2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007


December 2001: Lights of Hope
January: Understanding American's Schools
February: Just in Time Support
April: Starting Over in Spring
May: Preparing Women for Global Moves
June: School Schedules and Other Cultural Chasms
August: Why'd the Teacher Do That?
October: Mumble Something Time
November: Macaroni and Cheese and Me
December: What the World Thinks

December 2001

You and I share an interest in helping people move from one country to another. The problems they face, the questions they ask, the observations they make – these make up our day, and give us a constantly evolving view of them and ourselves.

I’ve been involved with a number of interesting projects that I thought might interest you, hence this “e-note from Anne.” I’ll be writing to you periodically about our activities, each time focusing on some research finding, essay, article, or reflection that I think will interest you. The e-notes will be useful – that’s the whole point of our work. They will be short – I know you’re busy. And they’ll be interesting and varied – we hope you agree!

Here’s the first one:

Lights of Hope
(from December 2001 Newcomer’s Almanac: Newsletter for Newcomers to the US, copyright The Interchange Institute)

For centuries, people in the northern hemisphere have burned candles against the long dark nights of December. Pagan celebrations use fire and candles to mark the solstice, the shortest day of the year. Small lights cover Christmas trees and candles burn in windows. Hanukkah candles increase in brightness for eight days. Girls wearing candle crowns and long white dresses mark St. Lucia Day. When Ramadan falls in December as it does this year, its traditional lanterns join the world’s candles. Each celebration gives a unique symbolic meaning to its lights.

But this year, I will be thinking of them all as lights of hope. This country and the world are struggling to respond to the events of September 11 and to bridge the deepest rifts in values and beliefs. It is a time when hope’s light seems frail, but one of the few lights we have.

Even in a normal year, the holidays of this season are depressing and isolating for some people. In the U.S., you will hear the message that this is a time to be joyful, to be with your family and friends, to give gifts and be happy. These messages may actually make you feel sad and lonely. If you do celebrate Christmas, the smells, sounds, people, and traditions can feel wrong. And if you do not celebrate Christmas, it is easy to feel left out.

Darkness is more difficult when people around you seem to be in the light. You are in a country where optimism (believing that good things will happen) has been a deeply-held cultural value. Americans tend to believe that life will be good for them. They believe they can start a new life in a new place if necessary, a belief most new Americans brought with them when they immigrated, and one they used again when they moved West as pioneers. Social and natural conditions have permitted Americans to believe that having a good life is something they can control.

This core American value — optimism — may have taken the biggest hit of all on September 11. Americans learned a stark lesson about how they are viewed and how their actions affect the world. And they are learning that there is no simple action to make things right again. I expect American optimism will rebound — deep cultural values do not die easily. But it may return in a changed, perhaps wiser state.

Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright and president, said, “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” May this season help us all make sense of our time.


January 2002

In my daughter’s neighborhood public school, 33% of the students do not speak English at home. Over the years, these international students’ parents have asked me many wonderful questions about why American teachers and parents do what they do. Answering them has taught me a lot about the US. (This is why Georgia Bennett and I wrote Understanding American Schools: The Answers to Newcomers’ Most Frequently Asked Questions - http://www.interchangeinstitute.org/html/schools.htm)
Here’s some of what I’ve learned:

  • We take a very long-term view of education in this country. More secondary school graduates enter university or college programs in the US than anywhere else in the world. So teachers, at least teachers of middle class children, know that the topics they teach will be covered again later in the students’ lives. For better or worse (or both), this takes the pressure off the teacher of younger children to teach everything the student will need to know for life. The result can look like “school lite” to a newcomer.
  • Our school system allows – in fact, requires – very late specialization. In many countries, students start to narrow what they study (say, to “sciences” or “arts”) in their mid-teen years. In the US, all high school students must study a full range of science, math, arts, and social studies, regardless of whether they intend to become doctors, painters, or human resource managers. Our emphasis on liberal arts at the university-level further pushes forward the time at which students have to decide on a specialty. As a consequence, in-depth learning of a single subject comes later than many newcomers expect.
  • We believe that a child’s emotional well-being is important for learning. Teachers watch out for a children’s ability to make friends, and bolster their self-esteem by writing “Brilliant!” on their papers and hanging their artwork on the walls. It is part of the American educational philosophy that children learn best when they are emotionally healthy and when they love learning. Newcomers who don’t share this philosophy and who are looking for learned facts and skills are often disturbed by what looks, to them, like a waste of time and the promotion of low standards.

