Say “YES!” to a multiculti wedding!

Gregre mariageDo you know why I married her? teased Johannes his Franco-German wife Apolline whilst chatting with friends. Because she is bicultural and speaks another mother tongue, her voice sounds slightly different in each language, and she behaves differently as well. It’s like I have two brides in one, that’s the mystery of bi-cultural couples. Let’s hope that this is not the only reason!
Usually weddings, even if they take place in one country with people from the same town, are quite tricky. The expectations are different from family to family and make the plans difficult. In a bicultural wedding the differences are exacerbated: two or more cultures, languages, relatives abroad, various customs. It looks like a never-ending headache.
But this should not stop you from a multicultural marriage! The people I met to talk about their bicultural life remember their wedding with pleasure!

One or two countries?
It often occurs that bicultural couples have two weddings in each of their home countries. Continue Reading

Cross-cultural happiness on your Birthday

Gregre anniv BLOGI can’t sleep, I am sooo excited, tomorrow is my friend’s birthday” giggled my daughter last Friday evening. Since she got her invitation in her pigeonhole at her preschool she has been counting the days, the hours, to go to this young man’s forth birthday. “He told me that there will be a bouncy castle, and cake, and crisps and juice and sweets… hey, maman, when can I go?” pleaded my daughter the next morning three hours before leaving the house, already dressed in her festive clothes and jumping around like a jack-in-the-box. I love watching this excitement and, how lovely it is to observe this pure childhood happiness about birthdays. We are in May and she is also already preparing for her birthday in September…
Is the birthday celebration also touched by culture and different expectations? I am afraid so, yes! Talking with parents about their style of upbringing between cultures makes me realise how variable the meaning of this day can be. The French, for example, don’t mind if you congratulate them two days later or even one week before your actual birthday. This behaviour is unthinkable in Germany. Continue Reading

Multicultural families, what’s on the menu tonight?

Gregre cuisine (2) petdef This question might sound funny, but believe it or not, lots of interviewees realised during our encounter how much of their childhood memories are related to food, an interesting point, especially when you grew up in a country which is not your actual country of residence. The memory of a special dish, of its taste and the related atmosphere, a birthday, for example, or a Sunday morning extravaganza, or even the only dish your father could prepare… makes you feel nostalgic and shows you how much your own culture nourishes you. It’s worth remembering to integrate gastronomy in a multicultural upbringing as it’s part of the cultural transmission. And food offers a fantastic vast field! You can share the joy of cooking traditional dishes, exploring some home-recipes and tracking down some ingredients from your own country.
Tania, a German mother now living in Britain, shared that her parents sent her „foodparcels“ during her studies with some German specialties, such as Lebkuchen and Marzipan… „I loved it as you can’t find them in Britain, it was like being at home when I closed my eyes.“ Continue Reading

Merry Christmas +1 month

Have you noticed? Gregre Noel2014One month ago Christmas was in the air! Let’s close our eyes and be there again… Christmas! In the baubles, trees, and nativity scenes, everywhere the atmosphere is festive. The child in us could not wait until Christmas. But waiting for what? Father Christmas, Baby Jesus, the Christmas Eve or Christmas morning? What about the German Nikolaus (Santa Claus) coming on the 6th December or the three wise men arriving one month later at Epiphany – how do multicultural families celebrate Christmas? And what about those who also are from different religions?

In all my encounters for my project the Christmas-topic is one central element, and in most cases the parents themselves bring up its significance in their life. It looks like the main cultural event they want to transmit to their children. Some of them cite some memories from their childhood, and I feel how much these are related to a positive and fundamental experience in their lives. All agree that Christmas is a moment where cultural differences are definitely present and that multicultural parents have to find some compromises.
The book Bilingual Families: Bringing Up Children between Cultures will bring together lots of different anecdotes about this main subject, but in the meantime, have a glance at these extracts and why not comment on your own experience!

Magda and Stefan met in Germany, she is Polish and he Austrian. Their work brought them to Britain where they build a family. They have an eight-year old son who speaks Polish, German and English.

