Victoria Jelinek


December 18, 2018 VI – Brexit talk

“No amount of political freedom will satisfy the hungry masses.” Vladimir Lenin

Brexit SimplifiedI went to see Three Men in a Pub the other day in town. They’re three English men who create podcasts about current events that are aptly recorded in pubs. The topic for the evening was Brexit. It was held in an imitation of an Irish pub. Despite having lived in France for ten years, and knowing many of the expatriate community even by sight, as I looked around at the room, I didn’t recognize a single Brit present. There seemed to be none of the families who have homes here and children in local schools. Instead, the room was full of men who were drinking a lot of beer. There were four women, including me and the barmaid (who exclaimed loudly to a customer, “I don’t know what this is about! I don’t know a single thing about politics!” I thought to myself, “I wouldn’t be proudly broadcasting that these days love – it makes you look foolish. But, then again, perhaps, that was the point?”). Unfortunately, there was only one of the three men from the podcast, but he bravely outlined the argument against Brexit and the activism that he and his colleagues have been doing in response to the 2016 referendum. I’ll recount what he said, as well as recreate the environment in the pub as well as I can from the notes I scrawled over the course of the evening:

There is nothing grown or manufactured in the UK that can’t be made elsewhere more cheaply. Most folks don’t realize that Spain takes the UK’s garbage. The Welsh farmers who almost unanimously voted for Brexit don’t realize that Europe can find sheep elsewhere. Moreover, the tariff for Welsh lamb is currently 0%, but with a no trade deal, it will rise to 40%. Great Britain can’t feed itself. It’s possible that the UK could create 75% of the food needed to feed its population, but not the rest. 60% of Great Britain’s overall trade is with the EU. Currently, a single ship has 60k containers on it, and with the UK exiting the EU, each ship and each container on it will need to be checked by customs authorities in Europe. Meanwhile, there isn’t enough space to safely store the goods – particularly perishable goods, while the respective authorities check the shipments, nor are there finances to hire the man power to do this. As a matter of fact, Amazon (as in Jeff Bezos’s company) bought much of the warehouse space left in the UK over the last few years, and with the inability to export to Europe or elsewhere soon, the UK will need the space to store goods and Amazon will be right there to charge a fee for the service.

1.7 TRILLION dollars in trade agreements with 46 countries will be eliminated once the UK is out of the EU. To get back into these agreements, 45 of the countries have to say “Yes” to the UK, and Moldova has already said “No” to the UK joining. By leaving the EU, the UK is pulling out of 759 trade agreements – and by pulling out of these 759 trade agreements, those holding the agreements will sue the UK because they’ll want their money back for investment not realized. Recreating 759 trade agreements will be a “complete palaver.” The biggest hope is a trade deal with India or Paraguay in order to avert a 4% knock on GDP per year, which is “hilarious, given their respective situations.” The government and Leavers claim a trade deal with the USA is “in the works.” At this, the host rolled his eyes and then asked the crowd the likelihood that anything salient would come from that – at least anytime soon – given the man who’s currently in the White House. Leaver hopes that the commonwealth will agree to trade deals with the UK have “little promise” because the commonwealth is poor. In fact, putting all their wealth together, there are less financial possibilities in trade with all of them than through trade with a single country such as the UK, France, or Germany.

“Not everyone who voted to exit is racist, but everyone who’s slightly racist voted to Leave.” Moreover, a referendum is “advisory”– it shouldn’t be taken as legally binding. If a “regulatory election” had happened instead of a referendum, there would have been another election because of all the “irregularities.” For example, what is the source of all the money the Leave campaign had? What part did Cambridge Analytica play in propaganda efforts? There have been 45 years of peace throughout Europe and now this. Putin and Trump want to destabilize Europe and Europeans are falling for it. Already Poland, Hungary, Italy and France (of recent) have strong right-wing movements that want to see their respective countries pull out of the EU. Even so, the Remain campaign garnered 48% of the vote and they were “asleep,” with “shitty leaders,” providing “shitty information,” and there wasn’t a single leader that was popular, nor were any of the Remain activities organized. However, if a referendum was held now, “It’d be another story altogether,” because Brits are actually aware of what the consequences of leaving the EU are. According to the deal that Teresa May has recently negotiated, Brits may be able to stay and live in one country, even retire in that country, but they won’t be able to move to another country or do trade in another country without that country’s permission. The politicians are placating people rather than educating them about the facts.

