First, it was all that vacation time.

Then, the 35-hour work week.

Now, the French have established “the right to disconnect.”

Yes, a new law requires that employers negotiate with their employees on when they can send them emails. After 7 pm? No, no, that’s too late! I’ve already started my aperitif!

Coming from Silicon Valley, as I do, at first this sounded crazy. After all, around here we joke that “flexible working hours” means “you can put in your 18-hour day whenever you’d like.” We’re inventing the future: we don’t have time for vacations.

But then I reflected on the years I spent as an ex-pat working in Switzerland. Work there was confined to the regular workweek and only rarely spilled over to the weekend. More than that, stores closed at noon on Saturday and didn’t open again until Monday.

This was really annoying at first. My wife and I worked all week, which meant we had to cram our shopping into Saturday morning. What a pain. But eventually we came to appreciate everything being closed. We couldn’t shop. We couldn’t run errands. We had to take a break.

Over time we settled in and learned to do what everyone else did — enjoyed the weekend as a time for family and friends, a time for hikes in the mountains and lunches in the garden.

Living in Switzerland was wildly different from what we were used to in Silicon Valley. People worked hard just like at home, but life was somehow… less hectic.

Work wasn’t the be-all and end-all: my wife was once eating a sandwich at her desk when a colleague came by and lectured her on the importance of taking a proper lunch break. And everyone took all their vacation days: not to do so was considered unhealthy.

And yet, the Swiss economy is the envy of the world. And productivity, a key measure of economic health, is higher in France than in Germany or Japan.

So maybe those lazy French are on to something: time away from work can actually be good for you and good for the economy.

With a Perspective, I’m Keith Van Sickle.

Keith Van Sickle is a tech executive and author who splits his time between Silicon Valley and France.

Sandhya Acharya

A new immigrant in a new country has a lot to learn. The practical things are easy to master. It is the cultural differences that is the real challenge.

I grew up in India where sharing a cup of tea with someone is a much revered tradition. When you visit someone, your host is not just offering you a hot cup of beverage, he is offering you his time and attention. He is letting you know that you are worth his indulgence and are welcome at his home.

What I didn’t know was that an invitation for tea or coffee at your house could be inferred to be much more. This knowledge I gained through Hollywood, google searches and one real life incident.

I was interning in a new city. My mentor and his wife had invited me over for dinner. I was just settling in, when in walked another guest. It was an Indian man who worked with me. I will call him Young Man. Young Man looked equally surprised. It was clearly a match-making ambush arranged by my gracious host.

I don’t remember much of our conversation at dinner. I was more worried if I was using the right fork for salad. Afterwards, Young Man gallantly offered to drop me home. After a long uneventful drive we finally reached my apartment. I stepped out and thanked him. Then, of course, remembering my manners proceeded to invite him, “Would you like to come up for some tea or coffee?”

Young Man looked at me mouth agape. Shock and confusion clouded his face. He gulped fearfully, bid an urgent goodbye and drove away like the wind.

It was days later that it all made sense. I was watching a movie that had a similar invitation by girl to boy, but with very different outcomes. This was followed by some frantic google searches and the final realization of the folly of my words. I turned red and was very glad that by then, Young Man was working in a building far away from mine.

Understanding that old cultural norms sometimes don’t translate to American soil can challenge immigrants, no more so than when an invitation to tea is just an invitation to tea.

With a Perspective, I’m Sandhya Acharya.

Sandhya Acharya grew up in Mumbai, worked in corporate finance and is now a writer and mother in the Bay Area.


In 1848, revolutions erupted across the continent of Europe. A variety of nationalists, socialists, and republicans joined forces to topple, if only temporarily, many of the continent’s leading conservative, monarchical regimes. These rebels were on a quest for things we, today, take as given rights, bedrock values of Western Civilization. Things like universal suffrage, religious toleration and representation for minority ethnic and religious groups. Soon, however, divisions developed, and the revolutionaries faltered.

