Sunday 7 February 2010

Does This Mean I'm American?

Rhetorical question really as I took up dual nationality in 2002 so I AM American. Anyhoo, as many will know, Valentine's Day here is gi-normous - it, and Halloween, literally keep Hallmark in business. That's because Americans send Valentine's cards to everyone and anyone. None of that anonymous stuff where you only send cards to people you fancy. No siree Bob. (See, I really am American.)

You send them to grandparents, godparents and friends; teachers, neighbors, mail carriers- AND you sign them.  I have a great story about a friend who was working in the States years ago. Valentine's Day came along and she generously went round the office offering to sign people's Valentine's for them (you know, to disguise the hand-writing. Boy did they look at her funny!

If you have children in the American school system, the run-up to Valentine's Day can be stressful and exhausting. Some schools lay down no ground rules whatsoever, so every child takes three pounds of chocolate in for his/her classmates, plus a card for everyone. Even in schools like ours, where they try to play it down a little, there's still a Valentine's party next Friday. With parental involvement. Oh yes.

We were sent a piece of pink lined paper and an envelope, and asked to write a Valentine's message to our child. (Just the 6 year old, I hasten to add.) Now one thing Americans do really well is gush about their chidren. If you tell a parent how sweet/ pretty/ well-behaved their child is they will usually say "Thank you" and possibly even, "Yes, isn't s/he? We're so lucky". And, before anyone takes this for US-bashing, they really mean it. They're not showing off. (For Americans reading this, if you compliment a Brit on their child, they'll usually retort with "Yes, you should see her when we're at home the little bugger." or "Hmmm, must have brought the wrong child with me." Psychologists could have a field day.)

So, I set about with pen in hand and somehow although I think the Little Guy is funny, kind and all those good things, I couldn't bring myself to "gush" as much as I know is expected of me. I always find popular words like "awesome" to be meaningless anyway. So I cheated and wrote him a poem. I think you'll find it still qualifies though:

Ode to Joy (He plays it on the piano)

You're kind and sweet and funny
Your smile is bright and sunny
You Make our Day
Whenever you say
"I love you Mom and Dad"

Your sister and your brother
Both love you like no other
You are our Joy
The Sweetest boy
A Family ever had.

And of course, it was duly decorated with hearts and things.

Not bad eh?



  1. They have a similar tradition here in Finland with V-day... except they call it ystävänpäiva which literally means friends day. It still really confuses me when I walk past shops offering 10 cards for 3€ - as I wonder why anyone would want that many v-cards until I remember that its mostly kids sending the cards to their friends. I suspect when it comes to gushing about their kids, the Finns are probably closer to the Brits than Americans!

  2. I inwardly groan at this commercialism. Anything to get us to spend more. I jolly well hope it doesn't come here!
    Yes....... I think you MUST be American! LOL!

    Nuts in May

  3. I still can't get over how people sign Valentine's Day cards over here.

    "No no no no no!" I cried the first time I saw an American signing a Valentine's Day card. "If you sign it then they'll know who it's from!"

    She looked at me askance, "That's kind of the point, Richard."

    I'm sure psychologists could have a field day on this, too!

  4. No restriction in our school unfortunately. We were even sent home a list a every child in the class so that we can include everyone. A quick trip to Target later and we're set, although I have to say I resent doing it. It's a waste of money and just creates a big pile of trash (see I'm American too!)

    I do like the idea of writing a message to your child though, that's a lovely idea.

  5. I've finally caved and bought a stashload of cards and lollies after preschool sent home a note reminding us how many children were in the class, and telling us to provide a carrier bag for the 'treats' (!) Hadn't really thought about the signing/not signing aspect. I rather like the tradition of cards being anonymous.

  6. Hello,
    Well technically I'm American too, although a dual.
    I was born there but raised here.
    I did a 10 year stint in the States and fought tooth and nail to keep my British-ness. I hated the 'hallmark' thing, having to do it because America en masse did it. Grrr....
    But I do love the poem, that was special.
    And a really good way to say how you feel.
    Well done.

  7. As an Elementary Teacher of many years, the ONLY way Valentine's Day should be celebrated at school is for children to be required to make a card for every other child in the class. This prevents some children going home upset, deflated, egos damaged.

    I taught for many years in an overseas American school in a country where Valentine's were not sold in large packets, as they are in America. I solved this problem by making heart shapes on a paper, writing "to" and "from" on the card, and photocopying the papers. I gave each child a packet to cut out the 25-30 necessary for the whole class, and kids sat with their friends in groups to color valentines and write simple messages on them.

    Since we don't commonly have shoeboxes in this country, I made large envelopes for each child by folding and stapling at the sides an 18" x 24" piece of construction paper, and wrote each child's name largely in fancy cursive on the envelope. That way we could have a Valentine's party where everyone could go around distributing valentines to everyone else's desk, and no one would feel left out. We also had envelopes taped up around the room for other classes, in case someone wanted to send a card to a brother or sister, or friend in another grade. Of course they could make additional Valentine's "from your secret admirer," and we always made a special one to take home to Moms and Dads.

    This way, at the end of the day, everyone in the class has a whole packet of Valentines to take home, from the whole class, and is NOT LEFT OUT, while other, more popular children get ALL the Valentines!

    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas

  8. DETO - I don't think anyone is advocating exclusionary practices, but it is a bit of a shock to move here and not anticipate the work that can go in to Valentine's Day. My faveourite year was when one of my kids had to make a Valentine's poster or ornament for the classroom. We made a large cardboard heart on a ribbon which was lovely.

  9. I'm entering into the spirit this year and making valentine's cupcakes and selling them at school in aid of Haiti. Will probably put photos on my blog using my new laptop! Thanks for your advice; I've left you a reply on my cooments, but it kind of turned into a rant about Office 2007, sorry!

  10. That's just lovely. I'm sure he'll love it. Do you not find it awful having another commercialised day like that? I suppose it takes all meaning out of Valentine's. Or the original one anyway.

  11. Today I am wishing I was American - I want to come into work on Sunday and find a card from EVERYONE!!!

  12. Mwa - no, quite the opposite in fact. I think the fact that everyone and his grandma gets a Valentine's card takes away the stress of perhaps not getting one at all. OK, it is a bit weird sending family members great big red hearts, but we know we mean it in the purely familial way!

  13. I love that poem. So much nicer than a whole bunch of gush.
    The nursery my son used to go to used to play it safe and wouldn't put 'mummy' or 'daddy' on their cards: "Because families just aren't what they used to be"!

  14. I am confused. Am I supposed to give my wife a V-D card? Hmmm. We don't normally do that but now I feel, as an American, I must. Maybe, deep down, my Scottish roots are bubllng through. You know, I think it is easier to let them bubble and skip V-D altogether.


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