Month: June 2013

Julia Gillard, the knitted kangaroo and the future of feminism

A hundred years since the first suffragettes marched in the streets of London asking for the right to vote, the public opinion still appears very confused when it comes to women.

I almost fell off my chair yesterday when I read that a photograph of the Australian prime minister in the act of knitting had sparked a huge debate on feminism.

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Julia Gillard, pictured above as she appears on Women’s Weekly’s cover, said she was knitting a toy kangaroo for the Duchess of Cambridge’s baby, due in a few weeks.

The Australian press went nuts. Columnist Andrew Bolt – I read on The Guardian – said Gillard was “giving encouragement to young female politicians by plying a hobby now synonymous with mad old aunts” (Dear Mr. Bolt, I am a knitter too and far from being a mad old aunt. Knitting is back in vogue since some time now). Other even less nice comments followed and the international press started taking interest in the subject.

They pointed out how Gillard never showed any interest for housework (so what? Can’t a man collect stamps and at the same time be unable to cook an egg? What’s with judging hobbies now??) and how her press office asked specifically for this kind of picture in order to market a new image of Australia’s iron lady. (In case you didn’t hear about it before, last autumn Ms. Gillard became world famous and a feminist icon when she publicly accused of misogyny the opposition’s leader, Tony Abbott. You can watch the video here).

It’s clear that no one really cares about Ms. Gillard knitting skills or the honesty of those pictures. The point is that every single time a woman successful in a typical men’s job decides to show her feminine side, a large part of the public opinion rises up to stigmatize her.

In these past decades, powerful women have been implicitly requested to play along with men’s rules. All the female editors, politicians, lawyers, business executives I have met in my life showed the same personal traits: determination, pride, courage, inflexible discipline and the strength of character you need to rise up in a men’s world. They don’t always look happy despite their remarkable accomplishments, but they certainly are inspiring.

For my mother’s generation, success wasn’t only a goal. It was a symbol of freedom. I remember her telling me when I was a child that she wasn’t often home because she was building her career and that for a woman it was of utter importance to be financially independent and socially recognized as an individual, not only as someone’s wife or mother. I frankly didn’t like the implications of her pep talk: I was raised by not always nice carers and I never saw her handing me a slice of cake at teatime but I respect her choices.

I understand that for someone born in the 40s modernity was irresistible and that feminism in those early days needed a total commitment of those believing in its assumptions.

Things have changed, though. To say it with Charlotte York, “feminism is about freedom of choice” and I truly believe it is. If men are now discussing their career choices, their quality of life and their right to family and personal time, why do we still expect women to work twice as hard and to renounce to femininity? Maybe because we still assume, as thirty years ago, that a career woman would disqualify herself if caught baking cupcakes? That in order to validate her brain she should abstain from any stereotypical female activity? Why are we still so insecure?

Less than ten years ago an extremely successful fashion designer called Phoebe Philo announced she was leaving the artistic direction of the french brand Chloé, citing among other reasons the desire to spend more time with her family. I still remember the press reaction then. None could understand how someone would leave such a promising job to go home, change nappies and cook pudding. Ms. Philo, luckily, knew better. She did her thing, came back a couple of years later, went on to design clothes for Céline and totally rocked.

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In goes in the same direction. It’s outdated in my opinion. Some women will lean in, some others will lean back for a period of time and then in again, some others will just stay off the front line. The point is that in 2013 any woman should be able to choose her destiny, to time her choices and to play according to her own rules. Which don’t include being ashamed of knitting in public.

My day on Campari and Sofa

My favorite blog on earth, Campari and Sofa, asked me some time ago to write about my day for their A day in the life of series. They published it today and you can read it here.

I am flattered and grateful to have a little space on Claudia and Sue’s elegant, beautifully designed website, one of those places on the Internet where you’d just like to sit and have coffee for hours, while reading anything from art insights to life reflections, yummy recipes and delightfully posed questions on the human soul.

Campari and Sofa tells us of life after 50s and I have to credit its authors for relieving much of my stress regarding growing up. If 50s are like they describe them, then I can’t wait to get in!

Thank you Sue and Claudia, you rock!

Un mari pour une heure, or how to Rent a Husband

Belgians are worldwide famous for their chocolate and their mussels obsession. Not everyone knows, though, that they have an extraordinary sense of humour, often hidden behind their genetic shyness and discretion. They actually have the sort of self-deprecating, vitriolic humour many East Coast movies are made of. I found the latest proof of it last Friday in my favorite organic shop. I was in the usual end-of-the-week rush, grabbing dried mangos, nuts and improbable healthy stuff when I found this jewel, next to the cash register.