Each country was unique, but in Austria it came down to national divisions. Historians point out that those who embraced a form of civic nationalism — in which one’s loyalty is based on a commitment to shared civic and political rights and values — lost out to those who championed the cause of a more exclusive “ethnic” national identity. The former fosters a setting for diverse backgrounds to coexist; the latter encourages divisions and ultimately oppression, as was the case for the minority groups of the ethnically diverse Austrian empire. The dominant Germans and Hungarians were intent on maintaining their ethnic hegemony at the expense of other national groups.

The uprisings of 1848 failed for a variety of reasons, but divisions along ethnic lines were significant. Ultimately this attempt at keeping the lid on diverse national interest groups ended with the empire when it went up in the flames of WWI.

I believe many of us in the US see the greater importance of what binds our nation together — not in terms of our ethnic national and cultural identity groups, but rather in those Western and uniquely American ideals of tolerance, equal protection under the law, and basic individual freedoms. In effect, our nation is strongest when we look to those binding ideals of America’s civic nationalism. If our nation holds true to those values, I think we’ll weather this rocky storm. If we succumb to divisions along ethnic lines and the preservation of some abstract “European American” ethnic and Christian nation at the expense of other groups, I fear we’ll go the way of Austria.

With a Perspective, I’m Josh Gnass.

Josh Gnass teaches high school history in Burlingame and lives in San Francisco.

Vidya Setlur

I vividly remember the darkened room, lit by monitors and computer screens; a technician quietly maneuvering the ultrasound transducer over my swollen belly. The pensive silence was interrupted by an army of doctors crowded around the image on the screen. “Bring a picture of a healthy heart to the parents!” shouted the senior doctor. I glanced at my husband and immediately knew. Despair tugged at my soul.

I was 4.5 months pregnant.

I’ve always been a feminist, brought up by two strong women – my mother and maternal grandmother. I grew up confident that I had the right to opportunity and choice. With a supportive husband, growing family, and a fulfilling career, I thought I was living life on my own terms.

The recent change in political landscape has threatened those beliefs. When President Trump reinstated the “global gag rule” surrounded by white men it seemed to trivialize the often-painful choice a woman has to make about her unborn child.

My husband and I discussed all our options with the doctors that fateful day. “Blue baby”, “three chambers”, “heart transplant” – phrases that still reverberate through my mind; The feeling of helplessness that I would do anything, just anything to fix my baby’s broken heart… and mine. We often portray pro-life vs. pro-choice as black or white. To me, it was a harrowing hue of grays.

I consider myself fortunate to live here. I have access to good healthcare that supports my reproductive decisions. I realize that not many women around the world are fortunate, and recent events are a stark reminder of the ramifications.

As I watch my two living children play in the backyard, I often think of the precious little one in the ultrasound picture now carefully tucked away in my drawer. The decision was never easy and will never be, but at the end, it was still my decision.

With a Perspective, I’m Vidya Setlur.

Vidya Setlur lives in Portola Valley and is a research scientist in Palo Alto.

Rachel Sarah

One February weekend, some friends invited my tween daughter and me on an East Bay hike, and I asked this guy I was dating to come along. He was a scientist who loved the outdoors, so I thought it might be fun. But the forecast was rain.

Chris wondered if I had a raincoat. My daughter had a waterproof coat with a hood and boots, but I didn’t.

“Let’s go to REI,” he said. I resisted.

He pulled out his faded REI card. “C’mon,” he said.

I might have muttered under my breath, “I can take care of myself just fine, thank you very much.” I’d been a single mom since my daughter was born, and I’d made it this far without a raincoat.

Besides, clothes-shopping is so personal, and if he’d wanted to buy me something so I’d like him more, that wasn’t necessary. I already like him a lot. He was a great cook. He loved kids. He built furniture. He made me laugh.

As I browsed the sales rack, he strolled over with a coat. “Try this on.” It was Gore-Tex and lightweight. It had pockets. But it was lime green, not my color. I wasn’t sure, but I wasn’t sure about a lot of things. Like if he was planning to pay for that coat, which would’ve been generous, but way over-the-top.

I told him I was fine with my fleece pullover. Maybe I was embarrassed, or maybe I felt like I didn’t I deserved a fancy raincoat.

“Please,” Chris said. “Just try it on.” I pushed one arm through the sleeve. The zipper had a storm flap. It fit perfectly.

