miss usa, hyphenated*

I read on Feministing.com a couple days ago that a Lebanese immigrant won yesterday’s Miss America title. And while there is no love in me for beauty pageants (well, except for the Little Miss Sunshine kind), I, along with Feministing, thought this was saying something:


Fakih is likely the first Arab American, Muslim or immigrant to win Miss USA. If nothing else this says something about shifting standards of beauty in a culture dominated by representations of white women as attractive.

And although the first thing that popped into my head when I read the above paragraph on their site was how “exotic” looking women have always been deemed attractive because of their foreign quality (the kind of fetishism that we used to call “orientalism”), I really have to agree with the last sentence of their analysis:

Because what’s more mainstream “American” than competing in and winning the Miss USA contest?

Nothing, right? Congratulations, Rima Fakih. If you weren’t already, you are now officially part of the club.

*title taken from this post


two minutes

I was talking to one of my classmates a while ago, and I mentioned that one time, during a family-reunion-type-thing, the obligatory grandkids photo was taken just as I went to the car to grab something I’d forgotten. Apparently, I wasn’t missed until it was printed.

We had been telling funny family stories for a couple of minutes by then, all light and easy conversations to fill the gap between theology classes. Then she told me that while my story was good, she had a better one: her dad had once forgotten her during a bombing. He grabbed her little brother and ran outside, leaving her behind.


She laughed about it, so I did too (besides, I am no stranger to the strategic deployment of humor in crisis situations). I asked her about her experiences in fleeing her country, we talked for a little longer. But her story stayed with me.

Today, in the Netherlands, we remember our dead. The focus used to be exclusively on WWII, but as that generation is dying out and other wars have occurred, our two minutes of silence have been extended to contain other dead of other wars, as well as those that died in peacekeeping missions.


I know that at 8 o’clock tonight, when the city is silent and I can only hear the flag at half-mast moving in the wind, I’ll be thinking of two kinds of victims: the dead and the maimed, and those, like my classmate, who had to leave everything behind.

It seems almost unbearably cruel to say that today, life is good. But it is, and I hope it will stay that way for generations.

ditch the workout, join the party?

look at all the pretty people! (taken off Zumba.com)

I went to my first Zumba class yesterday. A friend of mine goes regularly and likes it, so I figured I’d give it a try. This is what I learned.

  • I am rhythmically challenged. Asking me to do stuff in time with a beat only works if I can copy someone else’s moves at first.
  • Please don’t ask me to do sexy moves in my workout clothes. The only way I am going to shake my ass or move my hips seductively is if you let me have some alcohol first.
  • When starting a new routine, it might be helpful if you actually demonstrated them, instead of slightly moving your body and saying, “and then we’ll do salsa, mambo, bla bla bla, you’ve got it”. No, I didn’t get it, and it’ll take me three of the five minutes that this routine lasts to get it.
  • Always stand in the back, where less people can see your pathetic attempts.
  • A sense of humor helps. Being able to laugh at yourself is useful, too.
  • Once I got over the whole awkwardness of it, it actually was fun. The hour did go really fast and it was a good workout. I think that if I went back I might be able to do the moves more confidently and get more out of the class.
  • Zumba turns out to be a really good way to prepare for a wedding, considering all the time I spent dancing last night. Of course, I could thank the champagne and wine for that..

Conclusion? I still think it’s weird to do pelvic grinds in a workout. But, I have to say, it sure is a fun way to get me out of my comfort zone!

patriotic jabberwocky

istockphoto.com (notice how the kids are all carefully wearing different color shirts. Although I am missing the obligatory Asian kid in this photo)

NPR showed up on my Facebook feed with an interesting story about the pledge of allegiance. Like pretty much all American kids, I grew up reciting the pledge with my hand over my heart every morning at school. I don’t think we consciously saluted a flag or anything – although there probably was a flag somewhere in the classroom. In America, there usually is one everywhere you look. (As an aside, I make taking pictures of all the unusual places one can find flags a sport when I’m visiting the US.)

The article recounts how “pledge allegiance” is a hapax – meaning that it’s a phrase that only occurs in that one place (like “wardrobe malfunction”, another example).”Under God” is another such phenomenon – it was taken from the Gettysburg Address but it had its meaning changed slightly in the process. Actually, the meaning of the phrase isn’t at all clear – see the article for details.

What I found most interesting are the following paragraphs:

Really, the whole pledge is just one big hapax legomenon, a string of syllables that only comes to life in classrooms and school assemblies. But there’s a lesson for children in that: The attachment to flag and country is a unique bond that requires a special language of its own. In theory, the pledge could do most of the same work if we had children say it in Anglo-Saxon or Arapaho, or if we replaced it with the lyrics to “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” They’re going to turn the words into jabberwocky anyway: “I led a pigeon to the flag,” “one Asian under guard.”

So do the words matter at all? Well, yes, in a way. Reciting the pledge doesn’t teach kids anything about the meanings of its words. But learning to speak American involves something more than that — it’s knowing how to incant them, too.

First, let me say that I too have made jabberwocky out of the pledge. “indivisible with justice for all” was an especially hard phrase, and I remember making “which” into “witch” for years. Second, and this is my main point, my years in the States did teach me how to speak American. Case in point, I remember being at a lacrosse game in Boston with my Dutch classmates a couple years ago. We all stood for the national anthem, and I remember standing there with my hand over my heart, appalled that my classmates talked through the anthem. I doubt I’d have the same reaction if it were the Dutch anthem being played.

