16.6.06

I can’t decide what to write about.

Foremost in my brain is my pregnant body and it’s unceasing demands, and the book I am reading right now, Birthing from Within, by Pam England. I wish I had read this book when I was pregnant with my first child as it talks all about how what a mother really needs to know in order to give birth and become a mother isn’t something we can learn in our heads, it’s a transformation our hearts and spirits and bodies must undergo. Learning everything about the way birth is perceived medically isn’t actually that much help when you are labouring because a woman experiences birth much differently than in the stages we learn about in childbirth classes. Anyway, I’m fascinated, and from experience know how true this is, so I’m enjoying the book, and I’m excited to do the birth art projects in it. MY doula for the last birth did some of the projects from this book with me and they were very helpful. But I don’t want this to turn into a pregnancy only blog, so here are some of my other thoughts for the day.

Americans really are different than Canadians. I know this is not that shocking to some of you, but I always thought living in Canada that we were much the same. My first inkling that this may not be the case came was when my future husband met my grandparents for the first time. He said yes the first time when they offered him something, and my grandmother visibly flinched. Since most of you don’t get this being American I’ll explain. There is a little ritual that we go through in Canada, at least where I grew up, later I lived in Vancouver with Asian neighbors and they are worse at this, but we in the Midwest do it too. When someone offers you something, you politely decline. This could be anything from tea or something to eat, to a ride somewhere, any kind of favor volunteered. You say no. This gives the person the chance to back out if they were only offering to be polite, or the chance to offer again. The number of times this happens until you finally accept or conclusively deny what is offered depends on who it is and your type of relationship, it includes a lot of, “well only if you’re getting some for yourself,” and “if you’re sure it’s not too much trouble,” and “no trouble at all,” and well if you insist”. A good guest must be coaxed into dessert, tea, a second helping, etc. My dear fiancĂ© smiled and said yes please that sounds wonderful, and turned my grandparents little universe on it’s side for a second. It was while attempting to understand how there could be so much tension in a room over such innocuous conversation that I finally realized the existence of these rules, and was able to explain how they are broken. Until that moment I had taken them for granted.

Now that I’m a mother, making friends with other mothers here in southern California, I am discovering so many other things that are different, I feel kind of displaced and a little bit homesick. The international community accuses the US of being puritanical, you know, they may be right. I have never seen so many women afraid to nurse in public. If they do stay where they are to nurse it’s under a gigantic blanket with a spouse holding it up for them as they get it all sorted out. This is in the summer time heat. But that woman was quite bold. I have not seen one woman in church aside from myself actually nurse her child in the building. They go running to their sweltering hot cars at the far end of the parking lot where their husbands park on purpose so that they can remain as invisible as possible. But you can buy porn in every corner store it seems, why would something so innocent and beautiful be such a big deal.
I understand that lots of women are really shy and modest and maybe this is what they want, but it seems more to me like it’s to accommodate the men around them that are made uncomfortable by the idea that an invisible breast may at this moment, in their immediate proximity, have a baby's mouth on it. So you see why the word puritanical comes to mind. This is weird for me, because in Vancouver women nursed everywhere, buses, parks, coffee shops, restaurants, churches, public pools; I was definitely in the majority there. I’ve even nursed at the table in my grandparent’s house who have their aforementioned own brand of weird cultural ideas, but no one blinks twice at a nursing mother.

Another thing I can’t get over is how many grown-ups drink soda. Teenagers drink it, kids want it, but I don’t remember a lot of adults drinking soda when I was growing up like I see here. Maybe it’s just too hot to drink coffee, but you know, there’s iced tea and water. Oh yeah, and wonder bread, seriously, people still eat that stuff?

Oh and there are the number of women who don’t even try to breast feed but go straight to formula and don’t even appear to feel a touch regretful about the decision. That’s strange to me.

Or there’s the fact that half of the streets here have no sidewalks, so there are some places I can’t walk with my kids.

Or the total lack of anything that isn’t a gigantic chain store to shop at, not that I don’t love Target.

There’s the now famous poo vs. poop.

People are generally more optimistic here though, and more friendly.

Maybe this has more to do with moving from urban to suburban than Canada to the US, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just this particular piece of Southern CA that is like this. I find myself just sitting and listening and feeling very out of place these days, and I don’t say much because people are usually defensive at first if you comment on something they do that’s strange to you. What’s it like where you live, are there other differences that I haven’t noticed yet?

