Category Archives: Relationships

Pulling the plug on (communication with) grandma

love in any language
love in any language

This summer ultra right-wing spin masters crisscrossed the US, spouting sensationalist garbage about Obama’s healthcare plan and organizing America’s lunatic fringe for circus-style mayhem at Town Hall meetings. One of the more charming claims made was that somehow healthcare reform was going to allow the government to “pull the plug on grandma.” Sen. Chuck Grassley, who first made the comment regarding the government’s potential future role in end-of-life decisions, later retracted it. But like Joe the Plumber, the expression stuck around. The mention of grandparents struck an emotional cord with people. We want them around. But as much as we value older family members it seems that most of us do precious little in the way of communicating with them. What’s to blame? Busy schedules? Misaligned priorities? Or is the real evil… social media?

I typed in one simple question into my Facebook status today: “Are your parents on Facebook?” Comments ranged from “my parents are old school eastern Euros…they type with one finger…so your answer is no” to “Mum is a super user… AND my 80 yr old grandmother!” I got 23 comments total.

The general trend was surprising to me: Most of my friends had at least one parent that was on Facebook even if they were subscribed, as one person put it, “only as a lurker.” Keep in mind that most of the respondents were in their late 20s or 30s and had parents that are or are pushing, grandma age.

Facebook reported this year that the fastest growing demographic of users was over 35 (http://bit.ly/7CMGd). Even more significantly, the fastest growing subset of this larger group of people over 35 is women over 55 (http://bit.ly/173ReU). That’s right, grandma has invaded Facebook. Trends such as these may be part of the reason one of my friends’ responses was, “My dad is (on Facebook) and he keeps trying to friend my friends. I will not friend him. You have to draw the line somewhere!”

LifeTips blogger Jamison Cush said, “Conventional teen wisdom: once your parents embrace something, it is no longer cool. So, inspired by a recent Facebook friend request from my mother, I am boldly declaring on this blog that Facebook is so over.” This kind of logic may be indulged for comic effect, but there is truth to it. As much as I want to stay in touch with my retirement-age parents, I don’t want them sifting through my Vegas pictures. And I will think twice about social media that allows them to do so.

Is it just time to admit that cross-generational communication is a touchier area than we give it credit for? Trying to do what we’ve failed to do in face-to-face communication across an age gap isn’t going to get easier because grandma now knows how to post bingo pictures and, very disturbingly, friends your online buds that she finds attractive. You could try to remedy the issue through heart-to-hearts over hot chocolate.

Or maybe just beef up your privacy settings.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Bjorn Karlman

Seduce a Swede – Steps 1-5

mouse trap with cheese and "free cheese" sign.

We’ve all had to endure the heavy-breathing commentary about Swedish women, their striking blond hair, long limbs and  “clothing optional” approach to life in general.  Swedish women are characterized by global media and entertainment as sexually liberated, touchingly naive blond goddesses. Swedish men on the other hand, almost always look goofy in movies and seem only to have two names: Sven and Bjorn.  As Bjorn happens to be my first name, I thought it appropriate to lay down a few helpful steps for anyone who might be looking to snare a viking for themselves.

For step one, let the following sink in: “Dating” is not big in Swedish culture.  There isn’t even a real Swedish name for it.  You can “dejta” or “gå på dejt” (Both basically mean “go on a date” and borrow directly from the English.)  What this means is that Swedish dating rules are, at best, unwritten, and visitors often find them very confusing.

The second step to romancing a Swede is to understand that gender equality is huge in Sweden.  Guys, women will absolutely expect to be treated as your equal.  Ladies, don’t be shocked if Swedish men don’t fall over themselves to carry your shopping.  Because gender equality is foundational to modern Swedish culture, some Swedish women may even be offended if males go too far with opening every door and trying to treat them like the “fairer sex”.  Genuine warmth and charisma are appreciated by both sexes but save the dramatic serenades for Southern Europe, Swedes are more low key.

