Our Swedish au pair got off Skype with a friend back home in Stockholm last evening as we made dinner, looking rather gray and scared. She asked us to tell her which laws that had been changed now because of Hurricane Irene, and were we allowed to be walking around after dark.
Turns out that the news of various governors and President Obama “declaring emergencies” — which is a strictly financial declaration, freeing up federal funding to states and localities to pay for emergency response and preparation — has been interpreted by news casters in her home country into “martial law”. She pulled up the google translate app to show me that that’s what it really means. :-)
We assured her this was not the case, reminding her that English has a lot more words than other languages and sometimes that’s actually a good thing even though it makes it hard to learn. She then got a lesson in U.S. federalism using disaster response as an example, and was much relieved to know that armed police officers wouldn’t be patrolling our quiet suburb, that she and her au pair pals would not be arrested for going to the gym after dinner, as planned.
Poor thing! And her poor family and friends back home! No wonder they think Americans are uptight.
I can imagine this is being reported in many other home countries as well. Counselors on the Eastern seaboard would be doing their au pairs and host families a big favor by explaining what a “declaration of emergency” means, and that in the hours before a storm hits, there really isn’t much other news going on, so the news outlets all pick up on the official declarations and make it sound rather ominous.