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The leaflet pictured above advertises a company called “Un mari pour une Heure”, or “A Husband for one Hour”. It promises any type of home works: renovation, repairs, electricity, plumbing, painting, gardening, furniture assembling (yes!!!!!they can deliver me of the Ikea nightmare), chauffeur service and even pet and house sitting. A very attractive man, slightly resembling a much younger George Clooney smiles at me, holding some unnameable tool in his skilled hands. It’s basically on the same tune of the 90s diet coke ad.

The upper right corner of the leaflet says “objective 100% clients satisfaction”. When I ran home holding it in my hands as the solution to all of my house related problems, The Husband looked down at it with some ill concealed skepticism. “They’re sort of ambiguous”, he said. “I mean, how many women do you think call them to actually get A Husband for One Hour?”, he added, his concern starting to show.

I like to think the company (which has a proper website, with another Diet Coke hunk on the homepage) is run by a very smart woman who spends her days casting young, strong and muscular unemployed men and to dispatch them around, to solve most of the annoying stuff very busy husbands don’t have the time to deal with and to let housewives dream for one hour.

Eight minutes, eight years: tale of a Victorian wedding

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It feels as eight minutes, but it’s been eight years. This afternoon, in 2005, I walked down the aisle to marry a guy I barely knew, having spent with him less than 30 days over a year’s time. It wasn’t love at first sight and we weren’t carried away by passion. Impulsive marriage was probably the only way out for the strongly independent, easily bored, constantly challenging characters we were at that time.

It certainly was the only way to go for me: after an endless list of unreciprocated romantic interests over teenage, my 20s were punctuated by a series of wrong affairs. They tended to be so wrong one could easily explain them with coffee-time psychology: I wanted them to be wrong, so that I could keep being on my own AND talk and write about my bad luck to anyone who’d listen. Just before meeting my husband, I remember confessing to a friend, over a Cosmopolitan (oh yes, I love Carrie Bradshaw’s favorite drink, I am THAT lame) that I didn’t care about love. And even less about passion or commitment. I just wanted someone to travel with, to eat and drink with at night and smart enough to keep me intellectually stimulated. It sounds like a checklist but it’s what 20s are after all: a list of things you think you need in order to be happy. I never found that person.

I did a bit of traveling alone in order to show off my independence: I hated it since I find no satisfaction in experiencing something I can’t share. But it was good to lose weight: I never ate at night, finding it depressing to have dinner alone.

Many of my friends discovered the pleasures (and sorrows) of being a couple early on: they started kissing on the school’s steps, went on going out together, partying, driving the first car, graduating. They lived everything with their companion. Then, usually, sometime after graduation all these happy couples started to get married. Some lasted, some others split shortly after tying the knot. It’s the story of the world.

I never thought of marriage as the natural conclusion of love, mutual respect, common projects and whatever you think a shared life should be about. I wanted it to be the beginning of love, and not its evolution.

In order to accomplish my plan, I had to marry quickly, trusting my instinct and without a safety net. Some called me crazy. Some others asked if I were pregnant (I was not). I loved the idea of knowing only a fraction of the man I was going to spend my life with: I knew he was decent but I didn’t meet any of his friends or his family till after we were already engaged. It was a huge risk, but one I rationally thought worth taking.

I don’t believe in marriages based on passion. Passion sweeps you away but it can’t last. None would survive longer than a few years with butterflies in the stomach, anxiety attacks and the constant fear of losing the person keeping us on a constant high. Passion tends to diminish over time, love tends to flourish. Love grows with mutual knowledge and understanding, it increases with the time spent together, it alleviates bad moments and underlines the most joyful ones. This being my personal take on marriage, I was extremely lucky in finding someone who shared a Victorian idea of all things related to love.

I knew my husband so little when we tied the knot that I ignored if he took his coffee black or with milk, what sport he played during childhood, where did he study and how was his childhood like. I had to learn all of this, and I still am.

It’s been smooth sailing, through so many different times. The early years’ freedom, traveling, dining, holidaying. The following first worries on work, getting our place, having children. The sleepless nights, the doubts, the extreme happiness of child rearing. Moments of grief, when we lost people dear to us and we learnt that life gives and takes in the blink of an eye, and so we better start savoring the present, without worrying about the future. Moments of relief, once the storm had passed and we realized we were still here and we were safe.

