Notes from a country bumpkin.

Ever since I read this article, I have been thinking about how vulgar and country-bumpkinish Americans are. (This is obvious to everyone outside America.) Geoff Dyer, the author of the article, claims that nonetheless Americans have a certain charm. He admires how Americans aren’t afraid of being overheard. (This is just a polite way of saying Americans are too loud.) And how Americans are polite. We are overly polite, actually. So many pleases and thank-yous. (No, these good manners are not a sign of sophistication.)

After the naughts, I am still feeling fragile. I am not as ashamed of being an American as I used to be. But I’m not exactly proud. Americans are supposed to be proud. (Go USA!) And a real American would not want to live outside the U.S.

So, there is this inward shame and cringing that is probably common for expatriates. There is also something in me that can’t accept being vulgar and country-bumpkinish. Even if there is also something charming about me. (I am kind of charming. Modest and humble, too.)

For the last eight years, I have been juxtaposed with stoic, mumbling Poms (Kiwi for English people), who can’t quite conceal their loathing of vulgar American me. And I used to think the problem was me. I am too introverted. There is so much social awkwardness in my most mundane attempts at conversation. I used to be a waitress, so why can I not (at the very least) plod around bringing people cups of tea? And why can’t I have aristocratic manners like the Duchess? (I look like her, don’t you think? No? Adam doesn’t think so either.)

Source: Wikipedia

I have finally realized the problem isn't my personality. And it isn't my upbringing. My socially awkward encounters are because of the inferior stock of my ancestors. They were the underclass in Europe. They were probably serving maids and indentured servants. (OK, some were escaping famine, or wanted religious freedom.)

It’s not a surprise (or my fault) that Americans don’t have aristocratic manners. It's not in our blood. And yet. Maybe, just maybe, the problem is actually the Poms' class loathing.

“I could have told you that,” said Adam.

Edited to add. Most of my friends in NZ are, uh, English (perhaps of a certain class). Look out for the next article in this series: New Zealand, the Great Egalitarian Society That Isn't Really.


This bohemian life

On a recent post at the excellent Irretrievably Broken (you should be reading this blog), there is a description of a “bohemian” childhood in Montana, where wood was used for fuel, and everything was hung outside to dry.

Wait one hot minute, I said to myself. That's our life. We use wood to heat our house. We hang our washing out on the line, to dry in the wind and sun.

We are bohemians!

Our house is shabby, but it is made of native timbers like rimu and maitai. And we live on a coastal plain surrounded by hills. There are daffodils, poppies, nasturtium, and geranium bushes in our garden. We have pohutukawa trees and flax bushes. We watch tuis swooping in the kowhai trees down the back. We pick apples from fruit trees, and make apple sauce or apple crumble. And we pick cape gooseberries and make our own jam. We bake our own bread.

Most people have large vegetable gardens. They might have a spa bath outside, maybe sheltered by rose bushes. And they probably have a studio in the shed out the back, where they paint, or practice piano. They might knit, or sew.

Sometimes we go fishing at the beach. Or we collect driftwood to make into furniture. We pick up shells to scatter on garden paths. Sometimes our neighbour’s chickens wander over to our garden. Someone might ride his horse up our street and back to the paddocks in the park. And our neighbours are interesting bohemian people—artists, musicians, writers, expatriates.

Walking home along the beach after dropping off Five at school.
Edited to add: Sorry about the crap photo, but I was trying to capture the essence of the waves. I thought the waves looked like plumes. Or how plumes should look. (Instead of, you know, plumes of oil in a ecological disaster that just keeps getting worse.)


The new routine.

I’m finally getting the hang of the new routine. But it’s been like training for a triathlon. I've been struggling with it, especially the part called Getting Ready for School. Apparently, I'm not able to do anything the night before. (Or set the alarm half an hour earlier.)

Waking up, getting Five dressed, getting him to eat something ANYTHING, packing his lunch, helping him decide what to bring for News. Getting dressed myself. I have rather cleverly (I think) been wearing my workout clothes to school, so (in theory) I can go for a run immediately after Drop-Off.

By the time Drop-Off is achieved, I need a six-hour break to recover. I don’t know why this is all so difficult for me. The other mums don’t seem to be having this problem. I think I need a vacation. (Alone. In Tahiti.) Or I need a car. Not that Five would let me drive him to school. He is obsessed with riding his bike, or his scooter.

So Getting Ready is a mission (almost impossible). And I'm anxious during the Pick-Up. We live in a small, rural village. The parents of the junior students go to the school to Pick Up their kids. We enter the school grounds, and we sit (or stand around) while we wait for the kids. And we make small talk.

Most of these people are very nice. But it’s a lot of conversations about the weather, how the weekend was (or will be), admiring people’s younger (i.e., not yet school-aged) children. Most people want to spin a yarn with their acquaintances. I should enjoy talking to other adults IRL, right? RIGHT?

Flixster - Share Movies
I love weekends. My Mother’s Day was lovely. I lay in bed with my laptop and drank coffee, while my boys made me a pancake breakfast. Then I got to talk to my wonderful mother for almost TWO HOURS. And when the boys went to the park, I had the house to myself for ANOTHER HOUR. So, it was pretty much like Every Day. Without Getting Ready for School. Which was bliss.

BTW, thank you for your kind comments on my last post. I was traumatised by the allergy tests at the hospital (a follow-up to skin prick tests). But I guess my post came off more grim than I'd intended. There just isn’t anything funny about hospitals, is there? Never mind.