Thursday 16 April 2015

Bitter Almonds

I was doing a particularly disgusting household task today (think botulism), and all of a sudden I remembered a "Seraphic Singles" reader I met a while ago. She used to read my blog because she had been good and sick of being Single, and what she wanted more than anything else in the world was to get married and have a baby.

Meanwhile, she had graduated from university and was working towards the relatively high-status and lucrative career her family expected of her. She enjoyed the challenge and did the work and eventually got a great job shortly before she married. Soon after becoming married, she got pregnant and when the baby was born she packed it in at the office. I forget if she was offered decent maternity leave or if she basically just had to go. I suspect the latter. It wasn't one of those professions that are oh-so-understanding when a woman has a baby.

Staying at home with the baby didn't seem so bad because  (A) she didn't want her baby raised by strangers at a day care and (B) her husband also had a well-paying job. Although it didn't take quite as much extra study as her career had entailed, it was very lucrative. It was also very high pressure; at least, he found it so. He got terrible migraines and when he came home he did nothing but watch TV and wonder aloud why the house was such a mess.

The house was such a mess because the baby was a difficult one and the New Mom had to work around the clock 24/7 to keep the baby happy, healthy and fed, sleeping when the baby was sleeping. And despite this, as the months dragged on, and the baby began to toddle about and to say a few words, the New Mom was mind-numbingly bored. And ashamed. Deeply, deeply, ashamed. All that education, all that overtime, and for what? Her mother and other female relations, she was sure, were looking down on her for "not working". She had been a working woman, commanding a good salary, racking up successes and praise, and what was she now? She was exhausted, run ragged by the baby, very worried about her husband, and somehow unable to even keep her house clean.

When I launched into a little theological speech about how motherhood is the most important and noble profession for a woman, the New Mom began to cry. So I stuck a sock in it except to say what I always say to weeping mothers of very young children, which is that if they need help around the house and their husbands are making that much money, then they should freaking hire household help. Once upon a time, well-educated women married to men in highly-paid  jobs ALWAYS had household help. ALWAYS. And the highly-paid men who didn't agree to pay for it were considered incredibly cheap and even cruel.

 I don't know if your fellow reader did get some household help although I hope so with all my heart. It wasn't even as if she wanted any time to herself, or even to try to get her self-respect back by going "back to work". My impression was that she wanted to be able to TAKE CARE OF HER HUSBAND as well as the baby, and she was finding it absolutely impossible. And having a clean house is part of caring for husbnads, since husbands seem to really, really need to have tidy houses even if they themselves are fundamentally incapable of wielding a sponge.

I thought I would throw that out there today in case I have been sounding too peppy about marriage lately. What all you girls who desperately want to get married must realize is that there is a lot of cleaning and brainless television in your future. It blows my mind that men (men not completely worn out from real wage-slavery, like mining, that is) used to leave the house after dinner and go out at night: to the pub, to the music hall, to the dance hall, to lectures, to political meetings, to the theatre, to the cinema. If they were fond of their wives, they would take their wives.

The television seems to have put an end to that for most men. There are a lot of men at swing-dancing, but I bet swing-dancing days will be over as soon as they can get women to share their beds and board---perhaps a nasty shock for the poor women who envisioned dancing together into the future. (The brave and besotted boys who come out to Polish class because they love their Polish sweethearts enough to want to speak to their relations are great and honourable exceptions to these observations.)

Anyway, Single, Engaged or Married, you should always contemplate the pretty sugar-coloured almonds that are such a feature in weddings nowadays. The sugar on the outside represents the sweetness of married life. But right in the middle is the slightly almond, sometimes still with its bitter skin. Whoever developed the sugar almonds at weddings tradition had a good grasp on reality. No two people living together can be completely contented with each other and their lot 100% of the time.


  1. My favorite thing about you, Seraphic, is that you are rooted in reality and help us to be too. This is helpful not just for so that I'll remember to appreciate the good things about my single life, but also so that I can be more understanding and sympathetic to my married friends. Thank you.

  2. Good post.

    Yeah, these guys who try to learn to say hello and goodbye in Polish or Bulgarian or whatever so they can speak to their girlfriends' relatives? They can try as much as they like, but they'll never be good enough. That's not because Polish is the hardest language in the world (try something tonal like Vietnamese) but because, in my experience, Polish relations are the hardest people to please in the world. I think this extends to pretty much all countries east of Germany. I don't think I'd ever bother marrying into a Polish family -- I'd never ever EVER be good enough for the husband's family, particularly his womenfolk.


  3. Well, Julia, since you are only half-Polish I will fight you, and say that--on the contrary--Poles-in-Poland (and the UK) seem to be incredibly nice to foreigners who learn a little Polish. Maybe they're being hard on you because you are half-Polish. I recommend that when you are in Poland that you stress being Australian, and when they ask you why you speak Polish, mention in passing that you have a Polish granny (or dziadek, if you have a Polish surname). Admit to only one Polish grandparent, and that might make you foreign enough; that's my advice.

