Lunchboxes vs. School Lunch

Let’s be honest: How much time do you spend on preparing your kids lunchbox? Or do you  have a healthy lunch option at school or daycare?

I’ve come across an interesting report that I wanted to share today: In Japan, the Art of “Bento” (弁当, a single packed meal, take out or home-made) has found its way into schools and kindergardens. Mothers spend up to two hours preparing a bento with rice balls shaped like Hello Kitty or the face of Michael Jackson. As the women in the video states, there is a lot of pressure to “perform well”, so that now Bento for kids classes are offered.

In Europe and the U.S., most schools and daycare places offer canteen food. Here, the debate has been stirred by drastic reports about quality of food, calories intake, vending machines with high-sugar foods and sodas. The British TV-star chef Jamie Oliver even started a foundation devoted to healthy school lunches, providing parents with information and tool kits to promote change:

Having spent a year in France now, I have noticed a few particularities when it comes to school food. First of all, many public institutions and private shops, banks and doctors still close for a 1.5-2 hr lunch break. While to some that may be appealing to have time to sit down and enjoy a nice warm lunch, to others it poses logistical master puzzles. If you are not a working mom, your child is not always allowed to eat in the canteen together with its friends.

So, after dropping your child off at 8.30-9am, you are expected to be back at the gate at 11.45am-12pm to pick the hungry youngster up for lunch. Not to forget that you have to bring your child back to the same institution an hour and a half later, to then pick them up again in 3 hours time.

..I call that “inhibiting productivity of stay-at-home mothers”!… On the other hand, if your child is in a daycare and has the fortune to be fed there as well, you will have to live with the food they provide. In our case, we were happy to find out that the lunch they serve is a well-balanced, healthy meal, but not so happy about the sugary pastry (pain au chocolat for my 1yr old?!) they serve for “gouter” (after nap snack).

A few other resources/articles:



Featured Global Mom- Tupoka from Germany

I am happy to introduce a lovely fellow intercultural trainer as the “featured global mom”. Happy reading :) and please be sure to check out her blog at 

1) Please, tell us a bit about yourself!
My name is Tupoka Ogette. My father is from Tanzania and my mother is from Germany, where I was born and raised. I am a mom of two wonderful boys, now 14 and almost 2 years old. I am a freelance intercultural trainer on the one hand and an anti bias/antiracism trainer on the other. I have worked and lived in Tanzania, in the UK, the United States and France. I just moved back to Berlin, after working for four years in Grenoble in the South of France.

2) What do you see as the major advantage and the major challenge of raising a child in a cross-cultural environment?
First of all, my 14 years old son speaks three languages (German, French and English) fluently, I think thats just amazing!
Growing up as a black German child in the former East of Germany I was almost always the only child of color. There were plenty of times that I felt very lonely and not accepted due to the color of my skin. All my kindergarten, school and highschool life I never had a teacher or an educator that was a Person of Color or a person from a different country.
I feel so blessed that my sons have the opportunity to grow up in different cultures and in an international environment with people from all over the world. They get to see the good and bad in different countries, cultures and societies and their international experience will broaden their minds in a way that they will become truly (tolerant, open minded) global citizens one day.

3) What struck you as the most odd or strange in the parenting style of your host culture?
When I was in France I was appalled of how many mothers smoke during pregnancy just to stay skinny. I thought that was disgusting to be frank.
Although I did love the institutional systems of supporting and encouraging mothers to go back to work soon after having a baby, I though it was a little weird that french parents would send their children to kindergarten or school even though they had a fever or were really ill. They would simply give them a paracetamol and keep it moving…
4) Have you experienced a funny cross-cultural episode with your child(ren) in your host culture?
My mom was visiting us from Germany when we were living in France and my -then 10 year old – son and her were out to buy groceries. At the cross roads the light turned red and the good rule obeying German my mom is, she stood still and waited for the light to turn green. My son had just learnt that French people cross the streets whenever they feel like, without caring about the lights. So he had a massive temper tantrum yelling and screaming that in France one MUST absolutely cross the road while its red – one does that so, he kept yelling. Thats all I can think of right now ;-)

5) What is your advice to other global parents?
Be proud about the gift of cultural diversity you give your kids along the way…don’t be discouraged by ignorance or intolerance.
Try to laugh and smile as much as u can, humor is a wonderful way to deal with daily misunderstandings, obstacles and challenges and no matter what culture we’re from, we all like to laugh!


How do you count?

