Why Facebook is driving me nuts

February 27, 2013

Picture 1Last summer, Al and I went to Chateau d’Oex.  As we were driving up the mountain to this village, Al asked me how I discovered it.

‘From Jonty Rhodes’s Facebook photos,’ I replied.

‘Since when are you friends with someone famous like Jonty Rhodes?’ he asked.

I am not.  It was at this point that I realised my addiction to social media had reached its demented peak.

I vaguely recall clicking on a friend’s profile, then clicking on one of their friend’s open profiles.  One person linked me to another and, a couple of hours later, I was perusing Jonty Rhodes’s Swiss holiday photos.

images-2Facebook is effortless.  It is a passive, lazy, faff-free way to know what is going on in other people’s lives.  Now I’m asking myself whether I need to know.  Maybe relationship depth is better than breadth after all.  Facebook is my drug because the novelty has worn off but I can’t quit.  I’m addicted.

Facebook and what it shows us about the human psyche would be a great topic for a psychology thesis.  For example, I get irritated with the inane trivia people share on their statuses.  Then something will happen to me, let’s say I burn dinner.  I want to share that.  Who gives a toss?  What is that urge that makes me think anyone is even vaguely interested in the mundane of my life?  Why does it make me feel good to share it?

These are the things about Facebook that are now driving me crazy:

1.  Religious statuses

I get annoyed when people woodpecker me with spiritual quotes and verses on my news feed even though I am a Christian.

One of my friends recently posted this quote: ‘You are where God wants to be at this very moment.  Every experience is part of His divine plan.’  I flinched and thought, ‘Is that supposed to be uplifting?  If that statement is true, God is a sadist.’

I couldn’t stop thinking about the damage those words could do to someone who is suffering through pain beyond their control.  I laughed it off because sometimes a cyber-debate is like throwing your shoes in the air to knock clouds out the sky.

But I couldn’t stop stewing over that silly quote.  One morning I worked myself into a rage of righteous indignation while breastfeeding Megan in the dark at 3am.  I decided I couldn’t let such an irresponsible, misguided, theologically incorrect statement go without (gently) challenging the person who posted it.

Because Facebook pushes information at people through the news feed, you have to be mindful of your audience before you put up a religious quote or opinion.  Facebook is not a pulpit (whether you are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, whatever).  It is unfair to carpet bomb people with your beliefs, especially if you have an eclectic group of friends.  In my experience, the best evangelistic opportunities come from what you do, not what you say.

2.  RIP, please pray for and thinking of statuses

These statuses make me want to stand up and scream while I smash metal dustbin lids against the wall.

Often I skim through my news feed and see something like ‘RIP Bob’.  These statuses blacken my mood because, even though I have no clue who Bob is, I feel sad he died.

It drives me crazy when people post sombre, cryptic statuses and don’t tell their concerned friends what happened to poor Bob.  Why can’t people put in a few details?  Anyway, why do they even need to write ‘RIP Bob’?  Bob is dead so he can’t appreciate the sentiment.  I never read the obituary section of the newspaper (too depressing) and I resent being forced to on Facebook.

Another classic status that I loathe is ‘Please pray for the Jones family’.  If I must pray for the Jones family, who I don’t know from a bar of soap, at least tell me who they are and what I must pray about.

images-8I also hate statuses along the lines of ‘Thinking of the Jones family’.  People seem compelled to tell their disparate group of Facebook friends when they are ‘thinking of XYZ’ and they never explain why.  Sometimes person XYZ is not even one of their Facebook friends.  Surely it is more meaningful to send XYZ a text message or a card to say they are on your mind rather than announce it from the rooftops?  Those statuses remind me of the Bible verse that says when you give, be secret and don’t do it with fanfare to be honoured by others.  I sometimes wonder if thinking about someone should be private too, especially if that person is not known by most of your Facebook friends.

3.  Verbal stink bombs and cryptic statuses

It annoys me when people use Facebook to vent and squirt others with poison although I understand that, when in a rage, writing something such as  SOME PEOPLE ARE BITCHES on my Facebook status could be temporarily cathartic.