It’s a special anniversary, this 8th one. Thank you, my Victorian husband, for being with me through this amazing adventure that life is.

I tamed one tiger and found out something about shopping

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Five days after my last post, I can proudly say that I have tamed at least one of the many tigers that make me lean back every day. I no longer think that selling is akin to begging for money and my intellectual capacities (already beaten by age and child rearing) haven’t been diminished by spending 42 hours arranging scarves and bags and blouses and suggesting people a more flattering color for their complexion. Contrary to what I previously assumed, I actually had a lot of fun, met a whole bunch of new people and ended up refurbishing my own summer wardrobe. The Lawless guru might even be right.

Unexpectedly, I learnt something about shopping. I’ll call it Psychopathology of Shopping.

1) Thin women are the most difficult clients. They basically look good with anything and don’t feel the same compulsion to shop that pushes the average woman to walk miles to find the special item that will make her image in the mirror match the image in her dreams. I had thin ladies walking in, trying EVERYTHING twice, ask a thousand questions on colors, texture, composition…just to walk away empty handed 45 minutes later.

2) Single, pretty girls under 30 and in their late 30s are the best buyers, for different reasons. The armada of young, post-graduate, first-job-but-still-leaving-at-the-parents’ girls came in on the first night of the sale. They tended to go for the most beautiful pieces, without looking too much at the price tag (who cares, after all? They don’t have mortgages and pensions to pay yet and most of their first salaries will be devoted to shopping and vacationing), try it on without questions, quickly pay and go on partying with their friends, the new scarf already hanging from their smooth necks.

The older single ladies were the funniest: they would rush in just after work, re-apply make up in front of the mirror before going out for dinner and drinks, try on quickly a couple of things, talk excitedly about their upcoming holidays, negotiate the price, end up buying something that wasn’t necessarily what they initially wanted but that flattered them enough to promise a good summer AND matched their budget at the same time.

3) The fashion bug doesn’t go away with age. Women well into their 60s and 70s were the most curious buyers. They wanted to know everything about the story of the clothes, they had the time to talk and drink tea, and mostly looked really stylish. I felt enormously relieved: my personal nightmare of becoming a grey, old lady surrounded by animals in a camphor smelling house has no need to exist. I will probably keep on wearing bright colors and having coffee with my 70 years old girlfriends.

4) A shopaholic in recovery will tell you she will be back. She most likely won’t. She just controlled her impulse to take everything home, leaving you a third of her monthly salary. I had the greatest sympathy for this category, having used shopping as a chemical-free mood lifter for some years earlier on.

Lesson learned: doing something scary everyday is a very realistic medicine for the soul.

Taming the tiger, rule n.7: Do something scary everyday

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A couple of nights ago The Husband came home from London all excited about a conference he had attended. He handed me a leaflet illustrating the philosophy of the speaker: a motivational expert (when did we start having such job titles? Where was I while it happened?) going by the unforgettable name of Jim Lawless. I thought I was starting hallucinating and had to read it a few times before concluding that it is actually his name. He could have called himself Braveheart and it would have provoked the same effect. But I don’t even know if it’s a show name or his true one. And who am I to judge people’s names?

Mr. Lawless, who is of course British, has no fear. He tours the world giving motivational speeches to middle-aged, often disillusioned and bored corporate employees and showing them that anything is possible. He wrote a book called Taming Tigers to teach people how to manage that inner fear that “snarls at us when we think about making a change in our lives and stops us developing and achieving our potential”. He proves that with his own life: one day, he announced the world he would become a professional jockey in a year time. And he did it, despite being unfit, overweight and never having ridden a horse. He lost 20 kg and actually became a jockey. Bra-vo! Then he also broke the free-diving limit of 100 m, becoming the first Briton to do so. You see why I think that Braveheart would have been an even more suitable name.

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Listening half-hearted to this story I armed my cynical antennas and looked at The Husband with a raised eyebrow: “So, if I understand well, you were inspired by a crazy Englishman who runs around doing anything that can provide him the needed dose of adrenaline”.

“You should read the leaflet, it’s perfect for you! Look here, n. 7: it says DO SOMETHING SCARY EVERY DAY”

“Well, it’s not his. Eleanor Roosevelt said it almost a century before him. Do one thing everyday that scares you. Braveheart didn’t invent anything”.