I don’t mean to say that our school system is perfect. We have some serious problems. But I do think that newcomers who understand the big picture of the American system and its underlying values are better able to make the experience work for their children.

Comments on this E-Note:

"I can add some additional thoughts. It was put to me that the American system nurtures the child's ability to conceive of and defend a point of view (right or wrong doesn't come in to it). The European system is one that 'teaches' the 'right' answer."

- Sharon Gulden, sharon.gulden@phoenixarc.com

"I have been working with all of the international schools in Spain for almost 12 years now and would definitely echo what you say about the American education system bolstering children´s self confidence and focusing on their emotional well being. Simple exercises like "show and tell" help American children from a very early age to express themselves without fear or shyness and as a "reserved English person" I have always envied the ease with which almost all Americans seem to express themselves to friends and strangers alike. I am sure that your education system contributes greatly to this.

Other observations I have made over the years include the American focus on how to find the information, where to look and who to ask rather than simply learning / knowing the answer. An enquiring mind is more greatly valued than a well drilled one.

As a very well drilled British student I have come to admire American education values and approach, it may not be perfect but I think it goes a long way towards molding a happy person with an interest in the world around him and a keen willingness to learn."

- Elaine Hery, Director Executive Relocations Spain, www.exerlospn.com

"It reminds me of an experience I had in Paris with my French teacher. I had just learned a new phrase "amuse vous", which means "have fun". I was so pleased with my new found knowledge, that I told the teacher that I would say "Amuse vous!" to my children in the morning as they left for school. She quickly became very stern and told me that I should NOT say that because it was inappropriate to tell my children to have fun in school. She said school was a serious place to work hard!"

- Karen Berry, Expatriate Spouse

"How timely of you to write about US Schools, as my wife and I are struggling tremendously to understand "the system". We actually struggle to recognize any system at this time, and learn from various sources, that the experience appears to depend a lot on the specific teacher in a specific classroom. Currently, we are looking at Kindergarten education solely for our children, but we are comparing such basic available data as 4th grade scores for Schools in the Boston area. The numbers are provided by the Department of Education. We are learning as we go, and I am sure your book would be a welcome source of information.

I believe the world is a large place, and there are many countries where basic education is not available to large pockets, or in many instances the majority of the population. It is very difficult to compare the students results, as they are young, diverse, impressionable, and in many instances deal with the challenges of completely different (cultural) demands of their societies. Furthermore, there are no qualifying test for 'average success in life' after basic education that would be useful across cultures, as cultures may find themselves in different stages of survival.... It would be interesting to develop a diagnostic that could begin to measure this type of personal progress through education, which would hold up as a standard across cultures. Therefore, I am most interested at this point in time in the professional education of the teachers that face 'our' children everyday, often longer than parents do."

- Parent from Cambridge, MA


February 2002

A few years ago I had lunch with a German colleague who had recently moved to Boston, where I live. I asked her if she’d seen our book on moving here from another country. “Um...well...yes, I think so; they sent it to me in Germany, but it’s still in the boxes to be unpacked.” All our valuable information about setting up utility accounts, choosing long-distance telephone providers, etc. would be unpacked...long after it could be useful.

As someone who thinks a lot about what kinds of support people need and when they need it, stories like this stop my heart. How much money do corporations spend on support materials and training that are delivered at the wrong time, in the wrong format? How often do newcomers get frustrated by the decisions they have to make in a new country, when the help they need is actually within their reach?