I also hate it when people write cryptic statuses such as ‘Had such a bad day’, ‘I’m broken’, ‘God give me strength in this battle’ or ‘This too shall pass’ without explaining why.  If you are going to be that frank and intimate, then go all the way and explain yourself.  Share fully or don’t share at all. Sometimes I feel cryptic statuses are just a cry for attention.

4.  ‘Liking’ and ‘sharing’ web pages of projects, charities etc

This is a new trend.  People are liking and sharing websites that interest them and these then appear on friends’ newsfeeds.  In principle, it is a good way to spread the word about meaningful causes.

Some people take it too far.  Recently a picture of a decapitated cat greeted me on my news feed because a friend ‘liked’ the cause behind it.  A man held the body and another man, standing a few feet away, had the head.  The caption said something like, ‘Stop these bastards.  Take a stand against cruelty to animals.’

5.  Unedited holiday pictures

It drives me nuts when people don’t filter their holiday snaps before posting them on Facebook.  I lose interest when I open someone’s album and see there are 1,043 photos.  I wish they’d just put up the greatest hits or even just rotate some of the pictures so I don’t have to turn my head sideways to view them.

Sailing well

There are two rules in sailing:

  1. Make sure the boat is in the water
  2. Make sure there is no water in the boat

images-11The same applies with social media.  It is ok to ‘be in the water’, to be involved in the culture of the day.  But it is also important to have healthy boundaries by not allowing the culture of the day to embed itself in you. I think that, given the time I waste trawling Facebook every day, water is in my boat.


Bonjour

February 14, 2013

Recently one of my friends was fed up.  She called the doctor’s office and the secretary put the phone down on her.

‘What language did you speak?’ I asked.

‘English,‘ she said.

If someone called me and bulldozed forth in Russian, German, Polish or some other language I can’t comprehend, I would put down the phone on them too.

DownloadedFile-12Another friend of mine, who is new to town, was peeved when a local business didn’t respond to her email.  ‘You wrote it in English, didn’t you?’ I said.  Why should the local French-speaking people be bothered to use Google Translate to decipher the email if you couldn’t go to the effort of using Google Translate to write it?

We live in a French-speaking region so we must speak French.  I am amazed by the number of expats who are apathetic about integrating into the local culture.  Most Anglophones don’t understand that everyone on the planet is not born automatically understanding English.

When I first moved here and asked locals if they could speak English, I was shocked when they couldn’t.  Surely everyone knows English?  I thought they must be simple and disadvantaged.  They said they didn’t speak English but I decided they could, deep down.  They simply needed to awaken the innate ability that I believed lay in every human being.  So I charged ahead and spoke English LOUDLY, clearly and s  l  o  w  l  y so they could understand.

I’ve been in Switzerland for two years and my French is now passable. Hallelujah!  Finally!  I wish was fluent but, when I compare myself to other expats, I am not too shabby.  I can write an administrative letter, book an appointment, give directions, ask for help, chitchat to the hairdresser or a salesperson, query an invoice and liaise with medical aid.  I also attended an interview at a local crèche although I must admit that was heavily role-played in advance with my French teacher.

DownloadedFile-10My favourite French word so far is ‘un chirurgien’ which is a surgeon.  You pronounce it with a slur, like you’ve had one too many cocktails at the bar.  Un shir-er-zhee-un.  I can’t say it without laughing.

I find it difficult to pronounce letters, particularly the vowels.  I struggle to distinguish between ‘E’ and ‘U’.  I also confuse ‘G’ and ‘J’.  In French, the sound for ‘G’ is similar to ‘J’ in English and I always mess it up when I spell my name.  On days when my head is wooly and my tongue is thick and stiff, people may write my name as Julie Serycz or Gulie Surycz.  I shrug and let it go, as long as it is not some sort of official document cast in stone.