Then I told myself that for once I could renounce being right for the sake of being happy, and looked at the leaflet. Act boldly, rewrite your rulebook, it’s all in the mind, never give up! I’ll take Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice, the others sound too manly to me.

What’s with fear these days? Sheryl Sandberg started at the end of last year urging women to be fearless, the Huffington Post published a series of articles on fear and photos of Facebook’s hq with posters saying “What would you do if you had no fear?” circulated on the social network earlier this year.

Have we become fearful? And when did it happen? Is it because beside the latest decade’s terrorism concerns we had the privilege to grow up in a West largely untouched by wars, famines and real-life worries? What scares you most? What would you do if you were fearless?

I’ll tell you what I’ll do this week to overcome my fears: host a sale. I do it for a friend and I hope at the end it will be fun but it’s a small thing that brings me out of my comfort zone. I can’t sell anything. Not even water to the thirstiest person on earth. But so far I like having my living room full of summer clothes, it’s messy and joyful. I bet the Lawless guy would be proud of me.

Liebster Liebster Liebster…I am thankful and clueless

The strangest thing happened this morning. My phone beeped while I was in the car listening to Carla Bruni and swearing in my head against the usual Monday Morning jam: it was ladyofthecakes messaging about a nomination for the Liebster Award. I was thrown in panic: there are rules, and things to do, and a link to open. I am the least practical person on earth, rarely understand rules (Italian genes, you know…) and panic whenever I have to follow a ritual. But I am thankful for this nomination, which follows the one I received by Miss Fanny P. a few days ago (and didn’t properly understand, sorry if I didn’t post about it).

Ok, so I copy and paste from ladyofthecakes the rules:

• Post the award on your blog
• Thank the blogger presenting you with this award and provide a link back to their blog
• You then need to write 11 random facts about yourself
• One good turn deserves another, meaning, you then need to find 11 other bloggers with less than 200 followers who you think are deserving of the award so that you can then nominate them! In other words, keep the love going!
• Finally, the award presenter will ask 11 questions of you which you need to answer and then you, in turn, ask your nominees 11 questions, and so it goes.

Here we go:

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2.I have been nominated by two great bloggers: ladyofthecakes, a very English sounding German who speaks more languages than Mata Hari and lives in Toledo. She knows absolutely everything about food (and I just found out why in her last post) and feels sometimes lost in translation as I do. Miss Fanny P is a London raised Italian who went back to her home country with a Russian husband and two multilingual kids, she writes with a lot of humour about motherhood, marriage and cultural crashes. Thank you both, ladies, I love reading you!

3. Eleven facts about myself, very randomly:

1. I love dogs. I grew up with them and couldn’t conceive life without a 4 legged friend. My current dog is a Boxer and I consider her my firstborn daughter.

2. I have never been in a long term relationship before getting married. And that happened after less than a month actually spent together.

3. I love feeding people. Nothing makes me happier than a huge table filled with family and friends and a sunny Sunday eating together.

4.I struggle with the material world: paying bills, organizing a trip, taking an appointment, fixing stuff are impossible tasks for me. I tend to delegate that whenever I can and when I am obliged to do something related to everyday administration I get very stressed out.

5.My favorite writer of all times is Leo Tolstoy.

6. My favorite actor and ultimate sex symbol is Colin Firth. I guess I like conservative guys who make good husband material

7.Greece is my favorite country. I frankly consider the possibility of having lived previous lives there.

8.I have dejà-vu all the time. Unfortunately I discovered it’s only a trick that your brain plays on you.

9. I am an utterly rational person. The only irrationality I concede my self is a passion for astrology.

10. I am a huge Downton Abbey fan and I totally relate to the character of Lady Mary.

11. Peonies and cherries are my June obsession.

4. 11 blogs I nominate for the award:

1.Jumble is the journal of an American living in China. It’s a super interesting chronicle of the Far East life and habits.

2.A girl and her travels is the journal of an American girl living in Moscow. Plenty of beautiful pictures and interesting facts

3.Kiwigipsy is a very funny kiwi guy living in India

4.DIstantdrumlin tells of an English woman living in Bangalore

5.My Small Hours is a stylish blog with great pictures

6.Chez Sasha is a yummy food blog

7.Italy with Grace is a blog about an American living in Milan with her Italian husband and children. It’s…a graceful place, full of sweet stories.

