Friday, February 10, 2012

Joie de vivre

Hot off the presses of controversy comes Bringing Up Bébé, by Pamela Druckerman. Even worse than Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, it makes the assertion that le snooty French are better parents than Americans. Quelle horreur!

Actually, it doesn't seem to be a manual for how to raise kids, as it is another American "OMG the Europeans have got this whole 'living' thing figured out" memoir (though, I haven't actually read the book, only the excerpt). Which should be a genre in itself--Americans realizing that they're not the center of the universe, that the way of constant strife and competition is not the only way, that "socialism" is not, in fact, synonymous with "evil"--and what it all means to their identity as Americans. It's always funny to read these things, because, unlike most Americans who write such books, I've always been relatively laid-back and willing to entertain the idea that people elsewhere might just do and think differently. And when in Rome, as they saying goes, do as Romans do.

One review that excoriates the book raises the point that Druckerman seems to consider "American mothers" until one huge, very-broad brush, one that spans the entirety of "hypervigilent helicopter moms" to "criminally negligent crackheads", and that the degree of involvement spent in parenting likewise spans a broad range of parenting styles. But I think the review misses an opportunity to adress a critical point that Druckerman brings up, which is, "Why do American moms always feel like they're doing something wrong, and why do European moms 'just know' how to parent?" Or to paint a broader picture, "Why are Americans never satisfied?"

To answer that: certainly there is a lot about the US that could be improved--gay rights, latent (or not-so-latent) racism and reverse-racism, better social and environmental policies, more humane maternity leave policies, public transit, etc. But these are not the kinds of things that can be changed by making yourself better--these are not the kinds of changes that can take place simply because you resolve to be a better person than you were yesterday. It is my amateur-anthropologist's belief that Americans, who've grown up surrounded by this myth that you can do anything you want if you just work hard enough, have also absorbed the hidden message that's never articulated: that good people don't rely on others. Which means, rather than fostering cooperativity towards making a better future, people focus on being more/better themselves, and to hell with the rest of the world (see aforementioned about "good people"). Hence, too, the popularity of religion--self-improvement in God!

But there's a lot about Europe that could be improved, too--the coming retirement crisis, for instance. Mass confusion about signage on the roads, an ungodly tax rate (though, in light of the benefits, I'll take an ungodly tax rate), and of course there's that pesky integration-of-new-immigrants issue. But Europeans are surrounded by the myth of destiny rather than self-determination, and the hidden message that's never articulated is: we depend on others to make us good. That does seem quite creepy, actually....

Believe it or not, I did not consider any of these when I moved here. I could only trust that everything would work out in the end--and it has, mostly. There are a few quibbles that I have with my current situation, but then again, I wouldn't be American if I were so easily satisfied, would I?


  1. Yeah I know what you mean. But the social benefits structure isnt actually the reason why we in the netherlands must pay those high taxes. The Netherlands got a little secret. I'm not kidding or making anything up. Multinationals that have vested here pay almost no taxes. They pay like 1% to up 15%. How they do it its easy they make treaties with the goverment. And in The Netherlands theaties trump dutch law. This is the reason no matter who you will vote for they aint coming down. If they are then its just a 1% rip off. dont believe me well its a fact.:
    If i have a lot of money i'll make my own policital party, and then almost everybody will be happy.

  2. I'm aware of the tax treaties, but I think it's limited to the first 30% of your earnings or something. We can go ask Dave if it's true...he does more business than I do. And in any case, the Dutch tax burden is about average for Europe, so I don't think it's any worse than any other country.

    Multinationals don't have to collect the 19% sales tax for everything they sell overseas, this is true, although I'm not clear on whether this only applies to services (such as my copyediting service) or if it applies to goods, as well.