When I fancy myself and my confidence is on the up and up, I will say something daft and this keeps my ego in check.  At Megan’s last doctor’s appointment, I thanked the pediatrician for her time and said, ‘Merci beaucoup!  Bonjour!’  I trotted past the reception towards the exit.  I waved at the two secretaries and said, ‘Merci!  Bonjour!’  As I walked towards my car, it dawned on me that I said ‘hello’ instead of ‘goodbye’.  I cringed.  How could I forget something as simple as ‘au revoir’?  Everyone knows ‘au revoir’, silly – it’s the basics.

I used to assume that if someone didn’t understand me, I must be the problem.  I’d think I’d used the wrong word.  Once I asked someone to turn down the unemployment (chomage) when I meant to say heating (chauffage).  Or I’d wonder if my pronunciation was poor, like when I said Megan’s toys are made in a dog (en chien) when I was trying to say they are made in China (en Chine).

Last week, I couldn’t find the pumpkins in the Migros supermarket.  I asked a shop assistant, ‘Où se trouve les courges?’ (where do I find the pumpkins)  He looked at me blankly.  I repeated myself three times and he shook his head.

‘Les courges?  What is that?’ he asked.

‘It’s a type of vegetable.  It’s orange, big, hard …’ I gabbled on with no success.

That evening I described the incident to my Skype French teacher.  He said my pronunciation of ‘courges’ needed some attention but it was passable and the guy should have understood.  He suggested that perhaps the assistant genuinely didn’t know what a pumpkin was. Now I realize that, while I may feel dim in French most of the time, I am not dim all the time.

One of the tricks to endearing yourself to locals is to say ‘bonjour’.  The French are sticklers for it.  I suspect that the reason many tourists find the French offish is because they don’t start interactions with bonjour.  I have learned that if I ask someone for help in a store, I must not begin with ‘pardon’ or ‘excuse me’.  That is not respectful enough. Any interaction with a taxi driver, waitress or salesperson requires a bold, sincere bonjour at the start. When I walk round the neighborhood and see a stranger along the way, it is expected that we will greet each other.  If I walk past someone and they don’t greet me, I know they are foreign.  It is important to say ‘bonjour’ for it acknowledges the other person’s existence and humanity.

DownloadedFile-8In Anglophone culture, ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ are the magic words.   I learned in the book ‘French Kids Don’t Throw Food’, that in French culture there are 4 magic words – please, thank you, hello and goodbye.  Bonjour is particularly important and parents insist on it at the threat of punishment. In Anglophone culture, a 4 year old is not obliged to greet you.  I always greet my friends’ kids and they rarely say hello back.  This is not acceptable in French culture.   Greeting people is a marker of a child’s upbringing and indicates they are capable of behaving well and can play by some basic social rules.  I like it.  I want to instill this habit in Megan too.

Did you know the American actor Bradley Cooper speaks fluent French?  He was the 2011 Sexiest Man Alive and, after watching this YouTube interview (see below), I understand why.  Talk about multi-talented.  Wow.


What I have learned so far … PART 4

February 7, 2013

Motherhood has opened me up to a whole new world, with new horizons to pursue.  There are unbelievable sights, indescribable feelings and a lot of soaring, tumbling and freewheeling so I suspect I will end up with ‘What I have learned so far … PART 1000’.

Hair loss

Our apartment is littered with long black strands of my hair.  It is everywhere, I am everywhere.

images-56While unwinding the tangle of my hair in her hands, my hairdresser explained that the average woman loses 100 strands a day but my excessive malting is normal post-childbirth and during breastfeeding. It all stayed in while I was pregnant, which lightened my housework load and gave my hair spunk and volume.  Now the hormonal changes mean my body is making up for lost time and it is a wonder I have any hair left on my head.

One of my parenting books talks about an under-reported problem called ‘toe-tourniquet syndrome’.  It causes a sudden, unexplainable cry in babies.  A single rogue strand of hair gets tangled around a baby’s finger, toe and even a tiny penis.  The hair is often missed because the appendage is covered by a sock or nappy.  It tightens and then cuts off circulation, which causes inflammation and pain.