We’re starting a new research study that will focus on the human factors that determine how people prefer to get cultural support. Are you the kind of person who reads the manual of your new VCR before plugging it in, or do you just push buttons till it starts to work? When you want to find the address of a museum, do you go to the Internet or the phone book? If you’re confused about a current news story, do you try to find an article by an authority that outlines its history, or do you ask a friend to explain it to you?

If we could measure these – and other – human differences, we could deliver support to people that is tailored to their individual learning styles. Companies would save money and people would have the information they need, when they need it.

Interested in being a part of the study? Do you have some anecdotes that could be helpful? Ideas about important learning styles? Would you like to invite your employees to participate and be the early recipients of this valuable information? Please let me know!

Meanwhile, we’ve responded to the book-in-the-unpacked-box problem in a few ways. Our monthly newsletter for newcomers to the US allows us to explain the Enron issue as it unfolds, and tells people about Valentine’s Day in February not in whatever month they happened to have moved here. Our Welcome File includes laminated cards for their wallets (to explain what “eggs over easy” means when they’re actually in the restaurant), their glove compartments (to explain what to do if they have a car accident), and their refrigerator (to explain how many grams of flour are in a cup). Information delivered “just in time.”

April 2002

In Boston, the crocuses are battling the icy rain. I’m hopeful they’ll win; they always have before… I thought you might like to read the slant I put on “spring” as a metaphor for an American value -- from April’s issue of Newcomer’s Almanac, our monthly newsletter for newcomers to the US:

Starting Over: The American Way

Springtime brings refreshing and colorful relief from winter. Those of you in the North can put away your snow boots and shovels. And in the South, you can safely store your jackets, free from the threat of cold weather. We are reminded of the sense of hope that comes from re-birth and spring’s new life.

It is a basic American value to assume that we, like the seasons, can start over. All Americans are descendants of people who left their homes and started over in a new land. At the time of immigration, or of migration within the country, the promise of new land, new jobs, new opportunities, and new freedom have been basic sources of hope in the US.

Historically, Americans felt they were able to start over because the US seemed so big and had so few people. When land in the East became crowded, Americans moved to the vast lands in the West. When farms failed, they moved to the promise of a well-paying job in the city. When life was not going well, they remained confident that out there, somewhere, was plenty of what they needed.

Edward Stewart and Milton Bennett (American Cultural Patterns, Intercultural Press, 1991) suggest that Americans see the world as an abundant (plentiful) place. Americans assume that there is enough (money, food, work) for everyone, and enough for all to have a second chance.

Because of this core belief that there is enough to go around, Americans reject the idea of having to accept an established order or place in life. They love stories of business owners, politicians, and athletes who started life with little and then became “successful.” These stories feed the belief that no matter how hard the past has been, the future might be better.

Of course, this tendency to solve problems by starting over has a negative side to it, too. It leads to a “throw-it-away” attitude and the wasting of natural resources, to walking away from problems rather than trying to solve them.

But today, with springtime dawning and the crocus towering boldly over the melting snow just as it did last year, it is a time to enjoy that chance to try again.”


May 2002

Last week, in preparation for being interviewed on the radio, I practiced saying what was different and important about training women (as opposed to men) for overseas assignments, in two minutes or less. (Have you tried putting the rationale for your career into a sound bite lately? Not WHAT you do, but WHY? Great exercise…) Please bear with me as I generalize – yes, some men are like this too and no, this isn’t true for all women – the question is, what would training look like if you built it, from scratch, around women’s skills and needs rather than men’s? Here’s what I came up with:

  • Psychological research shows that women tend to be especially good at non-verbal communication, at understanding subtle power hierarchies, and at developing consensus in groups. These skills are not always explicitly valued in the U.S., so women may not be aware of the goldmine they carry with them. In navigating any new culture, however, these skills are critical to success. Bringing them to the surface prepares women to put them to their advantage.
  • Research also shows that women are likely to be the “relationship tenders” in their families and workplaces. They know who in the family is doing well and who isn’t. They worry about what this one said to that one. And they take action to smooth, support, and re-direct feelings. On international assignment, there’s often lots to smooth, support and redirect within the family. And relationships with extended family continue to require their tending, now from a powerful distance. Highlighting common family reactions, role changes, and relationship tensions before they happen can prepare women to foresee and deal with them effectively.
  • Another research study on relocating women has pointed out a number of losses in reaction to moving that could be considered especially feminine – losses in sense of home, in one’s physical identity, in connections with family, and in social role identity. Women who prepare for these changes will feel them less as losses and more as opportunities.
  • Finally, research on women expatriate managers shows that they tend to be quite successful, despite dire predictions that gender discrimination will interfere with their ability to work effectively in a new country. It seems that in some cultures, one’s nationality and job status trump one’s gender. For example, when I was working in the UK for my university, the fact that I was the visiting, ranking American academic voice seemed to counterbalance the fact that I was a [very pregnant] woman. Still, the role of women in the workplace in a new culture is something that all expatriates benefit from understanding. Preparing for how gender discrimination might – and might not – be a problem can get women transferees off on the right foot.

Like the men we train, women also get the full course of country-specific information, training in culture and communication, and preparation for adjustment issues. But attention to these other, unique features makes the women’s training fit like a glove.


June 2002

For the past few years, I’ve been running an International Writers’ Club in my community, for international parents of children in our public schools. Club members write a brief essay about a cultural difference they have observed, I make corrections to their English, we discuss the cultural differences at our meetings, I write a reply, and then the essays and replies are published in the school newspaper. It’s been a great success. The meetings dispel a lot of misinformation and provide emotional and language support to the Club members. The American families get a glimpse of the challenges and changes facing their new neighbors. And…I learn more than I do most days! It was, in fact, partially on the basis of this experience that I was able to write, with Georgia Bennett, Understanding American Schools: The Answers to Newcomers’ Most Frequently Asked Questions. Here’s a sample essay from our Club:

School Schedules (by Shinobu Imajo)

There are a lot of differences between US and Japanese school schedules. In Japan, punctuality is a very important trait, so students must arrive at school by the scheduled time. The times that they are late are recorded in their progress report. This kind of data is used as a measure of students.

The Japanese school system is well regulated by the Ministry of Education, including the number of lessons per week and per year in each subject, and the content and textbook to be used for each lesson. Both the US and Japan use the same word "compulsory," but the real scene is much different. The Japanese system is more unified than US.

Daily school life differs, for example. In Japan, almost all schools have a school-wide meeting once a week before class. The principal gives a speech in front of the students who are lined up. By regulation, there are four classes in the morning and up to two in the afternoon. A chime is rung to let students and teachers know the start and end of every class, and to help them begin to think of the next subject. In the US I was surprised that there are no chimes or bells in my child’s elementary school; each teacher decides when to switch from math to reading.
In Japan, lunch is served by "Kyuushoku" system, in which students serve a wholesome meal to each other and clean up afterwards. Also, in Japan, after classes, students clean up all the school area including cleaning the floors, cleaning the bathrooms, and sweeping the school yard.

My reply: In US schools, children are supposed to arrive on time too, and a record is also kept when children are late. But perhaps Shinobu is noting a difference in how seriously tardiness is considered. Punctuality is a concept that is highly cultural; not only do countries differ in what is considered “on time,” but the definition of promptness varies in different organizations, regions, and settings too.

But being “on time” for the beginning of school in Japan also sounds like part of a difference in the formality and structure of the beginnings and ends of classes. Where there are fewer regulations about the number and length of each class in the US, teachers inevitably vary in how and how long they teach each topic. (Even when I was an elementary school child, a bell marked the beginning and end of the day, but that’s all – teachers chose, for themselves, when to switch to a new topic.)

I am struck by how our schools must feel to children who are expecting to line up for the principal’s weekly speech, to have long breaks announced by chimes between highly-structured classes, to serve nutritious lunches to classmates, and to sweep the school floor at the end of the day. While they might be happy to be relieved of some of these tasks, the change in structure, tone, and regulation is surely a shock. They have my admiration.


