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Irene Tanner Headshot

Grandma for a Day

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My son has two dogs. My daughter has two cats. So that is the best I can claim in the grandchildren department. Most of my friends are my children's ages -- certainly old enough to have produced descendants, yet oddly, like me, mostly interested in creations of the mind and spirit.

Though certainly I respect the adoration and pride grandparents experience for their offspring's offspring, there is not an ounce of envy in my heart; indeed, some of these very doting people confess that one of the perks of grand-parenting is sending the young ones home to Mom and Dad at the end of a visit.

Having stated my status, I will now relate a most pleasurable afternoon I recently spent as proxy grandma to three Asian kids!

The backstory begins in Singapore a couple of years ago, when my dear friend Rebecca Low, a speech coach and motivational speaker, invited me to co-present three workshops with her at the National University of Singapore. Rebecca graciously extended the trip to include several weeks of visiting and sightseeing. During this time the staff involved at NUS was most helpful and hospitable.

One lovely woman, Ily Tang, and I formed a bond that later continued via email. Last November she wrote to tell me that she and her husband, Wee Wah, would be visiting Princeton and other Eastern universities in connection with their work as part of a student exchange program. They would be bringing their three sons -- Niken, age 15, Nimoe, 12, and Nizon, three-and-a-half. Could they come for tea? Of course! What do the boys like to eat? Sweets. The date was set for December 1.

Fortunately, my apartment is designed so that I use the second bedroom as a den, complete with sleep sofa, coffee table for refreshments and all-important TV set.

My concerns concerning entertainment for the boys was for naught. Either Nikon or Nimoe took over the remote and the three settled in to watch their favorites without interference from their parents or me. Snacks were arranged on a wicker tray table. Nothing easier!

The grownups gathered round the round dinette table to sip tea and snack on pinwheel sandwiches and assorted goodies.

Not a peep from Nikon, Nimoe or Nizon!

The only outburst of the afternoon came from three-and-a-half-year-old Nizon when one of his brothers tried to remove an iPhone clenched in his tiny fist. Oh yes, he knew exactly how it worked!

Now I ask you to imagine this scenario with three average American youngsters.

I've chosen to use this visit as an illustration to talk about basic cultural differences I've observed and experienced between Eastern and Western norms of interpersonal relations. Perhaps it is best noticed at opposite poles of the age spectrum.

If I had to sum it up in a word, that word would be "respect." I respectfully submit three vignettes, well aware that all rules have exceptions.

Place: A New York City Bus

Nanny occupies a seat while next to her sits a 3-year-old. Elders, some infirm, stand, usually too embarrassed to request that nanny hold her non-paying charge on her lap so a senior can sit.

Place: A City Sidewalk

Several young mothers pushing prams form a barricade across the sidewalk, forcing pedestrians into traffic in order to pass.

Place: A Restaurant

Diners looking forward to a pleasant meal and good conversation are instead treated to the howls of an infant, whose parents unapologetically allow everyone to share their domestic disturbance as if the family were eating at home.

The same holds true for tipsy, loud-voiced adults, perhaps the same ones who believe that to be heard one must shout into a cell phone.

Here are a few pithy remarks to add to my own:

"I have a respect for manners as such; they are a way of dealing with people you don't agree with or like." -- Margaret Mead

"Fine manners need the support of fine manners in others." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any." -- Fred Astaire

Spoken as an outspoken grandma for a day!

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