Adding to the melee, Brits aren’t willing to talk about religion or politics, so no one is talking with each other. A no-deal with the EU means no trade deals with anyone (a few angry, drunk men began muttering that this information is “absolutely fucking false”). The World Trade Organization provides “basic deals” only. In Geneva recently, regardless of whether there is a deal or not, he discovered there would be 12-18 months for the agricultural production in the UK to survive. (At this point, men starting interrupting and arguing with him, and with each other, whilst a fat, greying long-haired English man squished my leg against the bar where I was sitting with a bar stool that he was leaning on for support and didn’t hear my squeal due to his inebriation and his focus on the increased tension in the room. I pushed him physically aside and he didn’t notice).

Before the ‘one man in the pub’ could continue, several men started openly and aggressively arguing with him and with each other. Their arguments were along the lines that farmers in the UK would “Rise to the occasion” and create more agriculture “If needed…” they’d “certainly” rise to the challenge of needing to produce food and trade for the British people (ever wonder why it is that the English seem to be the only ones that say they’re “British?” The Irish and Scots don’t generally use this, opting, instead, to say they’re “Irish” or “Scottish” respectively). There were statements called out that the UK “loses” 140 million a year in subsidies to the EU, to which the speaker replied, “Excuse me sir, but the UK gains much more in subsidies annually…” but he was cut off by more grumbling proclamations straight out of the Leave campaign’s playbook. The “Q & A” that the speaker then proposed essentially involved questions and statements surrounding economic tourism: one man, a builder, worked in Spain, then Italy for another season, and now in France, what would happen to him? Another works as a van transfer driver and is “hoping for the best” regarding Brexit, that he can come out to France “every once in awhile to ski and work…maybe apply for a temporary visa…” (I smothered a chuckle at this, knowing how difficult it is to receive visas to work and live in a given country). The ‘conversation’ then became more unruly, fuelled by beer and testosterone. There were no questions and answers, just men vehemently asserting that the “cost” of being in Europe was much greater than leaving, that the “independence” that the UK will now have outside of the EU is much greater than the dependency they had while in it. (It was grimly amusing to me, too, because before each of these statements, the respective men would begin by saying, “I didn’t vote to leave…BUT…” and then accompanying the aforementioned statements, they argued about the need for an “independent parliament,” and “no more back breaking subsidies paid to Europe,” and less “problems” with the “threat of terrorism” by refugees). An Irish guy reiterated what the speaker had said about the trade options facing the UK after Brexit, then pontificated for a bit about its being “normal” in Ireland for this sort of “political nonsense.” The same men who had been openly snorting and sneering at the  information about what the trade deals meant for the UK, were acting as orators at this point and answering questions from the room put to the speaker, who was too polite to cut them off. A few men, always beginning their statements with “And I’m not for Brexit…” went on about how the referendum was “democratic” and that it was “a democratic process” that “needs to be respected.”

At this point, the speaker attempted to focus their contentiousness and get them back ‘on side,’ by saying something about being “banned” from the USA in an attempt to get the audience on board with a common enemy. Meanwhile, the folks around me began giving each other advice about how to stay in a European country, “Get a residence card right now…it’s good for ten years…” One member of the group said that if you apply for a French passport, you’re “automatically” allowed to stay while it’s being processed, to which another replied, “That would be good, ‘cause I don’t know which country I want to go to next.” Another group around me bragged that they still pay their taxes in the UK despite having lived in France for a few years, and that they’ll “just” go back to UK if they need anything just like they always do, and if necessary, they’ll work in the black. (I again wondered where all the Brit folks were who have homes, who have children here who go to school, who pay their taxes in France — sic, as I know that many Brits do not pay French income taxes. They will be effected more than these single men renting apartments if they have to leave, sell their homes, uproot their families, move their pets…).