8.5cities6women , in their own words “a metropolitan survival rant by 6 friends scattered around the country

9.South Pacific Journal A thai/canadian couple planning to sail to the South Pacific

I couldn’t come up with two more links, I am sorry. Most of the blogs I enjoy reading already have more than 200 followers. You’re too successful, guys!

And now I will answer ladyofthecakes’ questions:

1. If you had to choose between a snake and a spider as a pet, which would it be?

A snake, without doubts. Even the smallest spider makes me scream in panic.
2. When you were little, what was the meanest thing another kid ever did to you?

My cousin loved to tell everybody I was living “in a movie” and so not worth listening to. I still ache when I think of it. I always had a great imagination but why ill talking behind my back at age 6?

3. You’re King/Queen Of The World for a day. What’s the first law you would pass?

I’d love to say beautiful and generous things but truth is, I’d love to have forced exile for all the mean, petty people I know.
4. What was your most hated subject at school?

Math. And I regret it now.

5. If you could bring two historical figures together, who would it be and why? (They needn’t have lived at the same time.)

I’d love to see together Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi. They corresponded for some time, at the end of Tolstoy’s life and I would have loved to see them doing something great together.
6. What type of social occasion do you enjoy the least?

Seated dinners when people are boring or the food is bad. Otherwise I am an extremely social person, so I basically love going anywhere.
7. What is the most adventurous food you’ve ever tried?

Snake, in Vietnam. Tasted like chicken, just more chewy.
8. Sweet or savoury?

savoury
9. Which physical feature do you least appreciate inheriting from your either one of your parents?

sticking out ears, from my grandfather. (jumped a generation and got to me, my parents have perfectly nice ears)

10. Fast forward to age 75. What do you think you’d regret most not ever having done?

I hope nothing. There is still plenty of time to do a couple o’ things I really care about 🙂
11. Name one item/style of clothing that’s in fashion right now and that you just can’t stand the sight of. Or, if you’ve not been out recently, you can name something from a past era. The 80s usually provide rich pickings…

derby shoes. I wore them as a teenager. Enough is enough.

My 11 questions to my nominees:

1. What’s your middle name?

2. Best year of your life?

3. Greatest regret?

4. What would you call the most defining moment of your life?

5. What did your parents teach you that proved itself very useful later on?

6. What’s your favorite planet?

7. How would you like to die?

8.Who’s your favorite writer?

9. What country influenced you most?

10. Are you a country or city person?

11. Wine, beer or champagne?

Cutting the cord: when, where and how you became an EXPAT?

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Legally, your are born the very minute your umbilical cord is cut, and you have to breathe for the first time on your own. I was surprised enough when I had my first child in discovering that coming out of the womb is not enough for a person to exist. She has to function correctly  on her own in order to be awarded a valid birth certificate.

We go through a similar process as expats. Living abroad is not sufficient, something has to happen in your brain (and your heart, probably) before you can consider all cords cut and nationality doesn’t shape your identity anymore. It doesn’t happen to everybody, though and that is why you can tell an expat only in the long run. If the cord doesn’t get cut, we tend to go back to our comfort zone, sooner or later.

I have dozens of Italian friends who moved to Brussels a decade ago but never cut the cord. They have their Italian circle of friends, their Italian doctor, Italian lawyer, Italian caterer, Italian realtor, Italian notary, Italian architect and even their Italian contractor should they need to renovate their place. They will see you for dinner dopo il telegiornale (after the TV news) and confess they don’t have the local cable TV because they brought from Italy their SKY decoder so they won’t miss any of the home shows, news and – most of all – football. They virtually never left the country.

I was like that at the beginning (well, more or less. But I did go to an Italian doctor for a couple of months) of the expatriation process: I still remember flushing while confessing to my friends after a few months in Paris that I was overexcited about coming back to Italy and couldn’t choose what my first breakfast should consist of. Cappuccino or Hot Chocolate? (the italian way, as introduced by the Spanish a few centuries ago, is thick and black. Melted chocolate, basically. In France and Belgium it’s just a glass of milk with a drop of Nesquik in it). It’s not that I hadn’t liked Paris. I was sincerely homesick and hadn’t opened up enough to appreciate life there. I would walk the city admiring the buildings, stop in Place Saint Sulpice in awe of the romantic atmosphere all around but end up eating macarons with my italian girlfriends, to whom I would complain about the weather or the horrid landlady. I was a tourist.

