Archive for the 'Life As An Expat' Category

21
Dec
11

DSK, The Dodo, and The Destroyer of Worlds

I tend to harp on things I noticed as an ex-pat that I found superior to American things. Time for a reality check, though. There are a few things Americans do way better. Rap, punk, innovative art and writing and poetry and film…all of those things are things we do really, really well. OK, we often do them better than our neighbors across the pond. Ever heard French rap? It’s unbelievably silly-sounding.

Here’s something else we do better: we don’t do shit like this:

DSK’s Wife Voted France’s Most Admired Woman.

Ick. Nast.

I have never understood how it’s seen as courageous or admirable for women to stand by the men who routinely (and publicly) humiliate them. Because it’s not courageous. It would be courageous to tell them to fuck off and be a single mother. It would be admirable be to tell the world that, even though you find your husband’s personal behavior repugnant and inexcusable, maybe that shouldn’t reflect on his professional behavior. But excusing your husband’s behavior and staying with him? That’s not only weak-minded, but it reflects misandry in its purest form.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for a bit of misandry now and then. Lord knows the bit that lives in the darkest regions on my own psyche grew a thousand times the day my first child was born. While the scientist in me might think Valerie Solanas was technically accurate in some of her findings (if crazy as a shit-house rat in general)–and while I might understand the scientific argument detailing the innate and evolutionary biological imperative to spread seed far and wide–there are times when cold, hard science needs to be ever-so-subtly integrated into societal life. Like the H-bomb, for example: while it may be true (and kind of a cool idea) that one can harness, and then release, the power behind the strong nuclear force, maybe it’s not such a great idea.

So while it may seem I’m being a feminazi man-hater for saying these women who’ve been publicly humiliated should up and leave their husbands, I will argue that I am actually arguing on the pro-men side. Men are, after all, people, and not merely a collective of hormonal and instinctual imperatives derived from eons of nigh impossible living conditions. Living conditions right now may not be ideal (in that I can’t afford for everyone in the family to have a new iPad for Christmas), but they’re not like they were (in that I’m reasonably certain neither of my kids will be eaten by a large hungry beast in the next couple of hours). As such, the behavior borne from those conditions can be modified. And should, if we expect both genders to coexist happily.

To be clear: if you’re into polyamory, good for you. If you’re not, that’s fine too. But conditions of a relationship
should be outlined at its inception, and then respected and adhered to equally. This notion that self control and strong will can only manifest themselves when two X chromosomes are present is absurd on its face, and repugnant at its core. And if it’s not, then what’s the implication? If only one gender can evolve-and they’ve already taken on the bread-winning role inaddition to that of child caretaker–then Valerie Solanas was right: men will be outmoded in future generations.

Granted, it may be a jump to say that, because they think long-suffering wives are something to be admired, French women are subconsciously voting for men to be an evolutionary blunder akin to the Dodo. But it’s not a huge jump.

Advertisements
21
Oct
09

Machismo: Lost In Translation

Given its history and reputation as a fiery, imperial, and “Inquisitive” culture, I’ve been struck recently by Spain’s seeming disavowal of a word their language coined: Machismo. While used as a euphemism in many parts of the States for men who yearn to be toe-kickin’ John Wayne-a-bees, Spain translates it literally as “chauvinism,” and treats it as such.

I was first struck by this notion at the Gay Pride Parade I went to here in Madrid, at which there were many signs reading, “Homophobia = Machismo.” The idea seemed to be that machismo is something so looked down upon as antiquated, cruel, and ill-informed (to say the least) that it is mostly now used as a warning, as something so awful and ignorant that you would not want any association with it. The further fact that those signs constituted the first time I had seen/heard/read the word “machismo” in 2 and a half years living here also struck me as odd. After all, the image of the “Macho Man”–as literal Marlboro-man-type, or as ironically flamboyant Village Person–seems to me to be omnipresent across the pond. On the contrary, after being on the lookout, the only other context in which I’ve seen the word used is equating macho men to chronically abusive spouses.