“You look great,” he said. “How do you feel?”

I felt like I was about to cry on the thermal underwear. I couldn’t remember the last time a man wanted to take care of me. Or made me feel so loved. But I didn’t deserve this. It was too expensive. So I unzipped the coat.

He put his hand on my shoulder. “Let me do this for you.”

The tears pricked my eyelids. If I said, “yes,” wouldn’t I seem too needy?

“It’s just a raincoat,” Chris said.

But it was so much more.

With a Perspective, I’m Rachel Sarah.

Rachel Sarah and Chris married six years ago, and today they are the proud parents of two daughters – a toddler and a teen.

Larry Murphy

I recently watched a video of several hundred people taking the oath of allegiance to the United States on the steps of the library in Louisville, Kentucky. I was struck by the number of cultures that were represented by the various costumes and complexions. I was aware of a profound sense of gratitude in the scene, but the gratitude I sensed was not from the new citizens, but to them.

Here were people who had endured any number of challenges to come to this country and call America home. They brought their small children to be educated and trained in our schools, they brought their aging relatives who had departed familial and racial ties to embrace what we have to offer, and they brought their families to celebrate the promise they perceived in our institutions.

I felt honored by that trust, and realized that it was we and not they who should be grateful for the ceremony. Women and men in colorful costumes that reflect pride in their heritage, brown, tan, white and black faces that would soon be enriching our neighborhoods with exciting customs and cuisines. Voices that sound curious and challenging in new ways of using language, new music, new handicrafts, new art. Surely, some were here because of intolerable living conditions where they came from, but what underlay the motivation of each new citizen was a trust and sense of hope that is inspiring and hugely complimentary to those of us who were born into this culture that for us required no expression of choice or commitment.

So my message to these new neighbors is this: Thank you for joining and complimenting us by wanting to be our neighbors. I hope that I and my countrymen and women live up to the trust you have expressed. Please know that regardless of your race or religion or country of origin you are very welcome.

With a Perspective, I’m Larry Murphy.

Larry Murphy is the retired owner of an Irish pub. He lives in Sonoma.

Michael Ellis

Imagine that you’re on a movie set…. there’s a soft rain falling, a couple embracing passionately on the porch of an antebellum mansion, the warm, heavy southern air envelops them, heat lightening flickers in the distance. The mood is nearly perfect but not quite; the director senses that something, something is missing: What is it? “FROGS” he shouts, “Frogs! We need croaking frogs! That’s it!” And he sends the sound technician scurrying for frog noises.

And so once again our hero, the Pacific tree frog, also known as the Pacific chorus frog, is called into action. It’s the most common frog sound heard in movies. And whether the scene takes place in Britain, New Guinea, Texas or the Serengeti, if it’s shot in Hollywood it usually gets the local frog. So, even though amphibian sounds vary throughout the world, for the sake of expediency this guy is the costar of the night.

This rainy winter we are hearing plenty of loud, evening choruses throughout California. Where there’s any standing water – a roadside ditch, a farm pond, or even an old outdoor hot tub, you’ll find uncountable numbers of males singing, each one trying to attract a mute female. Imagine her dilemma: she chooses a mate based on his singing ability — one voice out of hundreds. This is cutthroat — or should I say frogthroat?) — competition.

Even though these little guys are easy to hear, they are tough to see. They’re small; only 1 1/2 inches from nose to rear. They range in color from brown to green with every shade in between and they can change those colors completely in a short time. But regardless of its color phase each frog has a brown stripe running from the tip of the nose through the eye to the shoulder. When you see this field mark you’ll know it’s a Pacific tree frog.

So the next time you are watching old reruns of MASH and see Major Houlihan and Frank trysting in the “Korea” night, remember that’s our very own Hollywood tree frog that serenades them, the same one that’s in your backyard.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.

Juan Prieto

When I was eight, I crossed the border using my cousin’s papers. In other words, I came to this country pretending to be someone I’m not. And it didn’t end there. I went through life acting as if I was just another average citizen even though I’m undocumented.