July 2002

OK, quiz time. Topic: Doing All You Can To Help Families on International Assignment. True or False?
1) Most corporations and organizations today consult an employee’s spouse prior to offering an overseas assignment.
2) The best bet is to send couples without children; kids are just an expense for the company and a worry to their parents.
3) Email has pretty much solved the loneliness issues spouses used to face.
4) The first overseas move may be tough, but families who move from country to country get the hang of it and pretty soon it’s easy.

This week BusinessWeek Online is running a feature article on our Many Women Many Voices study of expatriate accompanying spouses (recently underwritten by Prudential Financial). The study covered all the topics in this quiz and many more. I left full-time academic life five years ago precisely because I wanted the results of my research to get into the hands of those who could really use them (and not be buried in some research journal), so this media attention has been very gratifying. Please check out our full 82-page report, which includes over 100 charts, 20 key findings, 32 specific recommendations for HR managers and 32 more for accompanying spouses.

Ready for the answers?
1) False (Only 6.2% do.)
2) False (Women without children had worse adjustment than mothers of younger or adult children; mothers of teenagers were another story…)
3) False (Real-live friends are critically important to a spouse’s, and therefore a family’s, adjustment; those who rely most on email are the most unhappy.)
4) False (Practical things like shopping get easier, but mental health adjustment does not necessarily improve. Each and every assignment poses its own challenges and opportunities.)

OK, now you’re all practiced up. Try again. True or False?
5) The most important thing companies can do is help expatriates with daily living tasks; after they master those they tend to be pretty happy.
6) Expatriates living in the Middle East and Asia have more adjustment problems than those living in Europe.
7) Expatriates who think it’s best to plan life a good way ahead do best.

Answers? You’ll find them in the report…


August 2002

If you work with families who have recently moved to the US, you may hear comments like these in the next few months:

- “My son’s kindergarten teacher refuses to tell me how he ranks compared to other kids in the class!”
- “My daughter’s teacher told me she was “doing great” in school, but on her report card she did not get all A’s!”
- “My son’s first grade teacher told him not to worry about spelling!”

The core values and assumptions of American schools are different from those in most other countries, in profound but often subtle ways. If parents don’t understand what they’re seeing, they tend to conclude that American schools are lightweight and misguided. It was to help them understand the big picture, and the dozens of practical concerns they had too, that Georgia Bennett and I wrote, Understanding American Schools: The Answers to Newcomers’ Most Frequently Asked Questions. Here’s some of what they need to know:

  • American teachers tend to take a “developmental” approach to education, especially in the early years. That is, they watch over each child’s development and as long as they see progress and growth, they don’t worry about how that child compares with other kids. This approach is grounded in the knowledge that children develop at very different rates. A late bloomer may lead the pack a few years later. And a math whiz may have trouble writing a coherent sentence. So teachers track a child’s development in various areas, but avoid comparisons with other kids.
  • American teachers tend to believe that a happy, well-adjusted child who loves school will, in the end, be the best life-long learner. They spend a lot of effort, therefore, in nurturing a child’s self-esteem and love of learning. It’s not just to be nice; it’s to build a strong foundation on which a child can learn.
  • American teachers tend to value creative expression, in all realms – writing, art, and even science. They want kids to write interesting stories, unencumbered by spelling worries. They want them to experiment with color and design, unhampered by technique. They want them to hypothesize and brainstorm about the natural world, training them to be little scientific theorists. The spelling, the technique, and the science facts come later.

And that’s just the big picture. International parents also need to know how to manage the details: what a parent-teacher conference is, how to register for school, what to do if their child is sick, what a “field trip” is, and so on. It’s a bit daunting. We hope our book helps.