This book recommends parents perform a daily check of the baby’s body.  I fully endorse this as I once found a strand of my hair in Megan’s dirty nappy.  Logic tells me it must have fallen in there while I was changing her but I was initially horrified at the thought that she swallowed it.  I pictured the long black strand winding its way through her digestive system and imagined how it could have tied her intestines in a knot.

I LOVE BabyCook

Picture 1Megan is approaching 6 months and will be starting solids soon.  A friend lent me her Beaba BabyCook.  It is a compact, cute gadget that is both a steamer and blender in one.  I steamed and pureed a carrot for myself as a test.  No mess, no fuss and there were hardly any dishes to wash.  It is a good investment in healthy, hassle-free baby food and now I am buying my own one.

Megan will be bio(nic)

I always scoffed at bio, organic products and thought it was an expensive gimmick aimed at the hessian-chewing, hemp-wearing, hummus-eating brigade.  I have changed my mind.  I am now convinced that buying organic food is best for the environment and for our health.

images-50The Bio-range foods can be more expensive (sometimes not as pricey as you would imagine though) so I will slowly change my buying habits and also minimize consumption of foods containing ingredients I don’t understand such as E635, hydrolyzed soyprotein and oleoresin paprika (those were in my BBQ sauce).

Megan will be eating lots of fruit and vegetables and I want them to be as pure and natural as possible.  My babyfood recipe books recommend buying organic foods and I now understand why.

There were three catalysts that changed my thinking – the first was when I was in America in Sep 2011 and saw fat, waxy, plastic-looking fruits and vegetables in the grocery store and it was obvious that eating something that humanly engineered couldn’t possibly be good for me.

The second catalyst was when my brother, who works in the dairy industry and knows what goes on behind the scenes, said he only buys milk from Woolworths (in South Africa) as they have the strictest quality standards.

images-45The third catalyst was Caro Feely’s book ‘Grape Expectations’.  She and her husband make organic wine in France.  On self-sustaining organic farms, only about 10% of what most crops take in comes from the soil.  The rest comes from a complex relationship with the elements, especially the sun.  Plants should achieve a natural equilibrium but the onslaught of chemical agriculture after World War 2 screwed all this up.

When a plant is offered chemical fertilisers, it becomes a drug addict.  It no longer needs to find and create life from the elements around it – it relies on its chemical drip.  Chemical farming leads to erosion, toxic salinity in soil, chemical residues and a lack of biodiversity.  Bio foods are more expensive but they are better for you and the environment.

Ordinary fruit and vegetables may not be as healthy as you think.  I no longer want to eat food picked off drug-addict plants.  Megan is going bio(nic) and Alastair and I will follow soon after.

Tights are fabulous

Baby tights were never that popular in South Africa.  I never wore tights so I wouldn’t have thought to buy any for Megan. I was forced to dress her in them because of her hip brace.  Now I am a huge tights fan and Megan wears them all the time, even though the brace is off during the day.

Picture 2A friend even said, ‘Julie you inspired me!  I saw Megan in tights and I then bought some for my daughter.  Socks and trousers are a pain!’  I was chuffed – it is the first time I have inspired anyone to do anything.

Tights are practical, especially in cold weather.  They hug the skin whereas socks always fall off and pants ride up the leg and expose flesh to the elements.  I also avoid any shirts that don’t button under the bum.  Without bum buttons, shirts pucker and creep up to Megan’s neck when I pick her up or when she moves around.  Tights and button under the bum vests/shirts are guaranteed to keep her covered and warm.

‘Nipping in’ to the shops is history

The other day I finished grocery shopping and, as I drove home, I realized I forgot an essential cooking ingredient that could not wait for another day.  I felt like sobbing over my steering wheel as I contemplated the effort of going back to the shop – heaving the pram out the boot, unfolding it, strapping Megan in and refolding it later.

Going places with a baby can be like coordinating a mission to Mars.  Some chores – such as stopping off at the post office to buy a stamp – are not worth the faff.  I have learned that being a calm, centered mother has a lot to do with being good at logistics.  My new reality is that I must plan ahead, be on-the-ball and streamline my life because nipping into places chop-chop is history.