On Facebook Flag Filters

It’s been a while, but I had to repost something. I’ve never reposted something I’ve written elsewhere, especially not on my Facebook profile. Well, today is a first then, because I feel strongly enough about this. 

So here it is. 

Facebook friends, we might need a break from one another. 

I’m one of *those* people who has put a French flag over my (many years-old) profile picture. It was done in a moment of profound sadness, by someone who didn’t really know what else to do and didn’t want to make any pronouncements, because sometimes words just aren’t enough. 

Then came wave after wave of people INDIGNANT about this show of solidarity. It came from the Facebook feed, from the New York Times, even from NPR as I was driving home. 

I get it. People are dying EVERY DAY, EVERYWHERE. 

But I also get that human psychology is a complex thing. Yes, we do relate to things that are closer to us. If someone close to ME dies, I feel it more than if someone close to YOU dies. It’s basic human nature.

I’ve been to Paris. I know people who live in Paris. I know people who are married to Frenchmen. So what happened in Paris was closer to home to me than other horrid tragedies happening to the world every day. 

But I get it. People are dying EVERY DAY, EVERYWHERE. 

I do get it. 

But I changed my profile pic anyway. 

I’ve also huddled with my family in bomb shelters as bombs have rained down on our heads. Have you? 

I’ve also had to flee, as a child, with my family from the only home we knew, in a time of war. Have you? 

I’ve had to answer questions before getting on an airplane, asking why I speak Italian and English so well, as the airport officials eye my Tehran birthplace. Have you? 

I marched against the war in Iraq. Did you? 

I was jokingly called a terrorist in a group of people. We were all wearing black puffy jackets…it was winter in New York. Were you? 

I have repeatedly posted about charities helping refugees in Syria. And donated. Have you? 

I’ve busted my arse to volunteer a ton of hours so that my company will donate $1000 in my name to the UNHCR. What have you done? 

And you know what? I ALSO changed my profile pic, because in a moment of empathy, I felt like doing it. 

Taking offense by someone’s moment of empathy is not something empathetic people do. It’s what self-righteous assholes do. 

So Facebook, let’s take a break. Because I don’t have time to feel guilty about putting up a French flag on my profile page.

My Olympic Story

Disclaimer: The following story has nothing to do with parenting. It has to do with a particular day that happened oh so long ago, in the days before parenting (BP?). I’m sharing it to try to get into the Olympic spirit–difficult to do when our TV has zero reception so we can’t see NBC. 

It’s a little bit about the Olympics, but more importantly, it’s about traffic in Rome. 

We were living in Rome in 2004, the year the Summer Olympics were held in Athens. At the time, I was finishing up school and working on the side as a translator. A friend of mine, a fellow ex-pat (and avid runner), was working for the Rome Marathon organization. It turned out that people from the Rome Marathon were going to help the International Olympic Committee to welcome the Olympic flame as it touched down in Rome and started winding its way to Athens. 

And they needed an Italian/English translator to facilitate communications between the international crew bringing the flame to Rome and the Roman crew that was on the ground receiving the flame. 

For some reason, my friend had a previous engagement and couldn’t take part as the translator/facilitator–so I was the lucky recipient of the coveted temporary post. 

And that is how I found myself waiting on a street corner at 6 a.m. one morning, wearing semi-formal work clothes (I believe I was wearing a skirt), waiting for a car to pick me up and whisk me off to the airport to wait for the arrival of the Olympic flame. The other three were wearing sporty Rome Marathon shirts and comfortable shoes. I felt a bit out of place.

I got in with three Marathon staff and started speeding towards Rome’s smaller airport, Ciampino (used for European and internal Italian flights). Traffic going out of town wasn’t horrible, but all four of us were groaning at the prospect of taking the flame back to the city center later that morning. Traffic going into town was, as usual, horrid. 

We got to the tarmac and a few minutes later the plane landed. The mayor gave a rousing speech, and the Olympic flame made its way down to a waiting vehicle. Final destination: Stadio Olimpico, where the first runner was going to carry it through the city. 

My job was pretty easy…told some people to place boxes here and there, and was free to observe the rest of the time. 

Then it was time to accompany the flame downtown. My coworkers and I were grumbling about having to face the traffic when we saw the first motorcycle cops. Who were followed by a litany of other motorcycle cops. It was a motorcade for the Olympic flame.

And it turned out we were the first car in the motorcade. 

Stunned silence descended on the four of us. Which quickly led to hysterical giggling. 

Anyone who has lived in (or even visited) Rome, has seen the daily motorcades that accompany visiting dignitaries and Italian government officials. It soon becomes the most irritating thing to watch yet another motorcade of 30 cars zoom by, stopping traffic and generally being a pain in the arse. 

Those annoyances vanish when you are the one in the motorcade. 

We started out of the airport and met with very little traffic. The cops were waving us along, and there we were in our little FIAT, wide eyed and in thrall of the powerful feeling of police accompaniment. 

When we hit the actual city limits, the feeling was even more pronounced. A trip that normally would have taken an hour was coming to an end in about 20 minutes. It was like Moses parting the seas…the cops had their drill down, stopping, waving us through, angering the general public, and rushing  back to the front to repeat. 