At Christmas we just combine everything: we celebrate the arrival of the Christkind (Baby Jesus, in Austria) and we prepare a biscuit and a carrot for the reindeer of Santa Claus. So far our son is not questioning anything. The three traditions take place in our own ritual around Christmas. First the Christkind like an angel rings a bell outside and brings gifts, as this is usual in Austria. Outside as well, Santa drinks milk and the reindeer eats its carrot. And in Poland the tradition is to go upstairs in your bedroom and watch for the first star in the sky, which means the presents will come. We’re preserving this magic triangle but we know it won’t last for ever…

For Céline and Ridvan a French-Albanian couple, Christmas was a tradition to create. Used to a Muslim atmosphere in Albania, but not practicing the religious rituals, Ridvan didn’t know much about Christmas. The arrival of their children gave them a reason to build a tradition around Christmas. For them it’s a day of joy and a day for the family.

Ridvan
Celebrating Christmas is something we have done since we have been together and especially since the kids. We do a bit of decoration, have some gifts and a nice meal together. And now even my family in Albania says “Happy Christmas” to us. For them the biggest day in the year is New Year, but they understand the sense of Christmas and want to share it with us.

For Nathan and Melanie the Christmas-topic is quite delicate as it doesn’t have the same place in their original culture. Nathan is Israeli, for him as a Jewish there is no Christmas but other holidays like Hanukkah or Yom Kippur. Melanie grew up in Germany and even if her family is not particularly religious she was used to Christmas. For her marriage she converted to Judaism which is the religion they practice in their family. The fact that they are all Jewish means that there is no more Christmas for them. Continue Reading

Let’s parler español!

Children learning two or more languages at the same time are really cute. Some of them mix the languages in one sentence, others reinvent a new language or give words different endings. As parents we always caught ourselves laughing, not in a mocking way, just because it sounds adorable.
Learning to speak two languages at the same time is quite challenging. As adults we feel irritated whilst learning a new language, everything seems to be different: the way the sentences are built, the use of the gender in some languages, choosing the right word in the context… it’s tricky and takes ages to internalise. Kids give us the impression that talking more than one language is just like being on a playground running between different games, everything looks easy to them and inventing new words is just natural for them. Communication about fun and play is central for them, not the grammar or the tenses.
That’s the reason why children can play together and laugh without perfectly speaking the same language as each other. It’s amazing!
During the interviews for my book, the parents shared some amusing anecdotes about their children learning and exploring different languages.

Hannah and Dirk are the parents of a four year old boy. He is growing up in England with the two mother tongues of his parents: Hebrew and Dutch.

Hannah
At 14 months, he was just starting to speak. We arrived in Israel for the holidays and the second evening his grandfather gave him chocolate. And our little boy ate the chocolate and asked his grandfather: “saba, more, noch meehr!” It was like he wanted to say: what ever language you speak I would like you to understand that I want more chocolate. It was the first time we realised that he was aware of the three languages. He was just shooting in all the three directions.
And when he was older (2-3 years) he invented double-words like “catool” (cat + chatool).

Dirk
If he doesn’t know a verb in Dutch, he uses English in a Dutch form. To pull becomes “pullen” (it should be “tracken”) The word order is also different in English and Dutch, he constructs sentences in Dutch but in the English form.

Hannah
There is another interesting confusion. Hebrew is the only gendered language he uses. I am the primary person talking to him in Hebrew, and so he copies the female voice that I speak in, and tends to confuse the genders in other languages as well.

Satsuko and Wolfgang have two children. They both are raised trilingual with English, Japanese and German.Gregre Biblio2

Wolfgang
I like when our son mixes English and German, for example “I am forgetting gemacht”, to relay that he forgot something. Or when he uses the Japanese way to ask where someone is, he says: “Papa, wo?” instead of “Papa, wo bist Du?”

Eva and Josh are a German-English couple. Their kids, 7 years old, are bilingual.

Eva
I am often joking with them and say we speak “Denglisch” at home, which is a mixture of English and German (Deutsch).
My favorite quotations are: “If du noch hier bist… spaeter…” and “Ich habe den Film gepaust…”

What’s your name?

Gregre crayon BLOGThe bilingual (or multilingual) story starts with this question, in a certain way. For parents the choice of their child’s name is full of meaning and often related to a story, a shared moment. It’s extremely carefully decided. As this name lasts for your whole life, it’s the first identification someone is granted with. And it’s probably one of the words you write and speak most in your life. Especially for multicultural families, who have relatives abroad, it’s an important space where they can pass on cultural values.
Whilst preparing my questionnaire for the book Bilingual Families: Bringing Up Children between Cultures I didn’t think of this question, it was one of my first interviewees-couples who gave me the idea to mention this point with the parents. And they were right, I had lots of colourful stories which underline how important this topic is for the parents.