The speaker again gained control of the room. He said that the UK is an aging population and without immigrants, there aren’t the youth necessary to work and pay taxes. That there are 180k vacancies in the NHS right now, so the NHS will have to rely on ex-commonwealth countries, where corruption and credibility is an issue, “especially with medicine,” to provide doctors and nurses. The same applies with teachers – there are a “raff of vacancies” throughout the UK for teachers, and, again, “We’ll have to rely on ex-commonwealth countries to fill these posts.” (I then couldn’t hear the speaker because the people next to me were discussing what they had for dinner. A woman in their party complained that if she had known she’d be “forced” to listen to “political talk” then she would have stayed at home and watched telly. On the other side of me, there was a ‘discussion’ between men about their various misinformed ideas about what it “really” means for trade, as opposed to what the speaker had said, and how to “dodge” being expelled from the country). A man received ‘the floor’ from the speaker and said that he’s not a Brexiter, “of course,” but he has issues with an EU army, EU regulations, and the lack of a representative in the EU parliament, but he enjoys being in the EU “because we can be.” (He also enjoyed speaking into the microphone a lot during the Q & A. I didn’t hear what the speaker’s response to these erroneous assertions were because the barmaid was laughing very loudly at something a man had said to her). Another guy took the microphone and was talking about patriotism, a “duty” to country and “identity,” to which the speaker responded blandly that we all feel an affinity to our “home country.”

The speaker then took the opportunity to say that the buildings, spaces, parks, etc. in his hometown of Liverpool have all been regenerated and renovated thanks to EU money. To this a man called out that the “Beatles yellow submarine money” (Festival Park) was sponsored by the UK parliament, and not the EU “by the way!” The speaker then talked about a 1947 agreement made by the UK to take refugees, and the fact that the UK did help start war in Syria in the first place. Now, there are no refugees ‘streaming’ into the UK, as the propaganda will have you believe, but there is rising racism. He told us about how he had travelled to Syria and spoke with refugees who are teachers, accountants, lawyers, doctors, and who just want to stay home but it’s too dangerous. (Behind me the men talked about how all the ‘Paki’s’ can just go home. How this guy-the speaker- is a “tosser” because he thinks he knows everything but he hasn’t even mentioned the war in Yemen).

I decided it was time to leave. I supported something different happening in my village. I tried a local beer that was okay and I don’t generally like beer. I have material for a ‘background flavour’ piece on a hot topic that I’ll write up for my blog. And, I see first-hand the men and women who supported Brexit, because these are a micro example of them – a lot of very strong opinions, doggedly held onto in order to support overall constructs of reality, and despite their constructions lack of factual fortification. They’re not concerned with an overall picture of global events, or political and social foresight into how it effects societies as a whole – they’re concerned with how it affects them individually. A problem that we increasingly observe throughout the world, as we see the rise in nationalism and right wing fervour in many countries, and despite these same elements claiming to be collectively oriented. I find myself feeling that it’s an affront that these ‘secret’ Brexiters are in France profiting from the country. I comfort myself that hopefully France is gaining some income from them, even if it’s just their bar bills at pseudo English pubs.

Having spent 13 years in England, and another two years in Scotland, I familiarized myself with pub culture in Great Britain (and then some). My opinion is that one only begins to know a Brit after spending a half-decade or more in their company. Hence the popularity of their pubs and the amount of alcohol they generally consume. I believe it’s in a pub that the very stratified society fractures, the politeness, the ‘chin up’ stoicism dissolves and, in my opinion, it’s where the greatest sense of humour in the world is on display. While this evening at the “Brexit debate,” provided me with further evidence of my assumption that it’s in a pub that the English relax and become more equitable, it did not support my belief that it’s also where their humour shines. Perhaps it’s as Ricky Gervais notes in his stand up show Humanity: “Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean that you’re right about the political opinions you hold; offense is about feelings and feelings are personal. Politics isn’t.” Or it shouldn’t be. But what Brexit has revealed is that there are very deeply entrenched feelings in the UK about what it means to be British and also historic feelings of suspicion towards Europe that are embedded into that identity.

