What’s not to love, right?

Well, a lot, actually. At least if you’re me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in awe of the quantity and quality of things that British museums – especially this one – do in the way of inspiring and educating children about art and history. It’s one of the things I love most about living over here. By way of example, in a mere four hours on Saturday night we decoded Mayan glyphs, made a Mexican headdress, chanted to some Aztec Gods and listened to a Day of the Dead Story teller. In short: brilliant.

But then there was the actual sleepover. And here I was less charmed. As I lay there around 2 a.m., wide awake on a cold, stone floor amid the Assyrian statuary…in a sleeping bag (graciously loaned by a neighbor)…with my 8 year-old son lying next to me, grinding his teeth…in a room full of snoring strangers….under the watchful eye of “A Winged Bull For Sennacherib’s Palace” I thought:  Right. This is why I hated camping all those years.

I know. I know. It’s not real wilderness-style camping. But it bears enough similarity to warrant the comparison. To wit:

*relative deprivation from creature comforts (e.g. bed, heating–those statues are cold!, shower, normal food)

*living in groups and listening to/participating in other people’s personal rituals (e.g. sleep, eating, teeth-brushing)

*that curious modern creation that is the sleeping bag

It probably would have helped if I’d had an air mattress instead of the yoga mat I brought to add an extra layer of comfort. (Not.)

It probably also would have helped if I were ten years younger and didn’t yet know the aches and pains of that pesky piriformis muscle that’s been acting up so much lately.

And – to be honest – it probably also would have helped if I were just a different person. I don’t know. Someone who really excelled at Girl Scouts, perhaps. Or didn’t find it really strange to brush my teeth in front of 20 other people.

But I’m not. And much as I love my son, I don’t think I’ll be repeating that exercise anytime soon.

But I’m happy to have learned all of this – again – about myself. Because at the end of the day, adulthood is about realizing who you are and what you enjoy in life.

I had the exact same realization the other day when looking at a friend’s vacation pictures on her computer. As I watched slide show after slide show of her recent family holidays, I realized that in every single one, she and her husband were engaged in some sort of “extreme sport” – whether it was kayaking or mountain climbing or windsurfing.

Whereas when my husband and I take a holiday,we tend to go to a lot of museums (in the daytime!), frequent cafés and catch up on The New Yorker.

Which is, I suppose, a long way of saying “to each his (or her) own.”

It’s also a long way of saying that the next time I spend a Night at The Museum, it will be on film.

Image: Night at the Museum by Frangipani via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons You Should Listen To The BBC

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

One of the many pleasures of living in the U.K. is that I have unlimited access to BBC Radio. I remember back when I lived in the States – and worked at Chicago Public Radio – I used to feel a bit put off when BBC programming came on. It felt too distant, too proper and – let’s face it – too mature.

I don’t feel that way anymore. I can’t get enough of BBC radio, and here are five reasons you should be listening too:

1. It’s combative. Much as I love National Public Radio in the U.S., NPR news programs can feel a bit…polite. Perhaps because the network is trying really hard to fight the perception that has a liberal bias, the talk show hosts go out of their way to be deferential and even-handed. Not here. Sure, the BBC tilts Left, but the “presenters” (as they’re called) are just as rough on Gordon Brown as they are on David Cameron. Have a listen to Radio Four’s James Naughtie interviewing just about anyone and ask yourself if you’ve ever heard anything like it on Morning Edition. It’s really refreshing to hear journalists who aren’t afraid to take the gloves off, without devolving into shrill partisanship.

2. It’s broad. The range of programming offered is – frankly – amazing. Just the other day, I was listening to some in-depth analysis of the latest bank restructuring over here. Next up? A retrospective on Somerset Maugham. I’m not kidding. And it’s like that all week long. One of my favorite programs is something called Desert Island Discs, where some famous person is interviewed about the eight pieces of music they’d bring with them if they were stuck on a desert island. What a concept!

3. It’s Informative. I think one of the sticking points for US listeners is that the BBC reports on such a broad range of topics geographically. This is true of domestic programming (Radio 4) and especially true of the BBC World Service. Americans just aren’t used to listening to *that much* foreign news. But once you get used to hearing about the latest governance debacle in Zimbabwe, it’s incredibly eye-opening and informative. (And, BTW, they do a great job with American coverage, in particular.)

4. It’s Quirky. Because – relative to NPR, at least – the BBC is incredibly well-funded, it can afford to do all sorts of odd, quirky programming alongside its flagship news shows. So, for example, radio plays are hugely popular over here. When I first moved to London, I found myself switching off The Archers (the longest running and most popular of these) whenever it came on. Now, three years later, I’m oddly drawn into this ongoing saga about families in the Midlands and have developed a sort of affection towards it.

5. It’s on all night! At least if you live in America, you can often hear top-drawer BBC programming in the middle of the night. And since we’re all insomniacs anyway, what’s there to lose? Have a listen…and see for yourself.

Image: Radio Daze by Ian Hayhurst via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Reluctant Soccer Mom

I had a formative cultural experience in London last night.

No, it didn’t entail that controversial new Damien Hirst exhibit over at the Wallace Collection. Nor did I catch that hot new production at the Donmar Warehouse. Nope. My cultural immersion was much more authentically British: I attended my first professional soccer game.

Today, I’m over at PoliticsDaily.com talking about the seminal role soccer plays in European life and how living here has changed my attitude towards the sport. Read it here

Image: Soccer Dude by Brit. via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Should Children Start School When They Are Older?

It’s a question worth asking.

It’s also the chief recommendation coming out of a comprehensive new review of the British educational system.

Today I’m over at PoliticsDaily.com weighing in on this topic, which has implications for learning, policy, as well as family life.

Do drop by and have a look at my post. As of today, AOL has instituted a “comments moderator” over at Politics Daily, which should mean that the saner corners of the earth will be heard from hence forth, and not (just!) the looney fringe of American political junkies…

Enjoy!

Oh, and do follow me on Twitter.

Image: Making Raw Chocolate Fudge With Children By Elana Pantry via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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