October 2002

Last week, in writing the October Newcomer’s Almanac (our newsletter for newcomers to the US), I was researching the origins of the terms “monochronic” and “polychronic” conceptions of time. (I was answering a reader’s question about what time to show up for an 11:00 event and, besides giving a practical answer, I wanted to offer a bit of intercultural background.) I found an interesting historical note, which I also included in the newsletter:

Mumble Something Time

Edward Hall, who first described cultures as mono- or polychronic in 1983, had a more practical theory in 1953. He suggested that there are five degrees of lateness: (1) mumble something time, (2) slight apology time, (3) mildly insulting time, (4) rude time, and (5) downright insulting time. Here is my own advice about these categories, assuming you are going to a business meeting with one other important person in the US:

If you are 3-5 minutes late to a business meeting, you should “mumble something.” Briefly acknowledge your lateness, but no explanation is necessary.

Five minutes late? A “slight apology” is called for (“I’m sorry; the traffic was really terrible”). Being 10-15 minutes late is “mildly insulting” so you should apologize, give an honest explanation, and look for a way to make up for the insult.

15-30 minutes late is “rude” and being later than that is “downright insulting.” And the person may decide you are not coming, and go on to another meeting. Of course, there are real and “good” explanations for being late — delayed planes, flooded roads, etc. (Note that my list doesn’t include “needing to finish a conversation!”) If possible, call ahead to explain. There are subcultural differences within the US. Compare my advice with a friend’s.

I’d love to hear from you about this – I’m sure there are regional, organizational, and other subcultural differences here. Would you have answered the same way?

Comments on this E-Note:

I thought Hall's definition was really spot-on. The time frames that you've listed pretty much correspond with the Finnish sense of time - I guess you could say that we are a hyper-punctual people. Many Finns have the slightly annoying habit of coming to an appointment too early because being late is so frowned-upon here.

Funny, though, how our neigbours the Norwegians seem to have a completely different sense of time. I remember an incident once, when my Norwegian friends were meant to pick me up at the railway station at 9 o'clock. They showed up at 9.40, which would have been considered unforgivably rude in Finland. I was of course furious, but they didn't have a clue as to what I was on about!

Having said that, I think there are big regional differences here. I live in Helsinki where everyone's time is scarce, people keep tight schedules and they want to move on quickly. This summer I was involved with people from a company from another part of Finland. They'd show up on hardly any notice and sit here babbling for hours on end, while I would be counting how late I already was from my next meeting. In Helsinki it's considered quite a faux pas to not set up a meeting well in advance and to fail to ask how much time the other person has reserved for the meeting.

- Kaisa Hernberg, Expatrium magazine, www.Expatrium.com

My favorite apology for lateness, if you can call it an apology, was John Cusack's line when he came to class very late in Rob Reiner's movie, The Sure Thing: "There was this problem, and I'm late because of it." The problem of course was that he overslept, but he didn't mention that!

- Francesca Kelly, Editor in Chief, Tales from a Small Planet, www.talesmag.com

Having been raised in Germany, punctuality is really next to godliness, closer even than cleanliness. Usually, I arrive at a party/meeting 5 minutes early, just to make sure that I don't arrive late. Of course, I am usually the first one to arrive, and sometimes I sit in my car until the clock strikes the hour the meeting is to begin. And then I married a Hungarian. Their conception of time is totally different. Nothing starts when it is supposed to start - half an hour later is a safe bet. It drove me mad in the beginning. Then I grew up and did not take myself so serious anymore, and it works too. I still like being on time, though.

- Margo Letso, Siemens

In Spain of course being "mumble something late" would only start at arriving 20 minutes late, arrive anything less than 20 minutes late in Spain and you risk losing credibility!!!!!

- Elain Hery, Executive Relocations Spain

As someone who has had a problem with punctuality in the past, I have rediscovered my Mexican mother's wisdom -- she taught me "when in Rome do as the Romans". Thus in the business world and in the US there is a value placed on punctuality, so those of us living and doing business here are obligated to respect others' time. My mentor, author/speaker Marta Monahan who also teaches international etiquette, says that if one is going to be more than 10 minutes late, one should call and determine if a meeting is still convenient. Some doctor's and dentist's offices are now canceling clients if they are more than a few minutes late so they do not run behind schedule for the rest of the day. If a client is late more than once, they charge for the cancelled appointment. As the adage says time is money!