The act was hard, given that my legal status was such a huge part of my life. UC Berkeley was the first school in the nation to support undocumented students, and it’s where I stopped pretending about my legal status.

I began to truly believe I was undocumented and unafraid, as the chant goes.

But that’s changed since Donald Trump commanded the national spotlight.

At UC Berkeley, it’s become increasingly dangerous for undocumented students who are outspoken. Last June, I received an anonymous email threat. It began with the words, “This University should be ashamed to have someone like you.” It went on to say that my family and I had been reported to immigration officials, also known as ICE.

And last week, my undocumented peers and I felt vulnerable when alt-right figure Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at Berkeley. He planned on launching a campaign against undocumented students that night.

I spent much of that evening locked in my room, afraid to go out. Afraid that being undocumented and vocal would make me a target for his followers. I blame UC Berkeley for enabling Milo Yiannopoulos and his fringe form of hate. At the University of Washington a protester was shot at a Milo event. At the University of Wisconsin, a transgender student was outed.

Fearing an attack over their reputation, I believe that UC Berkeley allowed the event to go on, at the expense of students’ safety.

Now as the nation looks at free speech and who has it, it feels ironic. Because of the fear of deportation, undocumented immigrants like me feel more silenced than ever.

I graduate this May, and I’m worried that work and plans for law school might become impossible under this administration. I refuse, however, to return to the shadows in fear.

I refuse to pretend to be anyone but myself any longer.

With a Perspective, I’m Juan Prieto.

Juan Prieto is a senior at UC Berkeley studying English. His commentary was produced by Youth Radio.

Mary Franklin-Harvin

I started listening to KQED last winter, when I was considering relocating to San Francisco from New York City. At the time, the public radio programming on WNYC served as the soundtrack of my existence. Nora Ephron had Louis Armstrong and Harry Nilsson. I had Brian Lehrer and “The New Yorker Radio Hour”.

Early on, I had a habit of comparing KQED’s original content with WNYC’s, and “Perspectives” stood out. There was nothing else like it, and the segments quickly became an indispensable part of my morning. In a world where irony and sarcasm are slathered like condiments instead of sprinkled like seasonings, it felt good to start the day fresh with thoughtful, earnest observations–and to know there was a forum created specifically to nurture them.

Over the last year, I’ve left my job and swapped coasts. In between, I’ve heard more “Perspectives” than I can guesstimate, but my favorites have stuck with me. I remember Mike’s concern that the tragedies on the news would complicate his daughter’s as-yet untarnished faith in humanity. I remember how Summer and her family found solace in the transportive power of Star Trek while weathering trying times at home.

I’ve gotten to know the regulars. Like Richard, who spoke recently about those who have sworn off news in the wake of the election. How he thinks disengaging will exacerbate, not alleviate, their frustrations. I listened, agreeing with him in theory while still nursing my own disillusionment with current events.

The next morning, when the announcer introduced that day’s “Perspective,” the conflicted feelings Richard had stirred in me the day before returned. My boyfriend, Scott, listened with me while Lloyd remembered his friend, Lilly. Lilly had worked as head waitress at a Chinese restaurant, and let Lloyd and his sons eat free when he lost his job. At her funeral, Lloyd thanked her for allowing him to preserve his dignity in front of his children. For years now, as a dedicated employee of his local food bank, he’s returned the courtesy to others that Lilly gave to him.

“That was a really good one,” Scott said. I agreed as we both swallowed hard, and felt grateful to Lloyd for putting things in perspective.

With my own Perspective, I’m Mary Franklin Harvin.

Mary Franklin Harvin is a professional writer, newly transported to the Bay Area.


Last Fall, my husband and I visited the Navajo Reservation. Beautiful and spiritual in feel, the reservation is home to about 200,000 Native Americans who identify as Navajo. Like ourselves, most tourists visit the Reservation’s Tribal Park which contains Monument Valley, an iconic landscape where many Hollywood westerns have been filmed.

A long dirt road dissects Monument Valley. Tourists travel this road as they view the sights, either like us in their own cars, or in larger groups in trucks driven by Indian guides. The landscape is stunning, a brilliant panorama of ocher spires, red mesas, and massive buttes blanketed by vast blue skies and cottony white clouds. About midway through the drive tourists are funneled into the only commercial site in the Valley where Navajos sell jewelry and trinkets.

