The children are stupid, the parents quarrel, the houses are in disorder. It is remarkable to see how much American domestic life can engender so much discontent among so much abundance.
The foreigners have been able to observe this paradox and propose to the Americans solutions. The goal is to restore tranquility and, frankly, dignity.
Start with the Japanese Commissioner of Decluttering, Marie Kondo. His Netflix series, based on his bestseller, "The Magic That Tidying Up the Life of Tidying Up", plunges into the psychic pain that lies behind American wealth.
Kondo visits Californians embarrassed by their multiple closets filled with clothes that they can hardly remember having bought (or worn). The first episode presents the parents of two young children.
Rachel and Kevin are at the throat. A big problem for Kevin, is that they pay someone just to do the laundry because Rachel does not like doing the laundry. He works 60 hours a week and is at home most of the time with the children.
His explanation: "My children are like, for example, running and being crazy, and we never do anything."
This is true. The little girl constantly interrupts her requests. His parents, meanwhile, seem to intend to seek approval of the small tyke. "Do you like that?" "Are you having fun?" And the praise is nonstop. "You are so beautiful."
Some French mothers may be able to offer advice, as indicated in the book "Bringing Up Bebe". Author Pamela Druckerman, an American woman living in Paris, observed that while her children were having tantrums on the restaurant floor, French children ate quietly with their parents.
"Why do not my French friends ever need to hang up on the phone because their kids are demanding something?" Druckerman writes. "Why have not their lounges been taken care of by teepees and toy kitchens like ours?"
For the long answer, read the book. The short answer is that the French "educate" rather than "discipline" their children. They do not shout against the smaller ones but rather suggest that when they want kids to stop doing something, they really think so.
Back in California, Kondo notes that "American kitchens are so big." She smiles sweetly. Too bad the dishes are so crowded that you can barely see the expensive stone countertops.
Kondo has the parents heap up everyone's clothes on a bed. The battery is getting closer to the ceiling. She devotes herself to the task of thanking the clothes, but the exercise is mainly about getting rid of things that no longer serve.
Kondo itself is a model of cleanliness and grooming. She wears immaculate white tops with simple skirts. The couple, despite its mass of clothes, do not dress particularly well.
I would love to have seen Kondo's thought bubble as she was helping Rachel to carefully fold so torn jeans that parts were hanging from her knees. Far be it from me to pass judgment on a fashion article adopted by a crowd of good Americans. I will entrust this work to Tim Gunn, an esteemed fashion consultant who, although American, has a good amount of old world starch.
"Jeans are an American classic," he says. However, "the denim worn, distraught, pierced and horribly erased – do not wear it!"
Before leaving, say good word to Tan France, fashion expert for the film "Queer Eye" based in Atlanta. France is a Briton of Pakistani origin. His mission is to persuade his American men of their worn t-shirts, of their dilapidated running shoes and transform them into elegant and neat outfits.
He finds himself asking basic questions, such as "Do you have a laundry basket?" and "A hoodie is your favorite thing in your closet?"
Obviously, there is still a lot of work to be done and the Americans have to import aid. January is a good month to prepare. Good luck to us all.
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