- Yolanda Nava, Author of It's All in the Frijoles

All I can say is thank goodness for mobile phones ! They certainly save me being in the "downright insulting" category every now and then!! A quick explanatory call in advance makes all the difference, especially as the other person my be running late too and can then relax. I've frequently been the one to be called, and it's been such a relief to find the other person is late too !

- Anonymous

There certainly are differences when it comes to punctuality per country or origin. Many South Americans find it a mark of "higher class" when one is late. It is only with business men and women that there is a sense of being on time. Many students still feel that if they say 3 PM it might really be 5 PM before they arrive. They realize that differences in our idea of being on time and theirs but doesn't matter to them really.

- Marlena Hesse-Karami, Director, American Language Programs

Quality Service was a big thing back in the early 80's and I remember at that time they stressed how important everyone's time was so you should arrive early or on time for meetings. Now with the focus on customer services it is just as important to be on time.

- Anne C. Debose, ExxonMobil

10-15 late is VERY insulting. Most of our meetings only last approximately 2 hours...... you've missed the concept in the first 15 minutes.
3-5 late you should apologize....... reasons are nice but no one believes them anyway.
1-3 late is o.k...... especially if you walk in with coffee, or with someone else. We all know that clocks & watches can be off that much.
Best to arrive 5 min early and hear everything going on........ there is always pre-meeting talk that gives insight.

- Anonymous

In our company being late to a meeting is considered a crime; yet many people stroll in late to my classes and don't give one word of apology (I ascribe this poor behavior to a general lack of manners in the Boston area and to the notion that learning is a lower priority than taking care of business).

When I lived in Connecticut people were scrupulous about being on time to anything, but we had a high standard of manners there. In New York City, everything happened yesterday, even when I lived there 20 years ago.

My experience in London was that for business meetings people were prompt but public transportation never ran on time. For parties, if the invite said cocktails from 7-9PM, people understood they should arrive at 8PM. In Italy, people are supposed to show up 2 hours late for dinner and from what I understand from my friend who is living in Milano, it's the same casualness in business. Interestingly, she is from Argentina and used to the Latin way of life, but still finds Italians maddeningly slow. I've found northern Europe efficient in every sense.

Personally, I was raised by a mother who liked to be everywhere at least 15 minutes early and now I can't be late even when I try! I think upbringing and the individual's personal nature has as much to do with it as the cultural norms.

- Anonymous


November 2002

There are a lot of adults out there (including me) who have tried to describe why moving to a new country can be hard for children. But we’re lousy at it compared to kids themselves. A Japanese friend who lived near me in Boston for several years recently returned home. She just sent me an essay her 10-year-old son wrote about his early days in the US. She said it was OK to share it with you – enjoy!

The Battle Between Macaroni and Cheese and Me

When I was in pre-school, there was one thing that I couldn’t believe. One day we were watching a movie at pre-school. A boy asked the teacher, “What’s today’s lunch?” The teacher answered, “It’s macaroni and cheese.” The boy was very happy to hear that, but I was frozen because I hate macaroni and cheese. After that all I was thinking about was lunch so I didn’t remember what movie I was watching then.

At lunchtime, I didn’t want to eat macaroni and cheese. So I tried to say, “No, thank you.” But I knew teachers couldn’t understand me because my English was bad. After all I had to eat them. This was the first round of the battle between macaroni and cheese and me. And I lost.

A few days later, the second round began. That time I practiced to say “ No, thank you” at home. “Bum, Bum, Bum” my heart was beating when I saw macaroni and cheese on the plate. The teacher put that yucky thing to my bowl. I wanted to give a punch named “No” to this yellow stuff. But my voice was too small. So she left with smile. I lost again.