***Just saw this article in The Guardian newspaper today about Brexit & ski resort jobs (though I DO believe there’s a two year transition period after March 2019, so nothing really changes till 2021?):

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/dec/18/brexit-thousands-ski-resort-jobs-at-risk?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

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The Baby Diaries 26

Being an only child is a disease in itself. G. Stanley Hall

Only child TIME coverThe other day I was surprised to hear from a long-lost friend that she’d given birth to her third child. I never would have taken her for a mother in the first place. When I told my husband about my old friend, much to my surprise he suggested that we have a second child. I find myself astonished that he wants a second child and seems to have kept his mouth shut due to my own opinion on the matter. And now I’m confused, particularly as there is a lot of social pressure to have more than one child in France…likely due to the amazing programs available to help you care for them. On the one hand, despite my flawed relationship with my own siblings, I’m grateful they exist and feel bad that my son will not have this ‘record’ of his early life at home, or camaraderie on holidays or later in life, particularly as my husband and I will likely be dead by the time he has his own family. Moreover, I’ve bought into the stigma around only children as lonely, indulged, and neurotic creatures. On the other hand, the single children I know tend to be rather independent and strong-willed, traits I admire. And, also, there are too many people in this world already. I didn’t have a maternal instinct until I had my own child. In fact, I was skeptical of the whole motherhood route for a variety of reasons. I also had a very problematic pregnancy, and am not too keen to repeat the experience. If I were to try to get pregnant again, and to have a child, I would be doing it for my child and my husband only…I don’t want to be selfish, however, so I started talking to friends here in Chamonix and abroad, and doing a bit of research on the subject.

My friends in Chamonix told me that if there is even a seed of doubt in my mind, and if there is any chance that if the circumstances were different and I COULD have a baby in five years, once I’ve rested from the previous pregnancies, then I SHOULD try to have another baby now and just ‘grin and bear it.’ Two of these friends were only children themselves, and they went on to have three kids precisely because they were only children. Two other friends who were only children told me that they never knew any differently while growing up. Reassuring, except that they have two kids each.

Two close friends in the US who are also only children had a different take on the matter. Both of them say that they love and value their time alone. That they were raised to make the best of their ‘alone’ time or go crazy. Both say that they are self-reliable and self-entertaining. Both say that if there were any ‘problems,’ then it would be that it was harder for them to make friends, be outgoing. Both also admitted that they often wished that they’d had a brother or sister to share things with as they grew older, especially as their parents aged, but both remark that it’s likely that my child will a great spouse and/or loads of friends to share the burden and joy of life with, as they do. Both said that it’s arguable that being an only child results in various traits and issues, such as being headstrong, but who doesn’t have something ‘wrong’? It’s what makes us all special. They advised me to teach kindness and a desire to understand and learn from others, which will counter any negative aspects commonly associated with single children. Interestingly, both posed a question to me: “The real question is, would you be willing to go through all that you did to have another child?”

After much thought, I’m not willing to go through the stress of trying-to-get-pregnant sex, likely more miscarriages, and another difficult pregnancy. Whether my son (and husband) know it or not, this would hinder our relationship now and in the foreseeable future, and I feel it’s primarily motivated by the fear that our kid MAY be lonely and spoiled. I found an interesting article in The Guardian by an only child named Emma Kennedy entitled “Who Needs Siblings?”

She writes: A friend of mine recently sat down with me and asked me in all seriousness whether I was happy about being an only child. It was if she were asking me what it was like to cope with a disability. But she had an agenda. She has got an only child and she is concerned that if she doesn’t have another one, her currently happy and well balanced three year old is somehow going to mutate into a gorgon of bitterness and despair.

My experience of being an only child has been unequivocally positive, and I was happy to put my friend’s mind at rest. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have a sibling, of course, but rather than wondering what he or she would have been like, I find myself wondering if I would have turned out to be a fundamentally different person. There is no way of knowing. But there are several things I know about myself and I am convinced they stem directly from being an only child. First, I love my friends beyond words. I have a huge circle of acquaintances, I am an incredibly social beast, but there are a handful of people to whom I am devoted to the point of madness…. Second, because I grew up with no experience of sibling rivalry, I have no professional jealousy. I have never, not once, looked at one of my peers and begrudged them their success…The only negative I can ever come up with when I am quizzed about the downside of being an only child is that, when the time comes, I shall bear the burden of my parents’ old age and inevitable decline on my own. While this will be difficult and stressful and heartbreaking, I can think of no greater privilege than being asked to look after the two people to whom I owe everything… I like being an only child. I am guessing that other only children like being the way they are, too. So, please, stop treating us as if we are birds with broken wings…There is a reason China is now the most successful country in the world. It is because it is run by an entire generation of only children. Coincidence? I think not. Let the world take note.

