Yesterday I worked a bake sale to raise money for the library at my son's elementary school (although quite frankly, it is the most well-stocked, unbelievable library I have ever encountered, and just like Carrie Bradshaw--Sex and the City, too old of a reference?-- knew her shoes, I know my libraries).
In America, my son went to an excellent public school in which the parents and surrounding community were extremely involved and invested. So although I am what amounts to a professional school volunteer, nothing, not even three years of working the Secret Santa Shop, could have prepared me for a bake sale at a private school.
Had anything been set-up the night prior? Had anyone brought napkins, plates, forks, bags? Had a rotating schedule of volunteers and arrival of individual classrooms been established? Had prices been determined? Was there a deadline for the arrival of baked goods? Had a system of any sort been in place? The answer is no. No to all of the above.
I would like to point out that all the women and staff I worked with could not have been lovelier or more hard-working. So we had that in our favor.
I won't even bother going into all the mundane details it took to get this thing underway, but instead I will jump ahead to the part where a highly ranked administrator walked by and expressed pleasure at "how American" it looked, "like an American bake sale."
Now, being the only American present, I didn't want to be the one to burst their bubble or rain on their parade, but where I come from, the volunteering moms and PTO would have seen that bake sale and raised you a full-blown carnival with petting zoo in the same amount of time for less money.Please don't get me wrong,it was a great bake sale. But y'know how in America we have a plethora of oversized SUVs and in Italy they have tiny cars that you can park sideways? It was like that.
By chance (mm-hmm) the President of fill in blank of small country(at least I think it's small. I'm not great with geography.) was going to be visiting the school and it was determined that the "American-style" bake sale would be an excellent photo op. I was only slated to volunteer for three hours, so I wasn't sure if I was supposed to stick around for that or what, seeing as again, I was the only American at our American-style bake sale. And I know America is a melting pot and all but no one would mistake the darkly-tanned, cigarette-smoking, fur-coat-wearing Italian moms for an American. I'm just saying.
So at one point, all the volunteers had to leave, and none of our three replacements had shown-up. Although I had to leave as well, as a professional mom volunteer, I couldn't do it. I couldn't be a deserter. (Bake sale/dessert-er, get it?) And it came down to just me, a temping array of baked goods and the entire third, fourth and fifth grades and various waves of teens wanting to purchase as many items as possible (I am not kidding, some of those kids were waving 50 euro notes). Of course all the children with large bills cringed in fear as they told me they only had a 20 or a 10 even though they were only spending 3 or 4 euro. They had already resigned themselves to the fact that their lack of correct change meant they wouldn't be able to purchase anything and/or I would yell at them (because that's how they roll here with the correct change stuff, yo). But I turned those frowns upside down with my background in good old-fashioned American retail and astonished those kids when I said, "No problem!" and quickly made change. Their eyes were as round as if they had just entered the home of Willy Wonka. Now I can't be certain it was correct change, because my math skills are spotty, but it was still change. And that is all that matters.
At this school they have some rules: whoever handles the food cannot handle the money (germs) and whoever handles the food must wear gloves (germs). And I was the only person there. So I was whipping off one glove and putting it back on and forgetting to take off my glove and touching the money and then having to throw out that glove and grab a new one ( and of course the gloves stuck together like plastic bags at a grocery store) but I still loved it. Because I love volunteering at school. I love all the kids, I love helping.
And even faced with a table of delights, these were the most polite, well-mannered children I have ever encountered.
Okay, well, to be perfectly honest, there was an obnoxious group of third-grade Italian boys who tried to shove and yell over the smaller, quieter, more polite children who were in line in front of them. But Good Lord above, sometime being a Mom and getting to dole out justice is just so sweet. I used my Mom powers and calmly explained to the boys that the the other children had been here first and then proceeded to serve only the polite children who were being pushed around by the boys. And I then decided to ignore the rude boys yelling their demands and finger-snapping-at-the-waitstaff and served all the shy and nervous children waiting all around them as well. Am I petty? You bet your sweet a#s I am. Today the meek shall eat their baked goods first!
And dang if it didn't work. The boys finally figured out that pushing those smaller than themselves and yelling at me wasn't producing the desired results and transformed themselves into a group of, "Excuse me, miss, may I have..." and I felt my work here had been done.
Other than those boys, however, every child I encountered in every grade, even the teenagers, said please and thank-you. They said excuse me. They said may I. They took turns. They bought things for each other. A random high school girl walked by, bought a Rice Krispie treat and handed it to a little girl who had been staring hungrily at them and continued on her way. Quite frankly, I was flabbergasted. Is this a European thing? Because up until last week, I still wasn't as thoughtful and mature and well-mannered as these kids.
Oh, and yeah, about the Rice Krispie treats. I too wondered where the hell these marshmallows had been found and where they could be purchased. I asked questions. I may have made some threats. Same old, same old: only the Americans connected with the American Embassy can get them. So America, please write to your Congressperson and demand that Americans living abroad all have access to the same food choices as the Embassy workers. Thank-you.
And so eventually some 5th graders (I kid you not) were sent out to help me handle the baked good masses and the President of ___________ still hadn't arrived and I really had to leave, so I did.
But I shouldn't have bothered because a 40 minute car ride(during which I was rear-ended at a red light, but our car was fine because the Smart car that hit me couldn't stand up to fine German engineering untainted by the Swatch watch company and didn't even manage to shake any of the dirt off the back of our car) and 9 metro stops later, I received a call from the school nurse telling me that my son had split his forehead open and needed stitches.
So we got to visit the Italian emergency room.
And how was your day?