Then the third round started several days later. I knew today’s lunch menu, so I was very nervous. When I saw macaroni and cheese again, I swore to say “No, thank you” this time. The teacher was about to put a lot of macaroni and cheese to my bowl. I cried “No, thank you.” I punched the yellow monster finally. She said “ Oh?” and gave me a sandwich. At last I beat this yellow monster.

Since then I started to speak English in loud voice. I noticed if I didn’t speak English, no one could understand me and I had to eat many kind of food I hated. Thanks to macaroni and cheese, I could have confidence in my English. As I spoke it more, it was getting better. I could make many American friends and played with them a lot. Now I think it is important to be brave when we go to foreign country. If so, you can have very good time there.

A punch named ‘No’ to that yellow monster! Is that great or what?

There’s a book that’s caught our attention that, I think, does a lovely job of standing with expat children and helping them give voice to their experience – “When Abroad Do as the Local Children Do,” by Hilly van Swol-Ulbrich and Bettina Kaltenhauser (available in English and German). Lots of creative activities, thought-provoking exercises, and web links to help children (age 8-12) through the preparation, departure, entry, and repatriation stages of moving to any new country. Using words and pictures kids will love. Tips for parents too.

And if you know any kids who’ve written about their expat experiences and would like others to hear their voice, please send them along to me. It’s part of The Interchange Institute’s mission to give voice to the expatriate experience -- I will surely learn from each and every one, and, with permission, will post excerpts on our site as well.

By the way, I got some wonderful replies from last month’s “e-note from Anne” about punctuality (“Mumble Something Time”). See for yourself! Thanks to all!


December 2002

I just read a report about the attitudes of 38,000 people in 44 countries concerning their own lives, their own countries, and the US (conducted by the Pew Research Group – let me know if you want to find out how to read it). The findings were interesting and fairly humbling for those of us involved in helping people move into and out of the US.

  • The percent of people with a positive view toward the US has slipped in the last two years in most of the countries surveyed. Even among its traditional allies like the UK, Germany and Canada, only two-thirds to three-fourths of the people have mostly positive views. Of course, opinions are lower in the Middle East, even in countries with a generally positive relationship with the US – only 25% of Jordanians and 30% of Turks have a generally positive view of the US.
  • The most distressing findings to me were ones in which Americans were shown to be out of synch with the views of the rest of the world: 75% of Americans say the US takes the interests of other countries into account when making international policy decisions. Others demur: only 21% of the French and Russians, 44% of the British, 23% of the Pakistanis, 36% of the Japanese agree that US foreign policy considers other countries’ interests.
  • And almost 80% of the Americans say that it’s a good thing that their ideas and customs are spreading around the world. “No, thanks,” say the majority in most countries – only 17% of the Argentineans, 28% of the Germans, 24% of the Indians, and 30% of the South Koreans agree, for example. Worldwide views of US technological and scientific advances are generally high. But less than half the people in most European and Middle Eastern countries said they liked American ideas about democracy and business practice.
  • Here’s one perplexing finding: people in almost every country said that, when there were differences between the US and their own country, these differences were more a result of different policies than different values. (Surely a country's policies reflect its values. I like to think this is a statement of hope — policies are easier to change than values.)
  • A bit of encouraging news for those of us who believe in a people-to-people approach to peace: those who have traveled to the US or are in regular communication with Americans had a more favorable view of the US than those with no such contact. Hard to tell cause from effect here, but at least contact with the US and Americans hasn’t made things worse…

Clearly, we’ve got work to do. The mission of The Interchange Institute is to “promote dialogue and facilitate understanding between people who move to a new country and their new communities” – that’s the unifying thread running through all of our publications, training, groups, research, and these e-notes you’ve been getting, too. When an e-note makes you stop and think, or when you pass one on to colleagues, or when you reply with your own thoughts, you’re helping us accomplish this mission. For that, we thank you.

Through the noise of this season, and in this tense moment of history, may you hear some clear bell that rings of peace and joy.


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