Let’s have a close look at some of them and don’t hesitate to tell us your story in a comment below.

Hannah is Israeli and married to Dirk who is Dutch. They have one child and a second on it’s way.

Hannah
The choice of our child’s name was a very cultural negotiation between us. As it was really important for my husband that the child carries his surname.

Dirk:  The reason why is simple. Continue Reading

Keep it fun with the language tug-of-war!

Gregre rireI came home yesterday evening after an intense working day. One of those days you just want to enter into your warm and welcoming home sweet home, sit down on your sofa and chill a bit with the kids before cooking dinner. As I was leaving the kitchen with a cup of tea, I heard some unusual words in our household. Our four-year-old daughter decided all of a sudden to talk to her baby brother in English. And some sentences later, she begun to talk to me in English: “Mummy where shall I put this?” Continue Reading

Who am I? The everlasting multicultural question

Gregre miroir BLOGBringing up children is a fantastic journey but it’s also a challenging one. More than you might imagine you’re propelled into your own childhood and have to consider what you want (or don’t want!) to pass on to your kids. For my book project Bilingual Families: Bringing Up Bilingual Children between Cultures, I talked a lot with parents about their experiences in their own multi-cultural and multi-lingual lives. One unexpected thing that came up is how much the adventure of life changes when kids arrive on the scene.
Being bilingual is not the same as having a responsibility to transmit your mother tongue and culture to your child. Especially when you realize that the first person who has to learn is yourself! When you live abroad you find out that you are no longer used to speaking your mother tongue; you have lost a lot of vocabulary on the way if you don’t speak regularly with native speakers; you remember music from the time you were living there (let’s say 20 years ago…) and don’t even think about the culture of childhood which has changed a lot since you were living in your home country…
So first of all, dear parent who wants to raise (or indeed who already raises) bilingual children, take some time to consider how you relate to your mother-tongue and home country. This is and will remain an integral part of the adventure of raising children between cultures.

Here are some extracts from my interviews on the themes of identity, nationality and culture!

 Alice (French, married to a Welshman; she has lived in France, Africa and the US)

“I don’t feel as French as I perhaps should. When you leave home, you feel a stronger association with your home country. French is really my identity, but my culture is more a mixture of cultures. I travelled a lot, and I like some aspects of other cultures, British, French and some others…” Continue Reading

About Tea and Excel sheets in bicultural couples!

TGregre thé BLOG (2)alking with couples about experience as parents, especially parents influenced by their respective home countries, is always exciting. Lots of laughs, pauses for reflection, and also moments in which the couple discover things about each other…
Learn more about my project Bilingual Families: Bringing Up Children between Cultures.
With younger couples, I spent a little bit more time discussing the way their perceptions about their partner’s culture, and indeed their own, have changed over time. In what ways does he or she conform to stereotypes about their culture of origin? Let’s have a look at the anecdotes that some of them recounted to me…

Alice is French, she lives with James who is Welsh.

Alice Tea is such a big part of your life. It’s kind of grown on me and I’m now drinking tea all the time at work, but I just can’t put milk in it and it’s not English tea, it’s green tea…
But James is so into his tea. The first thing you do in the morning is put the kettle on. If we go to France, it stresses me out if the hotel doesn’t have a kettle in the room because it’s a big deal for you and you get annoyed about it. “How could a hotel not have a kettle…?”
Continue Reading

Bilingual Siblings: Gibberish or Exploring New Languages?

gregre&soeur (2)After a great and sunny break, here news from the book project, Bilingual Families: Bringing Up Children between Cultures (learn more here). I have already interviewed 18 couples and single parents about their experiences of multilingual parenting. I’m glad I got to spend such happy times listening to everyday life stories involving two or more languages. One interesting point some parents emphasise is the relationship that develops between siblings while they are in the process of picking up new languages.

Here are some interesting extracts from my latest interviews…

Céline from France is married to Ridvan from Albania. In the interview they talked about their experience with both their kids, age 1,5 and six.

Céline Since going to nursery and then school she is more and more reluctant to speak French. I keep speaking to her in French and she keeps answering in English most of the time. Socially she wants to speak the same language as her friends. Understanding is not an issue, it’s the speaking. Continue Reading