    So everyone else should not panic, but go ahead and learn the Slavic language of the choice. My brother's wife's family speaks a Slavicized Romance language, and they all think he is marvellous.

  4. Romanians? Cool!

    I think I'm just not going to speak any language at all!

    Perhaps it's just my unfortunate (and limited) experience. You know, nothing is ever good enough for my grandmother, and from what I've heard about Ukrainian/Serbian/Czech etc. women, they're pretty much the same.

    My non-Polish mother tried to learn Polish until my grandmother put her off it! Bahaha! What I am saying is that I think it might be a national/regional characteristic for Slavic women to be a tad difficult.

  5. I have heard about non-ethnic daughters-in-law having problems with their new female relations. One woman I know of just learned the (not Polish) language privately and when her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law were talking about her in front of her face in the family language, the woman answered back. The MIL and SIL were horrified, but they respected her ever after!

    It is a feature of closed groups of women that they often feel threatened by (and therefore are nasty to) new women in the family, alas. I am not sure this is a regional thing, for I feel similarly anxious when my brothers have (or had) new girlfriends. My SIL very cleverly took me out for supper to win me over.

    As for Slavs, I read in book about Canadian divorce before divorce became super-easy that Slavic (and Hungarian) men and Anglo-Saxon (and Irish) Canadian women were almost fated to divorce, should they be so dumb as to marry each other. Of course, the other factor this lawyer (it was a memoir, as he had been a Top Divorce Lawyer) mentioned is that younger man + older woman also = divorce, which I do not believe.

    I do think it possible that Slavs are really, REALLY tough on each other. It might even be a subconscious survival thing. I mean, from a Darwinian perspective, only the strongest could have survived the Second World War and its aftermath. What do you think?

  6. I'm not sure quite what I think, but you're probably right -- Poland et al got steamrolled many times throughout history.

    I have Polish relatives I have never met, so my feelings are based on slim personal experience. Much of it is probably in my head, really -- and I have a very ambivalent relationship with my Polish roots. For some reason I don't think I could ever get into Polish culture the way you have, Seraphic. Not sure why. For you, it's Foreign. For me, it's Foreign-But-Not-Quite.

    1. Do not panic before going. Just go.

      Although Poland is pretty foreign, it is also pretty Catholic. I mean, it is awesomely Catholic to a Canadian Catholic transplanted to east-coast Scotland. Of course, whenever I say that, they always say "You should have seen it ten years ago...."

    2. Really? Are you sure it's not just we'll-paint-the-eggs-at-Easter-and-split-the-wafer-at-Wigilia-but-no-way-am-I-actually-going-to-Confession-because-I-am-more-sinned-against-than-sinner?

      I mean, it could actually be that great. You've been there, I haven't, so you'd know better than I do. But PLEASE don't tell them how great they are. Their heads don't need to get any bigger. They certainly don't need MORE reasons to say "Australia/Canada/the UK was NOTHING before the Poles arrived." Please.

    3. Ha ha ha. If they do that in Canada, they can get behind every other immigrant saying the exact same thing about THEIR ethnic group.

      Poland is that great. Go with an open mind--and stop thinking about Babcia--and you will see. Compare the Catholicism of Poland--which is deep and sincere--with the Catholicism of Australia, and you will not want to leave. There are chapels with a priest available to hear confessions almost 24 hours a day. When I was in one in Gdansk, I saw a 20- or 30-something guy in black leather plunk himself down in his side of the (open) box to confess. Really, there are so many men in church in Poland, it blows my mind.

      Naturally people keep telling me things are changing, so perhaps the sooner you see this the better. Meanwhile, the Poles are beat up weekly, if not daily, in the British tabloids, and at least occasionally mocked on Edinburgh buses, so I see nothing wrong with a little tribute where tribute is deserved.

    4. Fair enough! I am not living in anti-Polish environment like you are, and it certainly would p*** me off to see Poles pilloried in the paper. Perhaps I should be more worried about being in Scotland, and conceal my name when I'm there (or not, and just confuse them by putting on an unintelligible ocker accent.)

      The soonest I will see Poland is next year (Warsaw, Krakow, Gdansk, Zabre). And you are right -- I need to get Babcia, who is the main source of my ideas about Poles -- out of my head.

      Also, if I can work out a way to live in Poland forever on an Australian income, that'd be great.

    5. Nah. Don't worry. Almost everyone loves Australians, and nobody except the border guards will examine your surname. The important thing is to stay off the Rough Bus, which is easily done. Stick to the parts of Edinburgh students and tourists frequent, i.e. not the outlying areas, and you will be fine.

  7. Also, that wife should totally get hired help.

  8. Do you know what I think I just realised? I feel sorry for the British girls whose potential British husbands have fallen for Polish (Czech, Hungarian, etc.) women. Imagine all the men of your country becoming spellbound by a bunch of foreign goddesses. How depressing.

    1. And Canadian. Don't forget Canadian! :-D Oh, and also American and Estonian. Woot! Woot!


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