The giggling in the car never stopped, and we had a profound sense of sadness once we actually reached our destination. Who knew if any of us would ever actually experience that again? 

Our work done for the day, we parted and went our separate ways. I had to take public transport to get back home (gasp!). It was quite a shock to the system after having traveled in style. 

Moral of the story? Even if a job is going to net you 40 euros, take it. Because you may end up in a motorcade with the Olympic flame, which will definitely be one of those stories I’ll tell my grand kids. 

Dear Preschool Germs

Dear Preschool Germs,

You suck. I understand that the germ community is probably snickering merrily about its sweet revenge against someone who grew up with rubbing alcohol as the default smell at home.

But don’t blame the kids for the sins (such as they were) of the parents. I most definitely did not choose to grow up in a house with two microbiologists. So germs, your all out warfare right now against P just seems unfair.

At the tail end of 2011, dear germs, your abundance made P lose out on Halloween and her preschool’s Christmas pageant. Despite my utter dislike of that ghoulish festival that ends October, I bought Ms. P a Super Girl costume and was fully planning on taking her trick-or-treating. Until you came along and gave her an ear infection (her first!), forcing us to stay put for the night.

And then you decided to have a party in her other ear, just in time for getting all dressed up and singing Jingle Bells in front of adoring parents. No pageant for us.

Now, fiendish germs, you have struck again, making P sick on her birthday. HER BIRTHDAY. I was planning a party for this weekend (even though her real birthday is actually today), had sent out the invitations, and had started planning what to make.

But alas, the slight cough that appeared on New Year’s Eve took hold with full force, turning into a full-blown flu by January 2. All week a feverish P has been completely miserable. Poor thing.

Well, the party for Saturday may be cancelled, but you know what germs? We’ll win out in the end. We couldn’t go trick-or-treating in November or take over the stage to sing carols after the pageant date. But a birthday party do-over? Bring it on.

Bring it.

Does Costco sell rubbing alcohol?



An Interview with Danielle

Back to the keyboard for this post! I thought I’d try something new, again. I wanted to interview someone who has an even bigger claim to third culture-ness than I do: my friend Danielle Russo.

Dani is an American expat living in Rome. She is married to a Colombian national, and they have two adorable children. Dani is the owner of a thriving tour company, When in Rome Tours and an overall superwoman (she often travels across the world ALL ALONE with her two kids in tow…that garners special mention of superwoman-hood in my book).

I met Danielle when we were both working for a translation agency in Rome ten years (!!) ago. We became fast friends, and have thankfully been able to stay in contact, notwithstanding the various moves and children that have popped up recently.

I wanted to get her perspective on combining three cultures, and what she thinks of her grand experiment. Her answers funny, poignant, and somewhat surprising. Here they are in full:

  • Do you think your kids feel more Italian, American, or Colombian?          I think my kids feel more American! Especially our oldest, Sofia because her schoolteachers and friend’s parents are always singling her out because she speaks English, so that seems to reinforce for her that she is special. That said, she knows the Italian national anthem by heart, but not the Star Spangled Banner.
  • What’s the best three language combination of a sentence that you’ve heard from them?                                                                                “Papi, Me Trajes los canuches per favore?”   (Rough translations: Papi, can you bring the straws here please?). “Straws” is cannucci in Italian, not canuches Spanish. It’s pitillos in spanish.                               Second to that is, “Mami my muneca is broccato.” (Rough translation: my doll is broken).                                                                               Third, “Sofia, what do you want Santa to bring you?”  “I have to ancora decidere.”
  • Are they able to converse with their relatives easily?                             In the US, yes. In Colombia, not so easily. It is the weakest of the three languages, and with a large family, lots of people always talking and yelling at the same time, they get shy and are afraid to speak.
  • Describe a typical family meal…what culture does it draw from?        Our meals are about 60% Italian, 20% Latin, and 20% international. We don’t mix and mingle at the same meal. But if we are having an Italian dinner, we generally do not do the primo, secondo, contorno, etc. But just one or two of the courses and basta.
  • What is the best part of being a part of three cultures? Is there a bad part?                                                                                                    The best part of it is feeling like we are a sovereign nation of our own. While outside the windows it is clearly Italy, in our house, our third culture reigns. We speak a combo of three languages, we aren’t afraid of drafts [a well-known Italian fear], and we just go with the flow. Holidays are always fun, as we honor American, Latin American, and now Italian traditions as well. In America, Santa fills the stockings on Christmas Eve, but here in Italy it is a haggard old (but good) witch [la Befana] who fills them a week later. My kids get two stockings! Lucky devils.                                                                                                  The down side? My three year old boy is just now beginning to speak. When he started preschool he was so frustrated because he couldn’t communicate that he would scream, hit, and even bite. We were called to the principal’s office before he even turned three! Yikes.                 For me as an adult? I feel like I don’t truly fit in anywhere anymore. I am American, but when I go back to the US, I notice that I have less and less in common with old friends, relatives, and paesani. Here in Italy, I don’t think I will ever assimilate 100%. And I wouldn’t want to.