Tag Archives: Romania

International Women’s Day: Equally Celebrated?

There will be many articles and vociferous comments today, on the 100th anniversary of the first ever International Women’s Day, about whether women have indeed achieved true equality, all over the world. I  do not plan to add to those articles (my thoughts on the subject would probably burst out of their blog corset and rearrange themselves into a book, if they could).  Instead, I would like to explore how Womens’ Day is celebrated around the world.

I had no taste for so-called Communist rituals while living in Romania in the 1980’s.  Military parades, Young Pioneers, Labour Day demos were events they would try and force us pupils to attend and that we would try to avoid at all costs.  Women’s Day seemed to my uninformed adolescent mind to be just such a Soviet invention, made worse by the fact that we had to pay homage to the Mother of the Nation, that ’eminent scientist, politician, wife and mother’ Elena Ceausescu.  My parents would make me buy flowers for the female teachers and that was that.

Perhaps it’s a sign of old age.  Although I am not exactly growing nostalgic about International Women’s Day, I am considerably more concerned about it now than in my (more visibly feminist) youth.  And of course, now I am aware that it wasn’t a Communist invention in the first place!

First of all, I think it’s a shame that Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day gets such prominence in the Western Society, while Women’s  Day goes largely unnoticed.  Are we implying that women only add value in their roles as mothers and lovers/spouses, that they can only be defined through others?

Secondly, however hateful and hypocritical the public cult of Elena Ceausescu was, I think it’s significant that, unlike the spouses of political leaders in much of the Western world, she was celebrated not just as a wife and mother, but also as a politican and scientist in her own right.  She was equally applauded for her career and her contribution to society (fake though those claims were, obviously).  While Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Obama, Mrs. Sarkozy and Mrs. Brown had to at least temporarily suspend their careers so that they can more fully support their husbands, that kind of rhetoric was never present in Romania.  Sexist society, where women get wolf-whistled daily and then go home to do all the cooking and housework?  You bet!  But more equality in the job market and career expectations at least.

Thirdly, looking at the official International Women’s Day website, which is designed to bring together information and listings for events around the globe, I notice a huge number of events listed for UK, US, Canada and Australia, which almost seems to contradict my first point.  But if we look closely at the type of events, many of them are quite small initiatives and have been uploaded conscientously by their organisers.  In other countries only 1-2 events are listed (usually organised by the English-speaking community), so I am  not sure this list fully captures the range of global events and thoughts on the topic.

Fourth and final observation, I notice art and music seems to be one of the preferred ways of celebrating this day.  I can’t help pondering if that is because women prefer to express themselves that day (or are perceived to prefer it), or because it is a less controversial way of approaching the subject.  What do you think?

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Here comes the Spring…

… or not, if you are based in the southern hemisphere!  But for us up north, it is the joyous official first day of Spring and this is celebrated  in different countries, in spite of snow and gloomy weather.  Happy St. David’s Day for the Welsh!  Happy Martisor in Romania and Moldova, or Martenitza in Bulgaria!  Other countries may need to wait a little until the Spring Equinox to officially recognise the arrival of Spring…

A few examples of Martisor decorations

Check out some more lovely pictures of Martisoare on this website:

http://travelromania.tripod.com/i_romaniapictures3b_1.htm

In Romania we also have a tradition called ‘Babele’ or the ‘Old Ladies’.  You pick a day from the 1st to the 9th of March.  Then, the weather on your chosen day is supposed to predict what your whole year will be like: stormy, sunny, depressing…  Well, I am certainly not picking today (cold, grey, miserable)!  No, the truth is I’ve always had the same Baba ever since I was a child.  And no, I’m not telling! 

Besides, if the weather is ghastly that day, I can always console myself with that politically incorrect old Romanian saying: ‘Whoever heard of a beautiful Baba and a good child?’

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It takes a global village to raise a child

Traditional mountain village, Romania

Romanian village, from aboutromania.com

The title of today’s blog is a good example of globalism. The origin of the saying ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child’ is disputed – generally attributed to ‘Africa’ (as if a whole continent would have the same proverb), it has also been claimed as a Native American Indian proverb, and it was recently popularised by Hillary Clinton, as well as being the title of a book by Jane Cowen-Fletcher.  Regardless of its origin (which can probably be ascribed to more than one source), we can all understand its sentiments and wish we could recreate that village for our own children.