I’m not very patriotic at all, but when I’m at a baseball game, or looking at Fourth of July fireworks, or experiencing some other kind of patriotic display while the anthem is sung, I have to confess to a swell of love and patriotic feeling. Even Disney World did it to me last year – the parade on Main Street was so American I had to blink back tears. The Netherlands never does that to me. When we sing the national anthem in church on the Sunday close to the Queen’s birthday, or when a member of the royal family dies, I feel  close to the community around me (one main reason I go to church). But singing any hymn, psalm, or worship song has the same effect. No, it’s something about the American context that provokes those patriotic feelings in me.

I think it’s clear: I speak American, all right.

crash and burn

Ik geef het toe – ik lees de LINDA. Het is een van de weinige tijdschriften die ik koop – verder lees ik ook alleen Oog (het tijdschrift van het Rijksmuseum). Wat zal ik zeggen, ik ben niet zo van de tijdschriften.

Dit is de cover van maart. En ik vind het zo ontzettend jammer dat Linda deze cover heeft uitgekozen! Ik zal er ook eerlijk bij vertellen dat ik nog niet de inhoud heb gezien (ik koop ze altijd tegen het eind van de maand, voor de een of andere reden). Maar ik vind de voorkant nou niet om over naar huis te schrijven.

Ik vind het niet erg dat ze zich dikker heeft later photoshoppen – dat vind ik wel grappig, gezien photoshop meestal tot veel dunnere vrouwen leidt. Mijn punt is een beetje dat ze ervoor gekozen heeft om de eeuwige stereotyp van gezellig dikkertje voort te laten leven. Dikke(re) vrouwen zijn ook vaak gezellig – dat probeer ik ook niet te weerleggen. Het zijn vaak vrouwen die goed in hun vel zitten, ondanks de extra kilos. Je moet ook wel wat zelfvertrouwen hebben om tegen maatschappelijke normen van schoonheid in te gaan (en dat verklaart ook gelijk een tweede type dikkere vrouwen – zij die onzeker worden van hun kilos). Het zijn vaak vrouwen die van lekker eten houden, en tafelen, of gewoon  vinden dat er meer in het leven is dan niet eten.

Maar dikke vrouwen zijn gewoon vrouwen. Sommige daarvan zijn gezellig, sommigen niet. Sommigen zien er geweldig uit ondanks hun kilos, sommigen dragen vanwege die kilos lekker onopvallende kleding, en sommigen kan het niet boeien hoe ze eruit zien. Deze foto propageert een bepaalde beeld van overgewicht: ze is dik, maar heeft toch een rood jurkje en hoge hakken aangetrokken. Kijk haar durven, zeg! Wat een moed! Wat is ze zelfbewust en wat heeft ze zelfvertrouwen! En wat kan ze lachen – want als ze niet lacht zien we alleen de vetrollen op de verkeerde plekken.

Linda had van mij meer waardering gekregen als ze niet het beeld van de gezellige dikke vrouw had doorgegeven, maar in plaats daarvan de vrouw achter het overgewicht had laten zien. Maar misschien vraag ik ook wel teveel van haar; nuances verkopen immers geen glossys.

observations from the field

As some/most of you know, I’m in California this week. I landed late Friday night, and have observed the following:

-flying United through Chicago is the easiest way to get free plane tickets. I flew in Friday afternoon, around one, and was scheduled to depart at 6. When I got to the gate, it became apparent that the flight was overbooked, and United offered the usual: a free round-trip ticket within the continental 48 states, to be used within a year. I took the offer, and was scheduled for the next flight at 8:29. That ticket will come in very handy this summer. I’m thinking of declaring this an official annual event – this is the second consecutive year this has happened to me. Thanks, United, for your unorganized flight schedule.

-A.J. Jacobs’ The Know-It-All is the best book to get through a nine-hour flight. Jacobs sets out to read the Encyclopaedia Britannica and records his thoughts in his quest to become the smartest guy alive. It’s very funny and astute, and next to teaching you a lot of random facts (the one I remember is that Casanova ended up as a librarian. I guess that’s where the sexy librarian stereotype comes from), it also gets you thinking about the nature of intelligence.

-there really is nothing better than drinking coffee in the sun. My dad and I went to Cafe Barrone for a mid-morning coffee stop, and it was really heavenly. Their tagline is: because Europe is too far to go for lunch, and they do serve delicious lunches. And coffee. And pastries. And smoothies. Everything’s good, actually. And the best part? They’re right next door to Indie bookstore Kepler’s, which is pretty much my favorite bookstore ever. Seeing as I had run out of books, I promptly bought The Code of the Woosters, by PG Wodehouse.

-The U.S. might have separation between church and state, but it’s a relative separation. I went to Christ Episcopal Church for the Choral Eucharist this morning, and there was an American flag just beside the altar. I guess some habits are hard to break. Otherwise, the service was lovely. The familiar phrasing brought back good memories from last year and the church has beautiful stained glass windows.

-organic fruit really is good. After church, my dad picked me up and we went to the Farmer’s Market. I tasted a clementine that was so sweet and tart at the same time, it made me rethink my allegiance to chocolate. Good fruit really is better than sweets.

-also, Americans don’t feel the need to get dressed to go out. I was wearing my usual sweater, skirt and boots (the sweater covered by a North Face fleece vest, so at least I fit in at that point) and felt distinctly overdressed with the rest of the people dressed in sweat pants, hooded sweaters, and Uggs.

-and Californians don’t know the meaning of cold. It’s maybe 12 degrees centigrade out, and people are wearing hats and gloves and scarves. That’s really not necessary, people. A jacket, maybe, because it’s raining. But the hat and gloves are too much.

-last but not least, I’m eating all my favorite foods. Think enchiladas, sliced turkey on French bread, oatmeal raisin cookies, Thai food, cheddar cheese…why do all my favorite moments always involve food?

Stay tuned for more exciting tidbits, live from Mountain View*

*this post was brought to you by free Google WiFi. It pays to live in the same place as Google’s HQ. Thanks, guys.