Posted by: patenttranslator | May 12, 2010

As American as Motherhood and Apple Pie

This is one American saying that leaves me puzzled and perplexed as American English does not seem to make much sense to me in this case. For one thing, what is American about motherhood? Are Greek, Danish, Korean and Mexican mothers lesser mothers than the American ones? One would think that the institution of motherhood predates United States of America? Were all mothers worldwide somehow deficient in the performance of their motherly duties prior to 1776?

Another way to test the accuracy of this idiom would be to say that we, Americans, value mothers more than other nations. Since in America, all values tend to be expressed in terms of money, what is the monetary value that is ascribed to the all-important concept of motherhood here? Unlike 179 other countries, including Djibouti,  we don’t even have paid maternity leave in the United States. In fact, we are the only industrialized country that provides only unpaid maternity leave, but very few mothers can actually afford to take advantage of it since they are obviously working because they need money. Whether you are a man or a woman, if you have a job and draw a paycheck, you have to pay taxes on your income. In return, when you are old, you will be eligible for what is called social security here, that is, if you live long enough and if the government does not steal the money first, two big ifs. But if you are a mother who stayed home to raise 5 children, you are not entitled to any social security payments at all. This is because as far as US labor laws are concerned, you are a lazy female who never worked a day in her life and never contributed anything of value to the society. That is how we really value mothers here.

My sister receives every month the equivalent of social security payments, which are based mostly on the fact that she raised three children. It is not a lot, but it is better than nothing. She worked for a few years, but then she got married and stayed home with the kids. But the thing is, she lives in Europe. In most European countries, raising children is considered real work and it counts towards eligibility for the equivalent of social security payments. I think that one child counts as 15 years of employment, depending on the country. As far as I know, they don’t have the idiom “as German (or as French) as motherhood” in Germany or France. But unlike here, the work of mothers clearly does have value over there. In fact, some American mothers say that based on measurable criteria, our culture is very family-hostile and we are waging war on them, see for instance this book by Sharon Lerner titled “The War on Moms”.

OK, enough about motherhood. Let’s look at the other part of the expression “as American as motherhood and apple pie”. What is American about apple pie? My mother was not American and apple pie was her favorite thing to bake because she knew it was my favorite thing to stuff my face with. Well, if not the favorite, it was at least a tie with blueberry pie. And she called it strudel, although she did not speak German. Listen up, Americans! There is nothing American about apple pie! It’s Austrian, OK? They even use the German word strudel for a certain kind of apple pie in a dozen languages in European countries which used to belong to Austria-Hungary because that is where it was invented. By Austrians, or by the English or the Dutch, depending on whom you believe.


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