Certainly, when I was a child and spending the whole summer in my grandmother’s village in the Sub-Carpathians of Romania, my cousins and I roamed freely throughout the village.  Everyone knew us, ‘the daughter of the son of the wife of So-and-So’, and my Gran would get regular status updates of our whereabouts and activities, as good as anything that Yahoo or Facebook can offer nowadays.  All of this was detrimental to our fruit-stealing ventures in the church orchard, but it allowed us to fish and swim, climb and hike, taste honey fresh from the hives and dried prunes fresh from the ovens, while hearing fascinating gossip and stories of war-time bravery.

Those idyllic villages have gone.  Yet even as we move between the big cities of the world, we would like to build new, safe villages for our own children.  Except these villages will be ‘communities of the mind’ rather than have real physical presence.  What do I mean?  Well, imagine the following scenario.  Country A national (who is, however, a third culture kid and grew up in 3 different countries) meets Country B Dad in Britain – they marry, have children, live for a while in Countries C and D.  Then come back to Britain, perhaps with the grandparents coming over to help out with childcare for extended periods of time…  What parenting advice, style, values are that family going to adopt?  Can they create a ‘best practices village’ scenario, choosing the most promising approaches from each culture and what really resonates with them personally? 

So what is it to be?  A village replete with a rich variety of rituals, colourful people, diverse stories, curiosity and transparency?  Or will those poor children be confused and overwhelmed by the conflicting attitudes and pressures?  When is choice too much choice?  And when do we start building walls around our village in an effort to protect it?

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World Cup fans

For the first time in his seven and a half years of life, my older son is showing interest in football.  More than just a slight interest, he is in the throes of World Cup fever – as are most of his little classmates.  Every night he is allowed to watch the beginning of a match before bedtime and he is rapidly developing into that annoying kind of armchair footballer who comments on every single action (or lack thereof) and believes he could do everything better himself.

But the World Cup is problematic in our household not because some of it takes place past bedtime, but because it is not immediately obvious which team or teams we support, either individually or collectively.  Typically, the World Cup season is the time when we revert to our primal tribal instincts and support the country we consider home.  My husband has a clear-cut choice: he supports Greece.  He was amused but also slightly annoyed when our son told him that he personally wouldn’t support Greece ‘because they don’t stand a chance’. But why would Greece be home to our sons?  Despite their name, appearance, the fact that they speak Greek with their grandparents and occasionally with my husband, they only go there on holiday, no more than a family who owns a holiday home in Cyprus, say!

So my older son started off supporting England, which also helps him fit in better with his school friends.  My younger son doesn’t know or care, except that he quite likes an Italy T-shirt he has inherited from a cousin.  They are also a bit confused as to whether they should care about Switzerland or France (we lived on the border between these two countries for nearly two years).

For me it’s more complex, as Romania (my country of origin) did not qualify, nor did Austria (where I spent most of my childhood).  I am British now, but I do feel more ‘British’ than English (which is perhaps one of the luxuries that you do have when you become a British citizen later in life).  I would have no qualms about supporting a GB football team, but ‘England’ seems too parochial.  The other country I feel close to is Japan, but not close enough to seriously believe  they have a chance of going much further and therefore supporting them to the end.  Because isn’t that what national and nationalistic football is all about?  Loving your team so much that you believe they are the best, against all evidence to the contrary?

So I make no claims to originality and support Brazil – one of my favourite countries in the world, although I only ever spent two weeks there.  I mix it with capoeira, samba, Caetano Veloso, Jorge Amado, although they are not all playing on the field…  at the same time!

As for my son?  Well, maybe he is a global citizen after all, as last night he announced that he wants Germany to win.  When I asked him why (after all, he has virtually no connections with Germany), he said that he wants them to equal Italy’s four wins of the World Cup.  ‘And next time, Italy can win it, so they are equal with Brazil’.  Fairness, in the end, trumps national sentiment…

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Speak to me…

My four-year-old said the wrong thing again to me today.  No, he didn’t swear or forget to say please or call  me ‘Egyptian Mummy’  (which is his favourite nickname for me at the moment).  He just said: ‘Can I use blue to colour this in?’  But what upset me was that he said it in English.   Although I was the only other person in the room.  And he knew all of the words above in Romanian.

