Over Appreciation

My week has begun with a trip to a stranger’s house to drop off a free meal. I volunteered with our neighborhood’s parents’ association to help out a family with a new baby.

I found myself apologizing as I handed over the pasta and green salad from Whole Foods (I think the idea is that you’re supposed to cook for the family, rather than bring them something store bought). And yet, with a cranky toddler of my own in tow, it wasn’t the easiest drop off (my daughter didn’t want to leave when she saw their toys. The family clearly did want us to leave promptly after we presented the entree).

But this was just the appetizer on the menu of free food that our new community expects from us. And I’m not complaining. I’m sure if we were in need, our neighbors would deliver homemade (or store bought, from the lazier households) meals to us. But I marvel at how different the attitude towards these sorts of things would be in the UK.

When a fellow preschool mom emailed the parents yesterday to say that next week is Teacher Appreciation Week, my (British) husband asked: “When is Parents’ Appreciation Week”?

Luckily, only I was there to hear this expression of sarcasm. It certainly would not have been welcome in this crowd.

One mother told us that the teacher in question enjoyed massages. Another enthusiastically volunteered to buy the teacher a gift certificate for a spa treatment, saying that she would just hate to think that our kids’ teacher didn’t feel appreciated. Others offered more, and increasingly valuable, gifts, based on the list that had circulated of this teacher’s favorite things.

In our London preschool experiences, we gave the teachers cards at the end of the year. It was never suggested to do anything more. It’s possible that they thought we were cheap ingrates. But I definitely think there is much more of a culture of giving here, and much less of a culture of irony.

The gifts we are giving to this teacher come during a week when we are also being asked to donate a lunch for our daughter’s class; fruit for all of the toddlers’ snacks; and a side dish for the parents’ end-of-year dinner. Opting out just isn’t an option.

My husband wonders why these meals we’re bringing in aren’t covered in the school’s tuition. That’s a question that we just have to keep to ourselves. Everyone else seems to be plotting just how many more extravagant gifts we can bestow on our kids’ teachers.

If we start asking probing questions, we might get left off the free meal recipient list. I wonder if you need to have a new baby to cash in…

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