But it doesn’t just end there. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a man at the store wearing a translated version of the biker t-shirt that reads “If You Can Read This…The BITCH Fell Off.” And, while the shirt was definitely recognizable in its design and basic verbiage, the actual message on the back (translated directly back from Spanish) is “If You Can Read This…My FIANCEE/GIRLFRIEND Has Fallen From The Motorcycle.” Comically extraneous prepositional phrases aside, the shirt’s translation to Spanish meant that it necessarily had to lose all of its anger and nonchalance about a violent act occurring to someone about whom the wearer is supposed to care. I can just imagine the first Spaniard reading the American version of the shirt: “Oh ho HO, that poor guy! He’s going to be so worried when he finds out she’s not there! What a useful shirt to let us know to alert him!”

I was just reminded of this whole thing while looking for a movie to watch. I clicked on the “Men Who Hate Women” link, only to find out it’s the movie based on Stieg Larsson’s ubiquitous novel of the same name. At least, its English name is Men Who Hate Women. Its Spanish title (again, translated back) is The Men Who Did Not Love Women. The difference is not only that hate is never mentioned, but that the verb used for the “not love” part of the title is “amar,” the deeper form of the traditional verb “querer,” which also means “to love.” The implication is that the men described in the book did not romantically, truly, deeply love women, as opposed to the English title, which implies that the men in the book harbor darkly violent distaste for women.

And so it occurs to me that there might be something to what I always called, in my younger days, “politically correct horsewallop.” What I see here is something I also remember thinking in the South: Language is power. Specifically, the type of language viewed as community-approved or acceptable sets the tone for the society, and the implications can indeed be palpable. Pulling back on said language, reserving it only for extreme cases, or just outright banning it, then, might not be such a bad thing.


To cite an example from my time below the Mason-Dixon, one day I was driving with one of my neighbors (a female microbiologist) and her niece, returning her niece back to Lafayette (the biggest little city in Cajun Country, for those not in the know). We both started teasing the 16-year-old girl about having a secret crush on one of her school’s football players, a boy who happened to be black. She slumped in her seat and grumbled, “Please. I ain’t gonna have no niglets running ’round my house.” My neighbor saw me blanch and catch my breath, and virtually ran her truck off the road so she could grab her niece and say to her what all Southerners sometimes need said to them:

“If you ever want to get out of a shithole town and be around smart, good people, you can’t talk like that. Any educated people you’re going to meet won’t like it, and they won’t like you.”

That is to say, while your average Connecticut housewife may indeed clutch her purse more closely when she sees any young minority in baggy pants walking by her, betraying some unspoken bigotry in her soul, she won’t admit that she does so; the mere fact that she knows that society frowns on it makes her disapprove of her own thoughts. It is less a case of using sunshine as a disinfectant, and more a case of constructing a polite society. Like not starting food fights in fancy restaurants (even though it’s secretly kind of fun), we don’t do it because we’re not fucking animals.

Why the sudden harsh tone? Taking the argument about machismo, for example, and its lack of perceived hilarity in Spain, let’s look at some statistics. The first 100 days in 2007, 15 women died in Spain as a result of domestic violence. The public outcry was enormous, even though the number dropped (by 6) from the previous year. Protest rallies were organized and held, and the anti-machismo posters abounded. For comparison’s sake, citing a 2005 study, at least 3 women die every day in the United States at the hand of a current or ex-partner. So, in that same period of time in 2007, barring some sudden precipitous drop in cases, 300 women died in the United States. To be fair, let’s adjust the number to show the disparity in population (Spain’s population is roughly 13% that of the United States), and the number come out to 40, over double Spain’s “unacceptable” number.

Maybe it’s all just smoke and mirrors, or maybe it’s just because Spanish men are more preoccupied with Real Madrid vs. Real Betis to save up any violent passions for their spouses, but it seems to me to be worth noting that Machismo may need to stop being funny. Cause maybe it’s already not.

25
Sep
09

Cheap Drugs Now! Cheap Drugs Always!

To continue my rant about what health care reform is vis a vis my experiences here with universal health care, let’s move on to a prescient (and pressing) topic: Drugs. Obama flip-flopped a while ago on drug cost reform, which is the most retarded compromise he’s made yet. Put your Twitter guns away, Sarah. With all due respect to Trig Palin, the most likeable of that whole damned family, I am using “retarded” in the literal sense, meaning that it is slowing progress.