In a review of 141 studies examining the personality traits associated with only children, the spoiled, selfish, lonely stereotype had no basis in fact. Only children also rate significantly higher in achievement and motivation, due to increased parental scrutiny. Studies also indicate that only children score higher in adjusting to new environments, exerting self-control, and interpersonal skills – all skills I hold dear. But, it was my mother who both made me laugh and made me realize that for-better-or for-worse, my dear boy will be an only child; she told me that my siblings and me always wanted to be only children. Indeed. So, I will pull up my socks, get on with life as I have it, and simply love my single, and certainly singular, child.

 

 



The Pregnancy Diaries – 10

“Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving.” Erma Bombeck

I recently went to the two crèches in the valley and signed my impending baby up for care – a crèche is a nursery from three months of age till they walk. There are only ten spots in each. Both tell me that their waiting list goes back to 2008!

I said that I’d take anything. I then went to the local mairie and got a list of names for all the certified assistantes maternelles, or ‘nounous’, in the valley. These are women who are certified to take care of children in their homes from zero-three years old.
Because they generally keep these children till they’re ready to go to school at three, they, too, are hard to come by. I called each and every one and discovered that all but one is full up for the foreseeable future and beyond (Chamonix valley could do with some more crèches and nounous, for anyone looking to be entrepreneurial).
Then I started talking to mothers about the childcare that they had for their kids here, or the childcare that they’d like (if they’re pregnant, like me). I’m startled to discover that the majority of women here in the valley have either stayed home with their kids till they were school age, or they intend to stay home until their kids are school age.
A few say that maybe they’ll get them in care a day or two a week. They tend to finish their statements of intent by saying something to the effect of, “but I want to spend time with my baby…”This makes me feel like a monster for already planning on putting my unborn baby in external care. So then I perused online to find other women who are not ‘monsters’ because they put their children in care, but who do want time to themselves to work – I believe that a happy mommy is a happy baby, and this mommy will not be happy if she’s a stay-at-home mom (besides, I suspect it’s harder than work work). In my search, I stumbled across the French author, philosopher and teacher Elisabeth Badinter. She’s written a book entitled The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. I found two articles about her – one in The Guardian and one in The Washington Post. Basically, Ms. Badinter says that more women these days feel a moral obligation to stay at home with their children, despite all the progress of feminist rights.
I quote from her interview in The Washington Post:
For several decades, industrialized nations have been seeing a change in our model of motherhood that is harmful to women. In the 1970s, all the talk was about the rights of women and their vital financial independence…today, the new imperative? To be a perfect mother who knows how to help her child reach his full potential, to raise a gifted, extraordinary radiant adult. Motherhood first, the rest second. The problem is that the La Leche League and a great many experts on childhood have made it their business telling women that they must give unstintingly to their children: their milk, time and energy. Women are urged to reconnect with their supposedly innate reflexes as female mammals to become the good mothers their children need. This good mother gives birth without the benefit of an epidural, sleeps with her child, breast-feeds on demand, and disdains powdered milk and store-bought jars of baby food as harmful relics of reprehensible egotism.
 
Result: The good mother stays at home with her child for the first years of a baby’s life. The main problem with this shift is that it is gradually imposing itself on all women as a moral obligation of the first priority. 
Well, these “modern” practices might suit some women, but not all of them, not by a long shot. 
If I criticize this model of an exclusive and guilt-inducing maternity, it is because the model springs from two assumptions I find aberrant. The first is that the perfect mother is an attainable objective. The second is the belief that women are led by their hormones, just as female chimpanzees.
 
If there were one change you could convince a modern mother to make, what would it be?
I would tell her never to abandon her financial independence. For two reasons. First, in our society, where half of all couples separate, it isn’t prudent to give up one’s job for a few years. 
A single mother raising her child alone is in a very difficult position, and many of them are reduced to hardship. 
Second, I would remind women that they now have a life expectancy of more than 80 years, while the normal activity of motherhood lasts for a decade or so. The children leave home — and then what becomes of the mother?
 
Amen, say I. I’m going to go online and order her book now.