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

First Birthday candle for my book

candle-birthdaySometimes it’s worth just briefly pausing to think about what we have done with all our time. The book project about bicultural families started at the end of April 2014. More than 200 miles, a huge amount of anecdotes, loads of laughter, one puncture and a long walk home, several nuts, home-made bread slices and other nibbles later, I am amazed about where this book brought me to. With the parents I traveled to Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, China, (…), Israel, the United States, the Netherlands, Chile and of course France, Germany, Spain and finally Britain, Wales and Ireland!
Thanks to all the Mums and Dads for their time and kindness of sharing their experience with me, giving me a glance of their adventures between their cultures with their kids. I feel honoured to write about them – and with them – these pages full of life, ideas and perspectives on a challenging topic: the transmission of our home-culture to bring up children as citizens of the world.
My fingers aren’t tired of typing about such amazing stories and experiences and I do my best to write quickly. There are still some subjects I want to explore more in depth, so if you want to take part in this project, drop me an email and hope to meet you soon.

Florentine

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 is the British upbringing style ?

Gregre Britain BlogWhat is your experience of a British upbringing?” is one of my final questions. All the interviewee-couples told me stories about themselves, their bilingual and bicultural day-to-day challenges but at the end I asked them to talk about their experience in the country they live in; things they like or dislike about the way the parents interact with kids and talk to them; the British style of education.
What surprised me was that they don’t necessary have an idea about that. Some of them seem not to want deeper interaction with locals, or simply don’t have them because they live surrounded by multicultural friends. Though this was only the case with a minority of interviewees, it was interesting to see how much distance there can be between “multicultural” and “monocultural” parents, whilst their kids play together at school or on the playground.

Let’s have a look at those couples who underlined some interesting aspects they didn’t know about British culture, or parts of the upbringing style they particularly like.

Ariane and William: she is French, he is English, they have two adolescent kids. She prefers the more relaxed English style compared to the French style.

Ariane
What I appreciated with the nurseries here is that they consider themselves as being helpful to you. As parents you can come at the time which is convenient for you and your work or family. They are flexible, which is just not possible in France, where the doors open and close at special times or you have to ring. And here you can stay with your kid, if you feel that it’s better, you can stay longer, play a bit and then go. I like this child-oriented atmosphere.

Magda is Polish and Stefan is Austrian, they have one child. The question about the British style of upbringing made them smile… Continue Reading

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

Oxford’s Playgroups in every language – PART 1

sun-451441_640At the start of the bilingual (or even trilingual) trip of life with kids you often are looking for places where they can meet and play with other children. It’s also (which is not less important) a moment when you can reconnect with your home country, take time to chat in your mother-tongue around a cup of coffee!
Oxford is packed with lots of different playgroups and little language schools! All these places give you the opportunity to connect with other multilingual families and to share cultural events and customs. It’s a new way for your children to explore your and their home-culture in another environment than at home. We do certainly all agree that this is extremely useful. It is during these meetings that they realise that they are part of a cultural and linguistic community.
I discovered the importance of such places since we are expatriates and as part of my work on Bilingual Families: Bringing Up Children between Cultures. That’s why I was thrilled to discover all the different playgroups and schools for children with an international background. 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

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