To one side was a little cabana with a man and his horse resting in the shade. After truckloads of guided tourists arrived, he would mount the horse and ride out on a bluff to pose as the lone Indian brave of yore guarding his territory. The tourists, mostly of European ancestry like myself in appearance, descended the trucks with cameras in hand delighted to snap his photo. They all seemed to want that iconic picture of an American west that no longer existed. For this, the man was given tips.

I couldn’t help but feel humbled by this man, as well as embarrassed for the tourists, myself included. The man was posing as someone the tourists seemed to want him to be, even though their ancestors and mine had removed that possibility forever.

As I stood there watching this scene, I began to think of the Native Americans today who are guarding their territory in a different sort of way. The many people braving the long cold months at Standing Rock to defend their water from possible pollution by the construction of the Dakota Pipeline came to mind. I wonder if any tourists would be interested in photographing these guardians. Admittedly, the photos wouldn’t be as scenic as the lone brave overlooking Monument Valley, but at least they would be true.

With a Perspective, I’m Carol Arnold.

Carol Arnold is an environmental planner. She lives in San Francisco.

Richard Swerdlow new

Of San Francisco’s many charms, it’s those iconic hilly streets that make ours such a picturesque city. As any San Franciscan knows, some streets are so steep the pedestrian sidewalks along the roads are actually cement staircases. And one sunny afternoon, making my way up one of those sharply inclined sidewalks, I paused to wait for a pedestrian in front of me on the narrow stairs. But it looked like I would be waiting a while because the pedestrian blocking the sidewalk was a very, very old lady. She was carrying two large grocery bags, making painfully slow progress from step to step. I did what any polite person would – or should – do, and offered to help carry her bags.

She cocked her head and considered, looking me over carefully. But those groceries looked heavy and it was a long way to the top. She handed over the bags and we resumed climbing together.

Up the precipitous cement stairs we rose, up, up, up, while she chatted about her long life. A native San Franciscan, she had lived in the same apartment for 50 years. Buried a husband from cancer and lost her son in Vietnam, but just kept on going – up, up, up. Listening, some stories had me cracking up, others close to tears.

She told me how her steep street had changed, through earthquakes, hippies, 70s swingers and tech millionaires. From elegant days when no lady would be seen without a hat and gloves to today, when people are sometimes seen without anything.

And, ascending the staircase sidewalk, it occurred to me, this is the reason we are all here. To share this long hard climb, listen to each other’s stories, help carry each other’s heavy burdens, to laugh and to cry together, as we make our way, slowly but inexorably, to the top.

I was having such a good time, I didn’t notice we’d reached the end of the stairs. “It goes quickly, doesn’t it?” she said to me, eyes twinkling. “Enjoy yourself.” She thanked me, took her groceries and vanished into her doorway.

She may have thanked me, but I really should have thanked her, because I learned something on that hilly street. It goes quickly. For all of us, our long hard climb will be over before we know it.

So, as my twinkly-eyed companion advised me, enjoy yourself. I never got her name, but I will never forget her, and the day we shared the steep climb to the top together.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow works for the San Francisco Unified School District.

Daniel Shepard

“I don’t tip because society says I have to,” Mr. Pink says to his colleagues at a cafe. “This tipping automatically, it’s… for the birds. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just doin’ their job.”

You don’t need to be in a Quentin Tarantino movie to deal with the curious issue of tipping in America. After working years in restaurants, I’ve felt firsthand the pain of the subpar or even zero dollar tip. It is a crushing feeling for a server, especially after the relentless stress, anxiety, and hustle we put in every day. I eventually realized that most of the appeal of tipping is emotional–the feeling of gratitude and personal connection. For better or worse though, this sort of rhetoric simply doesn’t work with everyone. Like Mr. Pink, some recognize that tipping is optional, and are simply exercising their right to not do so.

So, the argument must be much more logical. Let us then skip over the fact that serving is an emotionally and physically demanding job that requires inexhaustible composure and stamina, that the tip is often split between other employees, or that tips are taxed altogether. We will simply focus on one simple economic concept: supply and demand.