9 comments:

  1. I agree with you, it is too bad people are so uptight about nursing in public..

    Mary, mom to many

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  2. thats a funny thing about refusing an offer the first few times its made, i was raised that way too but i have no idea where it came from. you are supposed to politely decline any offer and gradually get talked in to it lol
    i know others that were raised to graciously accept anything even if they dont really want it so they dont offend someone by refusing? no wonder we are all confused :)

    i think a lot of our soda consumption and white bread appetites are fuled by the advertising and media... paid for by these big corporations that produce the crap with an eye on their profit margins.
    americans are silly about nudity and breastfeeding and very uptight about a lot of things in general :) welcome to california .. san diego is a pretty place, im sorry you feel homesick :(

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  3. hmm. i think all of that sounds about right....although. i live in seattle, where we don't see a lot of wonder bread. everything is like..whole grain spelt-seed wheatless eggless vegan unshelled nut organic raisin breadless bread. with tofu butter or something.

    and as far as poo vs. poop goes, my parents decided to go with the ever-popular "bowel movement." yeah i was real cool.

    regarding declining politely, my grandparents on my mom's side always did that. but my grandparents on dad's side never did that. so we had to learn all the social boundaries there. for instance, we'd go out to dinner with my mom's parents. my grandfather and my dad would argue over the bill. ritualistically.
    "i've got it."
    "no, jim, i'll take care of it."
    "now listen, ray, i'm trying to take you out to dinner here."
    "i can see that, jim, and i appreciate it, but i'm trying to take YOU out to dinner here."
    it would go on for some time, but my grandfather always won. it made him happy to fight for that honor of taking care of us all.

    when we went out with my dad's parents, my dad would take the bill, and his mother and father would hug him, and say thank you m'ijo (my son) and mean it.

    my mom told me to, when offered something by her family, to decline until convinced. but to never, ever decline something offered by my dad's family. accept it, thank them, and mean it.

    i like my dad's family's way.

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  4. You're so right about the declining politely thing.

    My husband's family is American and I always notice little differences, especially word pronunciation. The one I notice the most is 'avenue'. Here we say it "aven-you". There they say it "aven-oo".

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  5. KIm thanks for the friendly welcome

    Steve

    LOL"whole grain spelt-seed wheatless eggless vegan unshelled nut organic raisin breadless bread. with tofu butter or something." This is the kind of bread I'm used to, must be something about the pacific North west. I like your dad's family's way too. I'm glad my kids are learning that from my husband's parents.

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  6. I loved reading this post! I'm a Canadian-born, west-coaster, who hasn't lived there in nine years, hasn't been able to visit in two and a half, and miss the place very much. I thought the "declining" observation was great as I grew up doing the same thing and still do it most of the time. And I've noticed that about pop (oops, soda!) being the beverage of choice in the U.S.

    I also agree with you about the whole breast-feeding thing (though I've never had the privilege of breast-feeding in Canada). Once I was asked to go nurse my two month old baby in the bathroom by a waitress in a little cafe IN MINNEAPOLIS of all places! No skin was showing and I was being discreet. I don't have to mention how I felt about that!

    But I also agree that Americans tend to be more friendly--there's a lovely openess about them and despite all the immigration issues we've had, I'm happy to call one my husband.:-)

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  7. i'm a little late on this, but i feel like i could write a novel in this comment space.

    i keep forgetting that you've mostly been living in canada... since chin and i got married i've been living in california, now for almost five years, non stop, and i've gone through several cycles of culture shock.

    the funny thing about canadian culture is that you almost can't put your finger on the difference, that is, until someone else notices, like your observation about declining when someone asks you to get something. i've never heard it described like the asian way of doing things, and i'll have to tell my husband about this, since he fully understands it when it comes to korea or japan, but it infuriates him when he experiences it with me. example:

    chin: i'll take the kids and give them a bath.

    me: oh, are you sure?

    chin: no, i'm not sure, fine YOU do it.

    me: no, really, it's fine, i just wanted to make sure it wasn't a hassle.

    and so on. it has just occurred to me that this is another example of this extreme politeness, the beating around the bush, the double checking. so much of it we attribute to devenish thinking or just rachel thinking.

    but anyways, i went through an "i hate americans" phase, i went through an "i don't get your slapstick humor" phase, i went through a "please understand my politeness and apologies for what they are" phase, and now i'm in a really weird phase where i've grown so accustomed to being in california that i no longer feel at home in canada. i feel irritated with the lack of frankness, with the negativity. (i never in my life noticed that canadians were negative before living away for five years) i'll probably come around to some sort of acceptance though. it has been particularly interesting with chinua and i though, since in african american culture politeness means distance, and in canadian culture you are polite and apologetic no matter how close you are.

    i could write a book. we should write a book, carrien.

    and on nursing. i've never been a nursing mom in canada, and i'm willing to bet that it's like you say among the more conservative southern californian culture... in hippie culture though, there are all types. bare all, cover all, and my personal choice, the discreet but blanketless approach.

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  8. oh, and i almost forgot: you will never find a nanaimo bar in an american grocery store, nor will you find a butter tart. i'm forgetting so much right now, it happens maybe once a week that i say something like it's completely normal and i have americans looking at me like i'm crazy.

    not that i'm not.

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  9. I think the nursing issue comes down to maternity leaves. When you have to go back to work at six weeks post-partum, nursing becomes a very daunting prospect. I can't even imagine.

    My mother and grandmother always had those polite battles, and they drive me completely crazy. Occasionally people do the polite-refusal with me, and I may be on the urge of accepting it (with disappointment) when I realize what they're up to. "You've forgotten," I remind them, "that if I want something myself, I never offer it to someone else." Makes things so much simpler!

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