Let me explain. I realized lately that, of all the things that universal health care has meant for me here, maybe the most concrete and loveable is the drug situation. Specifically, I have a baby who just loves to get earaches. Really. Like, 10 a year. As such, I have a house constantly full of two things: Amoxycillin and prescription-strength Ibuprofen (meant for babies with perforated eardrums). In an attempt to curb the constant earaches, our pediatrician recently put her on a daily does of the antibiotics, a course of treatment meant to last for 3 months, which means buying at least 4 bottles of the stuff. Here’s why I say I love this part of universal health care the most:

2 bottles of Amoxycillin + 1 huge bottle of baby Ibuprofen = less than 2 euros.

That’s right. LESS than 2 bucks.

Finding a way to make that sort of thing unpalatable to the masses would be tough for even the most skilled government-hater. Unless, of course, they bring up that most hated of all words: tax. Time for more math, you say?

My monthly salary, before taxes and social security: about 2200.
My take-home: A little more than 1900.

That’s right. I pay just around 13% for taxes and social security. Included in that is health care, education through college in any EU university for all of my kids, and a nice cushy retirement fund. Oh, and, most pressing for me, is the unemployment benefits, which amount to 70% of your salary for the first 4 months.

Now, granted, Spain is not someplace you move to to get rich. Or someplace you stay to get rich. But, you’d be pretty hard-pressed to find people who are not middle class. And harder-pressed yet to find people who don’t go to the doctor if so much as their nose itches.

Better yet, they can afford the treatment. And who doesn’t love cheap drugs?

29
Jul
09

Five Big Concerns About Public Health Care (And Why They Shouldn’t Be)

Three things are inspiring me to write this. First of all, I was asked about it. Secondly, health care is kinda sorta in the news nowadays. And thirdly, my upcoming jaunt back to mi patria is bringing back memories…and anger. Why anger, you ask? OK, I’ll start with the last part then…

When I discovered I was pregnant in the States, I was just finishing my degree and didn’t have health insurance or money. I was, however, shocked and delighted to find out that I was eligible for LAMoms, a program of public health care that focused on low-income Louisiana mothers-to-be and their small children. Hurray! And this brings me to my first point.

1. Picking doctors
Under LAMoms, I was allowed to pick my own doctor. Huzzah! And so I did, carefully researching the best OB/Gyns in the area. Turns out, none of them would take my poor ass. Finally, after cold-calling every doctor within a 100-mile radius (no kidding), I found someone who would be willing to take my gubmint insurance. 70 miles away. In three months. Which is a bit late for a first trimester checkup.

Here in Spain, I was not allowed to pick my doctor or my midwife (midwives do the delivering here). I have to say, though, it didn’t bother me for a few reasons. Most notably, I’m not really picky when it comes to doctors, and the very distinct impression given here is that every doctor is equally qualified. Plus, if you really can’t stand a doctor (which happened to me later when visiting a pediatric specialist), you can bitch and moan and change doctors. So, yes, your doctor is determined by your zip code here in Spain, whereas, in the States, my doctor was determined by my insurance coverage. Which reminds me…

2. Public insurance

What exactly is public health insurance? This is a question that should be asked more often, since I think it’s unclear in the States. I say this because I was just researching whether or not our daughter would be covered under the much-ballyhooed CHIP (children’s health insurance) program while we’re visiting. Turns out that, in the state where we’ll be visiting, there does exist a CHIP program to cover all minors. For $147 a month, per kid (capping out at around $400 a month for three or more little buggers). In short, this makes us buying travel insurance for all three of us more cost-effective for the weeks we’ll be there.

That’s not public health insurance, silly!

Spanish public health insurance is a given. It’s a right for all citizens and legal residents, rather than a privilege. And, when I say it’s a given, I mean that: it’s given. Free. Sin pagar. Punto.

As for illegal immigrants, they can go to the doctor too in the ER, for a fee. Just like all us po’ folks in the United States. Oh, and, speaking of ERs…

3. Quality of public health care

This has been a matter of substantial debate, and rightfully so. A lot of people have heard horror stories about huge lines in Canada, and lackluster treatment availability everywhere but the Good Ol’ U S of A, right? While I won’t deny that public health care = waiting, I will describe what I mean. All appointment times for doctor’s visits are what they call “orientative,” and they are granted in blocks. The doctor comes out periodically, tells everyone the order in which they’ll be called, and then the patients police themselves (I still find the Spanish queue system fascinating, but that’s a topic for another day). Given that, I have never spent more than 25 minutes waiting to be seen. Going to the ER, I’ve never spent more than 40, and that was for a routine checkup when I first landed here, was still undocumented, and was not an emergency by any stretch of the imagination (I got a bill for that visit later for 200 euros. However, the health office contacted me, since they had been notified that I was a legal resident, and rescinded that charge, all without me saying anything).

