Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 447

Don’t park on the wrong side of the road

Oooh, us Brits do get in wrong in America-land sometimes.

Like parking. In the UK, if you spot a cheeky parking space on the opposite side of the road, there ain’t nothing wrong with crossing over and nipping into that spot.

Not so where I live, and I’m guessing this might be an unspoken rule across the USA. Basically, don’t park facing oncoming traffic. No, really don’t. Cos you get a lot of funny looks.

Spot that dude who did it wrong!

Spot that dude who did it wrong!

Public transport where I live

In Columbia a while back this dude James Rouse, who invented the place, made lots of ‘villages’ and parks and wot not, and very super it is too. BUT, my BIG gripe about living in Columbia is that the public transport completely and utterly sucks.

Oh, there are buses apparently from the Mall to the other shopping centres and the supermarket, but they are infrequent and under utilised. When this place is so very good at doing school buses (and we’re defo not in the UK), how can it have such a shocking lack of public transport when it seeks to encourage community and connection?

If I was 15 and lived here, I’d be on my bike all the blimmin’ time pedalling about from place to place, but that would take effing forever. So, here teenagers rely on their parents to ferry them about. No thank you. And older folks? I know they have Neighbor Ride and stuff, but what about bus stops and getting on the bus? When did that cease to be something that people did, or has it just never been a thing here? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bus stop here in Columbia, now I think about it….

When I was 15 and living in Bath, UK, I could pop on the bus or train and go into town, to another town or village or to the city with ease, or go to the docs, or to my friend’s house (this is actually a lie, because it was usually to my boyfriend’s house 😉 ). I had freedom and independence.

When we have visitors there is no way of saying ‘Oh hop on the bus whilst I’m at work, and we’ll meet for coffee in Ellicott City.’ Nope, cos they have to get a hire car and a sat nav (GPS) and drive everywhere. I once tried to work out a route for my mother, who was staying, to meet me after work and it was so flipping complicate and inconvenient for her to get on the bus, we thought ‘sod that for a game of soldiers’ and that was that little expedition thwarted. It’s totes frustrating. Everyone has to drive everywhere here. Sigh.

Someone recently said to me that they didn’t want public transport in Columbia, or to or from Columbia to either Baltimore or Washington, because it would encourage the riff-raff to travel and cause problems…..

P.S. I was going to add in a picture of a bus in Columbia, but fittingly, I couldn’t find one 😉

So here is a picture of a British bus and bus stop.

A bus and a bus stop creating public transportation - it's marvellous!

A bus and a bus stop creating public transportation – its marvellous!

Maternity and paternity stuff

The other bit of thingymabob that’s bothering me in the USA this week is maternity and paternity leave and how bleedin’ tight the American system is for new mothers and fathers.

My preggers American friend was telling me she only gets 12 weeks. I wasn’t even ready to get out my PJs after 12 weeks, let alone go back to work (though by 8 months I was pretty desperate to get back to work, have a wee by myself in peace and embark on grown up conversations again).

I was a bit embarrassed to tell her that I had 8 to 9 months leave, and that I could have had a year if I had chosen to….. and let’s not get started on paternity leave in the UK, which is infinitely better than what’s on offer in the USA, nor reflect on how amazeballs they are in Scandinavia with their whole combined parental leave oojamaflip.

In the USA, which benefits are available depends very much on which state you live in. A parenting site I found says that: ‘Actual paid “maternity leave” — while the norm in almost all countries — is unusual in the United States, although some enlightened companies do offer new parents paid time off, up to six weeks in some cases. Most likely, you’ll use a combination of short-term disability (STD), sick leave, vacation, personal days, and unpaid family leave during your time away from work.’

And yes, you read that correctly. Once you’ve had your baby you can get an STD 😉



(However, not all European countries get it right – in Austria they make you stop work at 7 months pregnant and one blogging chums tells me that her poor pregnant neighbour is bored witless and can’t understand why she has to stop working.)

Anyhow, that one thing I will say is that I am v v v v v glad that I am not going to get preggers here in America, because I think the maternity situation is archaic and pretty shocking. I’m sure it’s all about money etc, but for a country that places a great deal of emphasis on family values, I think the maternity leave sucks. Fact.

Sort it out, America-land.