Since the birth of my older son we have tried to be consistent:  I speak Romanian to the children, my husband speaks Greek and, even when we are all having dinner together, there are three languages going on around the table at any time.  (My husband and I speak English to each other and if the children share a story with both of us simultaneously, they will say it in English too).  On the whole, the strategy has worked well, and the children speak all three languages reasonably fluently.  Recently, however, they have taken to speaking English not only among themselves (which was to be expected), but also to us the parents.

I grew up in a trilingual environment myself, so I thought I had it sussed, but I find myself surprisingly unrelaxed about the whole thing.  I don’t want the children or us to get lazy and revert back to English, because it will be so hard for them to communicate with their relatives and grandparents in Greece and Romania.  I also want them to have the flexibility to live and work in these countries should they choose to do so at some point in the future.  I want them to be able to engage with other cultures at a deeper level, as you can do when you speak other languages.

But at the same time, I fear I may be doing them a disservice.  That, by insisting so much on speaking Romanian, I am actually putting them off using this language.  That, by refusing to speak English except for the purposes of homework, I am putting my son at a disadvantage, not building his vocabulary, not conveying all the tricky nuances of the English language, and – saddest of all – not sharing with him my love of the English language.

Because, if I am honest, it is English that is the language of my heart, even if it is not officially my mother tongue.  I live, dream and write in English;  I clothe my thoughts and feelings in English words.  I have taught English to hundreds of other children… but am not teaching it to mine.  My head tells me it is the sensible choice.  While they are living here in the UK, English will be their dominant language anyway, and I can always explain the mysteries of punctuation and grammar to them.

But my heart is always a little torn when they say something in English and I reply to them: ‘Speak to me in Romanian, please…’

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The delight and pain of coming home

‘Why did no one warn us how hard it would be, coming home?’  my friends moaned.  They have just returned to Romania after a long stint in the US.  While out there in Washington DC, they could barely find a kind word about America.  They hated the food, the schools, driving everywhere, the ignorance about Europe, the superficial cheerfulness, the lack of hospitality…  The list went on and on.  They idealised their home land, played its music, read its stories to the children, met to swap recipes for traditional dishes. 

Now they are back in the motherland, they are being reminded every day of the good things that they miss about the States.   They struggle through the small and great frustrations of Romanian society that they had somehow lost sight of during their stay in America.

‘Reverse culture shock’ is a very common phenomenon for expats when they do finally return home.  You might expect it if you had a wonderful time abroad (perhaps you were studying or enjoying a prolonged vacation or starting a completely different lifestyle).  But for people who were not particularly happy abroad, it often comes as a complete surprise.  They were so looking forward to returning home, but home has changed and moved on, and so have they.

After nearly two years in France (well, one leg in France, one in Switzerland, straddling the border as we were in Geneva), we were relieved to exchange rented accommodation for our lovely house and garden in the UK.  The children and I hadn’t found it easy to adapt initially to our lives there (I couldn’t work because of childcare issues, and the children spoke no French at first).  And yet, it was funny to see the little things that each of us missed most about our lives abroad.  My elder son missed the croissants and frites.  My younger (who could not remember a pre-France life) missed the sandpit and was surprised that everybody spoke English around here.  Both of them missed the lifts in our block of flats.  Personally, I didn’t miss that one a bit, as it was the smallest lift in the world, not even designed for a mother, a toddler and two shopping bags!  I missed hiking in the mountains and the winter sports, all just 15 minutes away by car. 

And my husband, for whom we all m0ved out there?  Well, he had lived in the perfect expat bubble, with everyone at work quite international and able to communicate in English (and if they couldn’t, dear wife would handle that).  So no,  he doesn’t miss anything at all about Geneva.  Except maybe the occasional fondue.

And I got to thinking that perhaps for some expats there is no such thing as ‘reverse culture shock’, because they never actually went beneath the surface of the society they were living in.  They are just ‘long-term tourists’ perhaps.  And they can move happily from one posting to the next, as long as they have their immediate creature comforts.  It’s debatable whether that is good for them or for the organisation they serve in the long run.  Perhaps progress and true understanding of other cultures is only possible when we experience some discomfort.

Have you experienced reverse culture shock?  If yes, what was most challenging:  the small everyday matters or the major differences?  What do you wish you had known before going back home?

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