At the risk of completely contradicting myself, here’s step three.  A lot of Swedish women complain about the fact that Swedish men are often very shy and don’t like to make the first move.  Often it seems that the average Swedish male needs to be on his fourth round of beers before he can muster the courage to utter a tepid, “Hi my name is Sven” (Yes, if Sven is under 50 and he is like most Swedes, he probably will speak reasonable, if somewhat sing-songy English). Herein lies the opportunity for non-Swedish males: a little charm goes a long way.  Simple things like you initiating conversation or offering to pay for a meal when it was your idea, will equal points.  Women, if you like the shy, mysterious type, Bjorn may be your guy.  Ask him about Swedish bastu (sauna) rituals. He may open up and suggest you go for “fika” (no, that is not nearly as exciting as it sounds – fika is the Swedish custom of sitting down for
coffee and pastries).

The digital age has enabled step four.  Swedes are BIG on texting.  A lot of conversation that you would expect to take place face-to-face, happens via SMS.  Texts are preferable to talking to new acquaintances on the phone. Pick up a number from Greta at ICA (one of the main Swedish supermarket chains) last night?  Texting is your ticket…

And now for step five in reeling in your Swede:  Cultural sensitivity is fine but DO NOT try to be Swedish.  Anyone in any culture can spot a wannabe and Swedes in particular are turned off by phony behavior.  Many Swedes are fascinated with traveling and getting to know people from other places.  So by all means appreciate Sweden but don’t be reluctant to chime in about your own country, its customs and way of life.  Chances are your guy or girl will find what you are saying interesting and they will want to get to know you better.

There’s absolutely no reason to sit alone in your hotel room or apartment while in Sweden.  Put steps one through five into practice and get to know the Swedes you come into contact with.  You’ll be glad you did.  Lycka till!

LEAVE A COMMENT

Bjorn Karlman

Well-Traveled, Multilingual and Clueless –Third Culture Kids Unpacked

At a wedding near LA with TCK friends I grew up with in the Philippines
At a wedding near LA with TCK friends I grew up with in the Philippines

I can go from zero to awkward, mumbling mess in no time when Western pop culture predating the late 90s is brought up in conversation. I have no clue what to say because a lot of the time, I have never heard of the actor/singer/quirky 80s celebrity of ambiguous sexuality being discussed. It is painful. I sound American. My Northern European genes make me look like I’ve got straight-laced, Mayflower Puritanical blood.  But I grew up next to sugar cane fields and coffee plantations in the Philippines and I have never seen a single episode of Miami Vice.

Luckily I grew up with other expat kids who were just as lost. We were all Third Culture Kids (we’d grown up in a culture different from that of our parents.)  Instead of being perpetually bummed about the fact that we didn’t completely fit into any culture or country, we bonded over our oddball similarities.  The transition to adulthood has changed very little so here’s my list of TCK traits:

1) Most of us speak English better than our mother tongue and are stumped if some zealous patriot asks us to recite the words to our own national anthems.

2) Whether or not we’ve ever stepped foot on American soil, our accents are often, to one degree or another, American.

3) We are flakes when it came to growing roots anywhere.  I’ve kept in touch with a number of my fellow TCKs and a lot of them have kept moving, never staying in the same place for more than a few years.

4) TMI!  We are used to sharing a lot very quickly because growing up we knew that we didn’t have much time to make friends before we had to leave again. But there is a flipside to this. Steph Yiu on denizen-mag.com puts it well:  “once you get to know us, you might find that we keep you at bay. We’re just so used to leaving (or being left by) people who are close to us that sometimes we don’t want to form very deep relationships, for fear of losing them.”

5) We were raised watching cultures clash on a daily basis so we are OK with grey areas.  We don’t expect life to be black and white.

6) We may have been mature teenagers but for some reason, we take our time “growing up” in our 20s.  For more on that, check out this article by Ann Baker Cottrell and Ruth Hill Useem:  http://www.tckworld.com/useem/art3.html

7) We are unlikely to take jobs in government or the corporate world that involve a lot of red tape/bureaucracy.  Neither do we often follow in our parent’s footsteps professionally:  http://www.tckworld.com/useem/art5.html

If you are a TCK or if you know one well and care to add to this list I’d love to hear from you.  Post a comment.  Just don’t ask me about the Jetsons.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Bjorn Karlman