It took years to be different. Once in Brussels, my world was still very Italian: working for an half Italian company, eating everyday at an Italian trattoria which used to make the best homemade tagliatelle on earth, going out late at night with Italians and Spanish. My first look out of the box was to the Spanish world, of course. Easier to mingle with, without much surprises and even less cultural crashes. I was comfortable. Safe.

My expat Moment came only when I found myself sent to Germany, out of the blue and without a clue (I didn’t mean the rhyme). I didn’t speak a single word of German (well, apart from Danke and Auf Wiedersehen), had never been there before and didn’t know a soul. It was Sink or Swim. I had to swim: learnt the language (well, more or less), got a dozen fines for obscure felonies (as talking on the cellphone while driving a bike on the sidewalk or crossing while the pedestrian light was still red, bad example to “our children”, as the officer explained), made some friends and discovered the outer world. It was at that point that I started going out with The Husband and I admit  the two things may not be disconnected. 

Today I am always a little bit surprised when we are defined as a mixed marriage (i.e. a local who married a foreigner). I haven’t thought The Husband as a Belgian in many years now and I’ve stopped considering nationality a defining trait of personality. Sauf of course those few times when our divergent attitudes towards food, driving, clothes and cleanliness remind me of our geographically distant upbringing. 

What was your expat defining Moment? When did you stop being a tourist and where? 

Little Expats II: Tiger mothers and The Pursuit of Happiness

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Some say that Belgium is the lab of Europe: whatever happens here will eventually happen to the rest of the Continent. It is indeed the place where different and far away cultures manage to mix together with the privilege of remaining largely unaffected by the host country. In this frameless picture I made my first real life encounter with a tiger mother.

The picture above shows my son’s kindergarten homework. They started to familiarize with letters and sounds at the beginning of the school year and although teachers stressed the importance of having a routine in exercising a little bit everyday, they also insisted that children shouldn’t be forced to do their homework at this stage (thanks God!) otherwise they could develop a negative attitude towards the whole learning process (catastrophic as it sounds…).

My son is doing his letters, as often as I remember to pull the notebook out of his backpack. Which is not everyday but at least once a week.

The other day I walked him to class and my eyes fell on an open notebook, in a corner of the room. Unlike my son’s, that notebook was immaculate on the outside and letters were neatly drawn, minuscules and majuscules. All with the same, perfect black ink. Instead of the usual three lines under the given text, a full page of letters was completed and there were no finger or food marks around the lines. I looked around for the owner of the perfect notebook and it came out it belonged to the Chinese girl of the class. The teacher followed my look and understood what was going on in my head and tried to console me. “She has a tiger mother, don’t look at that notebook!”.

The Chinese, perfectly combed girl may have a tiger mother but then what about the Indian kids in the class who moved last September from Mumbai following their dads’ hi-tech jobs and walked into class the first day already knowing the whole alphabet?

I asked an Indian friend if all Asian parents were so competitive regarding their children’s achievements in school. She wasn’t surprised: “Yes, of course they are. It’s pure logic: if you want to stand out in countries like India and China you have to be the best and to be sure you’ll be exactly that you start to work hard. Since the very beginning”.

Standing out and working hard were part of European post-WWII education. The stuff my parents’ generation was made of. My generation got it a little softer: we had to work, and enjoyed being first but the idea that maybe it was not all about success had started to make its way into our head, and behavior and inner values.

The generation after mine – say, guys in their early 20s – are way less attached to past symbols of success. They want to change the world more than they want to make money. They want to get a degree but don’t think anymore that the world will fall apart if they don’t. They want to know who they are and they crave happiness and self fulfillment way earlier than we did. This is old, comfortable, sinking Europe at least.

When we went to California, The Husband met a friend who has moved there a few years ago. “I set a rule in my house for the kids: no more work after 9 – he said – otherwise they would be up till midnight to study as their American classmates do. That is not healthy”. Working hard to achieve one’s objectives is still a typical American trait while in Europe we think that you should never forget that there is more to life than work.

When I told my Belgian friends about the tiger mothers at school, they shrugged their shoulders: “Yes, but then what? Do we want stressed, overachieving children? Don’t we prefer them to enjoy childhood, play outside and be happy?”. Of course we want them to be happy. But my point is: Can we still afford it?

In a global world, where the work market is almost free of entry barriers, can we still think that competitiveness is a wartime thing? Will happiness really matter in twenty years time?

What do you think?