As far as the quality goes, I’ve been pretty impressed, for the most part. My prenatal care was fine, if a bit impersonal (I’ll get to why in a moment), the delivery was expert, and the recovery was brilliant (you stay for three days minimum in a private room). My daughter’s care has been wonderful, and I couldn’t ask for more to be done for her. If I did, it would get done (really, they ask all the time if I’d like to test to verify/negate my various and sundry concerns). Which reminds me…

4. Bureaucracy

This is a bit of a pain here in Spain, in that every single doctor has his/her own specialty. Your GP, OB, pediatrician, and various specialists are all different people (of course), but a lot of times they’ll be in different places around the city. I found it to be the worst with the prenatal care, since my OB was different from my ultrasounder from my blood analyzer, etc…However, I was still undocumented when they assigned me all these people, so I didn’t have a set doctor to refer me. Still, you will never give blood or urine to your doctor in the next room; it will usually be a separate appointment on a different day. Since there’s no such thing as “sick days” here, it doesn’t so much matter to the Spaniards, but it is something that would have to be modified if the U.S. were to adopt a similar system.

Another thing that is always brought up as a terrifying phrase when impending “France-ification” is feared upon us is “strikes.” Yes, the unions in Europe LOVE to strike, and doctors are no different. However, since health care is a right, and not a privilege, the doctors inform their patients of their strikes ahead of time, they only last for one day, there are always subs available, and the ER never ever closes. For example, I know that, if I want to see my daughter’s pediatrician, I can’t go on August 11, since she’ll be on strike. No joke. Which is why…

5. Driving private sector out of business?

Could never happen here in Spain. Native Spaniards, who are accustomed to the luxury of free health care, don’t like the waits or the impersonal nature of the visits. So, they virtually all currently have, or have had, private health insurance. And they can, since it’s quite cheap and doesn’t turn away anyone who may have sneezed once in 1974. So, yes, the private sector is huge here, but it’s inexpensive and inclusive. God forbid that should happen to us.

So, there it is, in a big, fat bloated nutshell. That can go get its arteries unclogged gratis at the local hospital.

04
Jun
09

Coed Boardrooms Make More Money

I think I must be dreaming. Could this study really have been done, published, and publicized?

In case you’ve missed the unfortunately named Katty Kay on her media junket, she’s a BBC journalist who’s recently co-written a book with Claire Shipman called (in part) Womenomics. In it they do actual studies (as re-reported by the illustrious Economist) that prove that the companies that employ the most high-ranking women make the most money. More incredibly, they have found that the companies do better if they don’t pretend the women are no different than men in management style or priorities. Their conclusion is that the economy would exclusively benefit from employing more women in high-ranking jobs, paying them equally, and allowing them to be women.

I can vouch that I would have been much more productive these past months had I been allowed to work from home until a spot for my baby in a good daycare had opened. It would have spared me countless hours of worry, not to mention trips to pediatricians and specialists (her unhappiness in the bad environment manifested itself in failing health). Plus, working from home could have provided me a way to work flex hours, thereby increasing my workday and my productivity.

In Spain, this is usually allowed (I encountered, amazingly enough, a uniquely American situation), and actually taken to the next level: applying the same rules to men. Paternity leave was just the latest in what has been a part of the culture. Men in my university routinely take charge of their young children, taking them to and picking them up from daycare, and bringing them into the office or taking days off to care for them when they are sick. It yields an environment that rewards the whole family for being a family, and makes the workers feel more wholly appreciated.

So, yes, it seems like a dream that someone has proven that this method is more efficient and productive. Especially as I’m job hunting. So, thank you, Katty Kay, for my future interview’s talking points.

03
Jun
09

“The Other” Side Of The Coin

I came to the conclusion last year that Spanish culture only makes sense in the summer. The idea of championing room-temperature egg dishes (tortilla), massive amounts of salty ham, cold soup that can be easily chugged (gazpacho), mid-day naps, late dinners, hand-held fans…they can all be explained away by the oppressive heat that beats down on the majority of Spain. The slow pace of the culture in general (a “mañana” mentality, if you will) can also be explained away by the need to laze a bit in the 100+ degree months of July and August.