Quickly…before you read on, can you please count on your hand to five?…


Okay? Done? How did you do it? Did you use a “closed fist methode”, where you start with a closed fist (duh!) and then open up one finger at a time? No? Well, it turns out that something as “easy” as counting to five on your hand can be an endless discussion when you encounter people of other nationalities. While we’re trying to teach our daughter to show others her age (two), we noticed that we were doing the sign differently.

How do you count the number two?

Needless to say, this was confusing to her as well. What in my country and culture (Germany) is seen as a “peace sign”, in Brazil is used to show the number two. So, we asked in her daycare how they count. Funnily, not even there it was consistent. The french teachers showed it the way I do it (see below), while the Portuguese teacher did it the way shown above.

Or do you count like this?

Somehow, I always thought that counting numbers with your fingers was universally the same. But it is in fact culturally inherited:

Check out this great article: What finger counting says about you and your brain

I should have gotten the hint already while being in China, where they count with one hand. Therefore my way of saying two always ended up being understood as 8:


Why are maternity leave standards so different?

I came across this nice graphic at National Geographic, which shows us the vast difference in paid maternity and paternity leave across the world. One thing that never seizes to amaze me is that a modern nation like the U.S. offers no parental leave, yet sees a much higher birth rate (2.06) than my home country Germany (1.41) for example (where you can stay home up to 3 years). Only four nations in the whole world provide no mandating law around maternity leave (Liberia, Swaziland, Papua New Guinea, and the above mentioned United States). But length and percentage of your salary greatly depend on the jurisdiction.

Having just moved to France, I recently made the unpleasant discovery that even standards in Europe differ widely. While in Denmark (where both of our children were born) a year of paid maternity leave is the norm (the percentage of your salary depends on your employer as well as your income), France only offers 3 months of paid leave. This creates a huge dilemma for mothers that would like to progress in their career, but not leave their newborns with another person. Yes, of course, the public daycare system here is excellent and all children should be taken care of. But nobody told me that it is basically a rat race since the day you find out you are pregnant. Coming here as a foreigner means that you are about x months/years (x= insert the age of your child) behind every one else in obtaining the precious spot in daycare, let alone choose one that might be close to your home. Needless to say, the industry of other childminding opportunities flourishes!

So, if you find yourself moving to a new country pregnant, or are thinking of having (another) baby, bear in mind that laws around maternity leave, public childcare as well as waiting lists for daycare can be quite different from your home country.

Below please find some relevant articles and resources that should help you in your decision:

Overview of Parental Leave in different countries

Assessing Generosity and Gender Equality in 21 countries in parental leave policy

A book investigating workplace solutions for childcare

and last but not least, a good read about why Swedish men can have it all 




Staying connected- always a blessing?

I am online. Most of the day. Mainly due to my job (which I am thankful to be able to do from home) but also because I want to stay connected. With friends, with family, with other bloggers or pages of interest, with the news.

When I am new to a place, I rely heavily on the internet. It gives me all kinds of useful- and, I admit it, useless- information about my new residence, potential places to go, spend money, make money, and -hopefully- make new friends.

As global parents and citizens, we also have the urge to stay on top of things that happen “back home”. So, there goes another hour (or two) to read up on the news that happen somewhere else around the world. And finally, with our global network, time zone differences make us stay up late at night to catch up with old friends or tell our family the newest adventures or challenges we had to face.

The average internet user spends around 23.1 hours per month online (worldwide). As a newbie to a new country I am almost certain that number is surpassed within the first week of the month. My question today is: How much is enough? Sure, we do need to stay connected, and find information, and work, and make conversation. The difficulty is to find the balance between exploring your new culture in “real time”, a.k.a. the “outside world” and the need for connecting with the known, safe, and secure world we’ve had built for ourselves before we moved. Of course, we should all get the chance to shed a tear or feel disappointed about missed out opportunities with dear friends in old places. BUT, one thing is certain: At the same time you’re spending looking at pictures of your happy friends, you are missing out on new opportunities in your new world. The insecure, full of rejections, unknown world! But isn’t that part of the reason you signed up for moving to a new place.

So, my advise for today: TIO (Turn It Off!)! Your internet, your computer, your mobile. However you stay connected. And once it’s off, go out, somewhere new. Or join that club you always wanted to try out. Sign up for that class you never summoned the courage to do before. Smile and say hi to a stranger. It’s worth it. You might make a new best friend that you then have to stay connected to :)