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16 Responses to Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 447

  1. Andy says:

    With the exception of really large cities, the whole public transport situation here sucks the big one. We have yet to live anywhere that had any kind of transportation unless you drove into DC suburbs (and now the same for Denver) and got on the metro. I would give a body part to be able to ride a bus to work and doze or just zone out on the daily commute like I did every day when I lived in London.

  2. VictoriaK says:

    Ah, maternity leave. There’s a number of factors at play between the US and Europe. First, it’s a comparison of apples and oranges. Europe is an old continent comprised of largely small, homogeneous countries whose populations have been thinking alike for a long time; America is a brand spanking young, great big melting pot of individualists who had become weary of their governments telling them what to do, and for whom consensus is still hard to achieve. Europe in its early days wasn’t exactly consensus-building, either. Kingdom and Empire boundaries were constantly being redrawn with the latest invasion of the week; daughters were married off at very young ages to provide future successors (females need not apply for that role!); to build strong allegiances, and so forth. I might add that there are some European monarchies who only changed the gender succession rules in the 21st century. 😉

    Second, historically, the notion of paid maternity arose after WWI and gained steam after WWII; European countries were decimated and needed the economic value of women in the workforce. In post-WWII US, the men came home and knocked up all their wives/fiancés/girlfriends, most of whom thought the title of stay-at-home-mother, and the house in the ‘burbs with a Frigidaire and a Hoover was perfectly wonderful.

    Now maternity leave is all a great big social, cultural, and political mess, and everyone thinks Europe does it right. Many European countries do not pay women on par with men, either; some average or median gender gaps are the same as or worse than in the US (I’m looking at you Estonia, Germany, Austria, UK, and others) yet no one gets buzzed up about this, as if paying a woman to stay home with a baby for a year justifies paying her less (and sometimes at just a fraction of her less-than-equal salary) for the five or ten previous years she’d been in the office. 🙂

  3. ThatOtherGuy says:

    Also, the longer you allow paid maternity leave the harder it becomes to justify hiring women who are at the right age to start having children. Belgium gives something like two years of maternity leave. Would you hire a late 20’s to mid 30’s woman knowing that she’s likely to be gone for up to two years?

    I don’t know what the answer is but as noted above, this is a complicated issue with many moving parts.

  4. salpal1 says:

    I wish that the transportation powers that be would read your blog! One thing I totally miss about living here in the rural sticks is lack of mass trans. I used to be able to take a train/bus to work, a train up and down the east coast to visit friends, a bus into town to shop. Now I have to drive for two hours just to get to the train! What’s a bus? Haven’t seen one in ages. Also, it seems like when they do exist, they are geared for commuting to/from work, so you HAVE to go straight home from work, no staying for dinner or a show in town.

  5. EmmaK says:

    It is very wierd actually because although the maternity leave sucks in USA people have more children in USA while in places like Austria and Germany where you get at least a year paid leave the birthrate is low….so there is probably more to it than just the incentive of maternity leave. One shocking thing is that it is more dangerous to give birth in USA than in 49 other countries

  6. Mindy Helms says:

    Very interesting article and replies. Love to read Victoria K.’s views. You are spot on with the bit about being chained to your car in America. Sigh…. 😦

  7. VictoriaK says:

    Just wanted to follow up a bit with a side anecdote to maternity leave, the subject of Europe’s healthcare being better than in the U.S. I had an expectant ex-pat friend here in Austria who is ecstatic that her OB appointments were “free,” as was the labor and delivery charge. The new family also received a large diaper bag full of “free” goodies with the first checkup. In exchange, all she had to do was wait up to 3 hours for some of her checkups (“free” doesn’t always guarantee appointments), and was not seen by the midwife (doctors only consult if there is a complication) but once in her last month (that’s what “free” covers). Recently she delivered her healthy baby. In the “free” hospital with no air-conditioning (temperatures are around 28°C/82°F here), without an epidural (it’s not included in the “free” package), and in a shared room with other women in labor. No private recovery room, either. Ain’t “free.” She recently posted on FB that she is anxious to escape from the “summer camp, except there are no ice cubes or fans” atmosphere of her shared recovery room. Now, I had two uncomplicated summer labors and deliveries resulting in two perfect children (in the US), but, no epidural? No fans? Could this be the reason Austria’s birthrate is so low? 🙂

    • Jennifer says:

      Have you tried giving birth in the US without insurance coverage? Or even getting prenatal care without it? For those of us who neither qualify for Medicaid nor have access to private insurance very basic free care is a step up. I won’t even get into the issue of education, birth control and women’s reproductive choices in the US compared to countries that give women free care and guarantee them such luxuries as maternity leave.

