Letters to the editor

A good nanny is hard to find -- so is a good employer. Plus: Lonely Planet writer defends guidebooks from author of "The Beach"; should celebrities' writings remain private?

Topics: The New York Times, Thailand

United Nations of nannies
BY CECELIE S. BERRY
(02/11/00)

Cecelie S. Berry’s story about her search for the perfect nanny came across as little more than elitist whining about how hard it is to find good help these days.

I’ve got news for Berry: Most people, no matter where they’re from, consider looking after someone else’s kids to be a demanding, poorly paid, low-status job — something you do if you can’t find anything better. This may be why nearly all of the nannies who worked for the author turned out to have “scars”: They were in the nanny business because their emotional wounds rendered them unfit for any other kind of work.

I’m very sorry that Berry is having so much trouble finding the working person’s ultimate status symbol.

– Mary Elsisi

Throughout college, I worked as a nanny in an affluent suburb of Boston. It had everything that Americans cling to as the perfect environment for raising a child: a great public school system, vast public libraries, lush green parks, the cultural richness of a major metropolitan city only a few train stops away and a population that teemed with well-intentioned intelligentsia.

But I soon discovered impossible Mary Poppins-esque expectations of nannies. Parents hardly ever sacrificed three hours a week to play with their kids or even spend time walking with them to the playground. The dads disappeared at work, sometimes emerging around 9 or 10 in the evening while the moms simply poured over bulletins, leaflets and catalogs of after-school activities to pencil into an already over-burdened schedule for their sleepy-eyed children. The fathers were the payers, the mothers the planners, and we somehow were left to the parenting while trying to compensate for the parents’ lack of quality time for their kids.

I have very little sympathy for Berry and I suggest she turn around and ask all those nannies what kind of “story” they got from her.

– Tania Castellanos

Stop having nannies and put your child in a registered day care or, better yet, a family day care with someone who has training and is a mother. I ran a family day care out of my home and the mothers of my charges told me all the same stories. It may mean more work for you and you will probably have to hire a cleaning lady a couple of times of week but it will be worth it.

– Devorah Stone

Horrifying as these nanny horror stories were, I was most shocked by Berry’s summing up: “It’s easy to imagine spending a lifetime looking for that needle in a haystack: the one perfect person of all those who apply, the person who is most capable of caring for one’s family.”

The one person who is most capable of caring for Berry’s family is Berry. It is strange and terrifying that such a bright woman would entrust her children to dangerous strangers in the name of keeping up with her neighbors.

– Chris Woodyard

No more Ms.-takes
BY KARYN HUNT
(02/10/00)

Eliminating courtesy titles for women in the second reference, while laudable for its evenhandedness, is hardly something to celebrate. I appreciate that the New York Times still applies these titles to everyone, even people we might not think deserve it. But perhaps the Times still feels, as did my mother, and Eleanor Roosevelt and Miss Manners, that if we treat everyone as if they were ladies and gentlemen, some of them will catch on, and start acting that way.

Is that OK, Hunt?

– Kerr Lockhart

Teaneck, N.J.

When I was in journalism school, the AP Stylebook was little more than a 30-page booklet. It included this rule (as closely as I can remember it):

“All ladies are women, but not all women are ladies. Therefore, use
‘women.’”

– Richard Roth

Beach nut
BY SUE WHEAT
(02/11/00)

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I enjoyed the Alex Garland interview, and found most of his opinions about travel refreshingly honest.

As Garland admitted in the interview, he’s not an expert on travel. As someone who has been writing guidebooks for Lonely Planet for the past 18 years, I just wanted to point out the fallacy in Garland’s statement:

“And I do think if you asked me, ‘Are you worried about the ill effects of the film and the book?’ the answer is, Yes I am. But that would be a drop in the ocean next to the effect a guidebook can have on those places.”

Market research shows that people decide where they’re going well before they buy a guidebook to that place. What influences their choice of destination includes magazine and newspaper features, advertising, word of mouth and, yes, movies.

Pico Iyer’s gushing two-page article on Thailand in 1987 had more effect on tourism to Thailand then any single media event I’ve been able to track. I think Garland’s bestseller and the resulting film will bring about the next watershed. A guidebook is just something tourists will pick up along the way. As Garland pointed out, whether readers will pay any attention to what’s written in their guidebooks is another story. Guidebooks seem to have only a vague influence on the way tourists conduct their voyages.

– Joe Cummings

$125 for my thoughts?
BY DIANA ABU-JABER
(02/10/00)

There’s something about collecting the letters of
famous people — people like George Washington and Mark Twain — that calls
to my mind reliquaries full of saints’ bones. Something once alive and
perceived by the original owners as perishable, later preserved by others as
a touchstone to greatness.

Then there’s the more immediate issue (for someone online) of the
reproduction/forwarding/reposting of private e-mail. E-mail messages often
get passed around at will, without the original author’s permission. Is
this an intrusion? A copyright violation? Unethical? At times all of
these, I think. But you can’t effectively limit the flow of those
kinds of texts online.

Will people start trading e-mails they received from famous people? Posting
them on Web sites? Having received a few e-mails from
well-known people and having saved hundreds of ones of interest from people
I have met whom I admire, I enjoy looking back at these bits of personal
contact. What if someone like me, with folders stuffed full of
years’ worth of e-mail, filtered through it and posted the ones worth reading
on the Web, for everyone to read? Or what if I started a mailing list and
sent out, to strangers, selections of the best mail I had ever received,
without asking the authors? An odd idea perhaps, illegal and unethical perhaps, but not unthinkable.

– Elizabeth Durack

A few years ago someone told me that he’d seen a copy of an out-of-print book of mine in a used bookstore. I was down to one, so I went right over, opened it up to see the price, and of course turned to the title page where I signed my name.

Ouch. It was the copy I’d given to a longtime friend, a younger writer
whose career I’d started by giving him assignments when I’d been an editor.
It was not merely autographed, of course, but seriously inscribed.

I bought it, and invited my friend to lunch. Handed it to him, clumsily. (I
was, of course, hurt.) His eyes filled with tears. It had not been a good time
for him, and he had been forced to sell all of his books. Trying to put some
small bit of levity onto what was an awful situation, I said that if he was
ever in extremis, and about to sell the damn book, please call and I’d send
that amount …

– Larry Dietz

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