But then I realized that my judgment was flawed, in that a good bit of proud Spanish heritage is based on the cooler months as well (heavy stews, paella, and good red wines, to name a few). So why did I just assume the culture was defined by the hot months? Because my view, and, I’ll venture to say many Americans’ view, is shaped by when I’d visited here before moving. And I, again like many Americans, visited in the summer months.

This started me thinking about the way cultures think about one another, and how heavily influenced that thinking is by an inherent human desire to look for “the other.” It seems to run rampant in everyone I know. The entire reason, it seems, to travel for so many has virtually always been in order to experience something different, strange, truly foreign. Be it through the spice trade, the search for new worlds, or a quick jaunt to Paris for Spring Break, the human experience seems to demand the discovery of differences between people in different places, as though we seek subconsciously to authenticate the seemingly arbitrary borders dividing the cultures. In other words, rather than search for commonalities between cultures, it seems we seek to divide ourselves.

God help me, I have to cut this short and get back to the dick jokes before I break out into Imagine.

21
Apr
09

Occam’s Razor, Fugue-ish Feeding, And Why I Love Dissent

Suffice to say, I have just had it with all kinds of medical practitioners. Midwives, nurses, doctors, and specialists…I’ve been awash for the last month in all their sage wisdom.

“Your daughter needs to eat more carbohydrates. She must have potatoes during every meal and desserts after. And, no, rice and beans don’t count as carbohydrates.” “Your daughter needs a tube in her ear to prevent ear infections.” “Her ears are fine.” “She has thrush, which could signal an autoimmune deficiency.” “She absolutely does not have thrush, and she’s perfectly healthy.”

This has all put me in the mindset of Dr. House, especially as I keep repeating the same medical history to each so-called “specialist.” So here’s the mystery we’re trying to solve:

My baby’s spent the first 7 months of her life in the 10-25% of weight, and the 50-75% height. When she started at daycare, she was upset. Really upset. Like, hunger strike upset. She refused all nourishment all day, and any given to her was promptly vomited back up. When I would pick her up, she would only accept breast milk, since she was looking for comfort. This went on till her first birthday, and still does to some extent (she will throw up any breakfast she eats upon entry through the door). It has, up till now, taken a month straight of visits to specialists to explain to her doctors, then, why she has dropped to the 3% in weight and 10% in height (or lower).

Also, they can’t figure out how she keeps catching ear infections.

Egads, man, when did the simplest answer to something become so goddamned elusive? I couldn’t understand this until listening yesterday to the latest “specialist” in baby care, but now I think I get it: They cannot tolerate variations on a theme.

The doctor was pounding me with rapid-fire questions for a half an hour, trying to get me to give her an example of my baby’s daily diet. Thing is, she doesn’t have a set schedule, and her tastes change daily. The doctor could not compute this, and got more and more agitated until she started barking orders at me, telling me EXACTLY what she had to eat and when. Why does my baby have to eat cereal for breakfast and not rice and beans, if she so desires? I got no answer. She did, however, go on to tell me my daughter was likely vitamin deficient, or otherwise malnourished, without a single test result to look at…just because she was confounded by a baby who ate what she wanted when she was hungry.

My husband and I have always been against excessive schedule-making when it comes to parenting, but never have I been more against it than I am now. I used to just think it was healthier for a child to be able to be flexible as far as nap times and meal times go (especially since we are public transportation junkies), but now I think it’s healthier for society in general. This is part of a larger parenting quibble we have with traditional parenting mores: “Because I said so” is a ridiculous answer to any question.

The progressive dumbing-down of societies (all this happened in Spain, but it could be anywhere) is becoming so rampant, it’s starting to terrify me, and I just see this manner of illogically foisting rules on people over whom you have authority as a highly contributive factor. Why not encourage a child (or patient) to know the reason he does what he does, or doesn’t do what he doesn’t do? Kids actually like information (hence the ubiquitous question, “Why?”), and sometimes light-hearted reasoning can really help (My nephew, who won’t eat almost anything given to him, finally ate his fish sticks when I explained that protein is what your body utilizes to grow. The terrifying prospect of being shorter than his baby cousin suddenly spurred his appetite to never-before-seen heights.)

In short, if my child’s doctor doesn’t like my daughter eating dahl for breakfast, then 😛