      • Yes, I think many would agree with you on that.

      • Christian says:

        Facts are stranger than fiction, the world is not black and white and things are never as they appear or seem to be. Regardless of the popular belief that healthcare is much more expensive in the U.S. than other industrialized nations, Americans spend about the same as other industrialized nations on out-of-pocket healthcare expenses and healthcare taxes combined as a percent of their total annual incomes…
        Based upon the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2012-2013, the average American household spent $3,520 on healthcare costs which is only about 5.4% of total annual household income. These healthcare costs included annual health insurance premiums ($2,085), medical services ($797), prescription drugs ($502), and medical supplies ($135):
        Add a modest 2.9% combined Medicare and Medicaid tax, and the combined average healthcare taxes and expenses as a percent of annual income for the average American is similar or less compared to other Western nations with universal healthcare systems that require their citizens to pay annual national healthcare contribution taxes plus any out-of-pocket expenses:

        Click to access age.pdf

        The reason why so many Americans do not have health insurance is because we were the only industrialized nation to not have a law requiring citizens to buy health insurance, until the passage of the Affordable Care Act…In all other industrialized nations, all citizens are legally required to have health insurance or face stiff penalties and fines…Universal healthcare does not guarantee cheaper healthcare costs and expenses…especially when taxes are taken into consideration. Even before the universal mandate under the Affordable Care Act, if everyone in America had health insurance, the poor would still be paying as much or less than other nations in total healthcare insurance costs, taxes and out-of-pocket expenses…the only difference is the universal mandate. Factoring in income, taxes and cost of living, healthcare costs in the U.S. for the poor are similar or less than other industrialized nations.

        Believe it or not, higher education in the U.S. is much more affordable relative to income, taxes and cost of living compared to most other nations with “free” university systems which usually have lower income, significantly higher taxes and a much higher cost of living…

        Let’s look at Sweden for an example shall we?…University in Sweden is “free”, however the cost of living and rent is not…In 2013, 85% of Swedish students graduated with debt compared to only 50% of U.S. students…However, even though average American student debt ($24,800 USD) was 30% higher than average Swedish student debt ($19,000 USD), American students paid off their debts quicker on average (10 years) compared to Swedish students…This is due to the fact that when American students graduate, they face higher income, significantly lower taxes and a significantly lower cost of living throughout their lifetime compared to Swedish students…Swedish students will be paying for their “free” university degrees, as well as everyone else’s, through very high taxes every single year of their lives until the day they die…Yet, even with “free” university, more than 60% of Swedish adults do not have a university degree and have not used their “free” university which means that the majority of Swedes will be paying much of their yearly income to high taxes for something they did not, do not or will not even use, until they die…This does not include the student debt Swedish students have to pay off along with their higher taxes, lower income and much higher cost of living…

  8. VictoriaK says:

    Jennifer, “free” has to be paid for somehow. As an ex-pat living abroad with private insurance, I could write a book chapter on the number of times doctors have attempted to overprescribe procedures, tests, and equipment for our family and others with private insurance, because how else can the “free” health care be covered? Austrians are taxed like crazy (a progressive tax up to 50% personal tax; 20% VAT on non-food purchases (10-15% VAT on groceries); and a whopping 30% on automobiles.

    Austrian women earn approximately 20% less than Austrian men for comparable work (though many factors are at play, including age (!) and fewer hours for women), and are required to retire 5 years earlier than their male counterparts. Married couples are taxed separately and child tax credits are low. All of this combine to make it more “economical” for one spouse (i.e. the woman) to stay home. Pregnant women are forced out of the office 8 weeks before their due date, as I have mentioned earlier. So, is the high income tax and the 20% VAT; and being treated like a second class citizen vis a vis a lower salary, a better “economic” situation for a married couple with two children if mom stays home, and forced maternity leave worth “free?”

    In the end, no system is “perfect” and nothing is “free.”

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