To do this, we will make the basic assumption that you, the frugal customer, enjoy restaurants, given that you voluntarily go to them. Then, let’s imagine that every patron refused to tip the same way you do. The lower wages would reduce the supply of qualified workers in the restaurant industry, severely reducing the quality of overall service for consumers. In other words, the restaurant experience that you’ve come to expect and appreciate would never be the same, in those restaurants that actually survive. Whether a tip is too much or too little, it is the equilibrium price we all must pay to enjoy it.

In other countries, a gratuity is automatically included, or the workers are guaranteed a living wage no matter how the customer feels about tipping. It’s a better system, but it’s unlikely that employers here in the US will take the first step. So, the next time you’re finished with your restaurant meal, tip your server what’s owed: the standard 15-20%, and most importantly, a “thank you”.

With a Perspective, I’m Daniel Shepard.

Daniel Shepard is pursuing a business administration degree at UC, Berkeley.


My daughter sent me a recipe for making chicken tikka masala wondering if it was right. I do not know much about recipes. I learned how to cook by experimenting, and believe that fretting over recipes kills the joy of cooking.

When I first arrived in Kansas City as a graduate student in chemistry from India, I knew nothing about cooking. Kitchen was not a place for boys. I survived the first few months on Whoppers and Big Macs – I was not a vegetarian then. But I longed for the tastes from home.

Friends helped me get started. They drove me to an Indian grocery store where I picked up some spices, but I had no idea of how to cook with them. So, I tried them in different ways to see what worked.

One thing I quickly learned was that stove-top cooking is very forgiving. If you start with good ingredients the result will be good. You really can’t spoil the dish, except perhaps by burning it. It may not look or taste quite like what you had in mind, but it is still edible. And if you pay attention to when the different aromas are released, what characteristics different spices impart, or how soon the vegetables soften, you will learn to cook exactly the way you like them.

I fondly recall a time when my parents were visiting. My mother was horrified at my unorthodox style of cooking eggplants with pine nuts and dried cranberries, and vehemently argued with me. My wife and my father stayed out of the fray as I pleaded with my mother for her forbearance. In the end, though, everyone, including my mother, was pleased with the outcome.

My word to my daughter, and to all those who fret about cooking: “Relax.” Just get started with perceptive senses, and let the experience teach you. Take pride in your creation and have fun cooking.

With a Perspective, I am Ripudaman Malhotra.

Ripudaman Malhotra is a retired chemist. He lives in San Carlos.

Michael Kahan

Last weekend I brought 15 college students on a field trip to Angel Island, as part of a class on the history of San Francisco. Angel Island is sometimes known as the Ellis Island of the West, but the comparison is misleading. Ellis Island symbolizes the welcoming of immigrants; Angel Island stands for hostility.

The Chinese Exclusion Act, passed in 1882, barred most immigrants from China from entering the United States. Americans at the time saw the Chinese as a threat to their jobs and safety. The exclusion act, which was not repealed until the Second World War, targeted all the people of a nation based not on their merits as individuals, but on racial stereotypes.

Federal officials at Angel Island investigated some 175,000 Chinese arrivals to determine whether they met one of the narrow criteria for admission. In the island’s prison-like conditions, detainees endured family separation, racial segregation, and humiliating medical inspections. Angel Island immigrants were often held for weeks or more while their cases were investigated. Many carved poignant Chinese poems into the walls of the barracks where they were held, expressing their frustration and anxiety.

The afternoon before our trip, President Trump signed his executive order on immigration. This order revives the logic of Chinese Exclusion; out of fear and prejudice, it bars entry by entire groups, regardless of individual character.

After our tour, I asked my students what our leaders can learn from immigration history. One student recalled a translated line from a poem on the walls: “America has power, but not justice.”

Another anonymous poet wrote, “The day I am rid of this prison and attain success, I must remember that this chapter once existed.”

We, too, must remember.

With a Perspective, I’m Michael Kahan.

Michael Kahan teaches urban studies and history at Stanford. He lives in Mountain View.

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