How do you say “hello”?

Gregre bisousAre you familiar with that particular kind of hesitation when you meet someone and there is this first embarrassing contact: a kiss, a hug or a handshake? Whether it is at school, or whilst shopping or even when you have people for dinner, these first minutes are a little dance between a step forward to embrace them, a step backwards; maybe they prefer a handshake, but firm or gentle? Or finally is a “hi” is sufficient? Even if I like joking about this topic, I have to admit that I am lost between cultures. And I am only moving between three of them (French, German and British). What about you? What are you used to? What do you do when you live in another country?
Talking to bicultural couples (read more about my project here) I remember a Thai-British couple who describes how different the codes are in Thailand. 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.

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).

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

Du sommeil au pipi, tout est une question d’entraînement

carry potty- A Hippie in a Minivan… en tout cas pour les enfants! Parmi les aspects que j’apprécie particulièrement dans ma “british life” c’est la découverte de la langue. À mes débuts lorsque je baragouinais plus que je ne parlais, la “stay at home mum” que j’étais apprenais à toute vitesse le vocabulaire lié à la petite enfance. Je m’emmêlais parfois les pinceaux entre “nap” (sieste) et “nappy” (couche) transformant le temps du repos en “nappy time”!
Côté éducation, idem le vocabulaire est d’une grande richesse -souvent inexplorée sur le continent. Ici on parle de “tummy time” pour encourager l’enfant à rester sur son ventre, muscler son dos, puis au fur et à mesure découvrir le quatre pattes… Les Anglais sont fort en matière d’encouragements (cf. mon billet “Good boy, well done”) parlent de “sleep-training” lorsqu’il s’agit d’accompagner l’enfant à dormir seul et “à faire ses nuits”. Continue Reading

Taking those first steps… Flirting across cultures

Gregre couple BLOG(3)  (Version française ici, merci)

I can see you smiling whilst reading this title, dear readers! We all know that every love story has its charming (and often very funny) moments. Especially when one of the individuals concerned doesn’t understand that they’re being courted.
I can’t resist humming for you a German song about a French girl “Aurélie so klappt das nie”  (2004, Wir sind Helden).
Here are some bits in English:

(…) But Aurélie never gets it
Every night she wonders
when someone will fall in love with her.

Aurélie, it’s never going to work like that
You expect far too much
The Germans are such subtle flirts!

Aurélie, the men here really like you.
Look down the street – They’re all looking up at you
But you don’t notice because they ‘re not whistling
and if you whistle at them they run away
You gotta learn that around here, less is more. (…)

For my book project Bilingual Families: Bringing Up Children between Cultures (learn more here), I couldn’t resist asking parents about how they first met and how they managed the first few steps in their initial courtship. There were some lovely stories, particularly those which provided insight into the different cultural expectations and habits of each person.

Let’s look at Elise and Manuel’s story first, then Anne and Shaief’s, before turning finally to Suay and James.

Elise and Manuel: a French-Colombian couple

Elise “I remember how we met, here in Oxford, in a school for students who wanted to improve their English. I was astonished because you came closer, and closer, and closer – I had to step back, you were almost stuck on me. I kept stepping back while you kept talking and coming closer.” (she laughs)

Manuel “Yes, that’s right but totally normal for me. In Colombia, when we talk to women we get closer, there’s a natural proximity.”

Continue Reading

Ces premiers pas… la séduction au-delà des cultures

(English version here, please)

Gregre couple BLOG(3)Je vous vois déjà sourire chers lecteurs, en découvrant ce titre. Nous le savons tous, chaque début d’histoire d’amour a ses instants plein de charme et des côtés amusants aussi. Surtout quand l’un des deux ne comprend pas que l’autre essaie de le séduire. Je ne peux pas m’empécher de vous fredonner une chanson allemande que vous connaissez peut-être, puisqu’elle a été traduite et chanté en français. Le titre original est « Aurélie so klappt das nie » (Wir sind Helden, 2004), en français on parle de “Aurélie, c’est pas Paris”.

(…) Ach Aurélie – kapiert das nie
Chaque soir la même question
Quand m’aimera enfin un garçon

Aurélie, c’est pas Paris
Tu demandes trop aux Allemands
Les Berlinois flirtent subtilement

Aurélie, mais oui tu plais aux hommes d’ici
Ouvre les yeux et vois ce regard qui te suit
S’il ne te siffle pas, tu ne le vois pas
Tu fais le premier pas, et il s’en va
Mais sache qu’ici un non peut bien dire oui (…)

Pour mon projet de publication Familles Bilingues, la parentalité entre les cultures (plus d’informations ici), j’ai voulu en savoir plus sur les couples que j’interviewais. Je leur ai demandé de me parler de leur histoire d’amour, comment tout avait commencé, les premiers pas…Gregre couple BLOG(2)
Ainsi, de merveilleuses histoires m’ont été narré, dont certaines dévoilent ô combien en matière d’amour les attentes et les coutumes sont différentes de pays en pays.

Découvrez l’histoire d’Elise et Manuel, ensuite celle d’Anne et Shaief, avant de terminer sur celle de Suay et James.

Elise et Manuel, un couple Franco-Colombien

Elise “Je me rappelle de notre rencontre dans une école linguistique à Oxford où nous étions avec d’autres étudiants pour faire progresser notre anglais. J’ai dû reculer tellement tu m’as collé ; on discutait pour se présenter et tu étais de plus en plus près et je reculais, reculais, reculais… ” (elle rigole)

Manuel « Ben oui, rien de bien étrange pour moi. En Colombie, avec les femmes il y a une proximité quand on leur parle, c’est tout á fait normal. »

Continue Reading

Bring some Journl in your life!

Journl Blog2Pictures on our phone, some documents in our Dropbox, others on our hard disc, a to-do list in the pocket another one in the kitchen… we are struggling every day to remember where we put our stuff” tells Lina smiling, she is chief marketing officer at Journl. Based at the Centre for Innovation in Oxford the twelve people team is passionate about the idea to develop a virtual place where you can put your notes down in notebooks, store photos, documents and bills, collect emails, create to-do lists, check shopping-lists or other kinds of lists… Together they animate Journl, a service to help you get better organized! “It’s particularly useful for families who have lots of things to plan ahead for, for the Journl Blog3parents as well as for their children. You might have a big wall calendar in the kitchen but as soon as you are out of the house, you can’t access the information, emphasizes Lina; and you would probably agree, organisation is not just about using a calendar. Journl offers among other things different tools like shopping, money and to-do lists…” As a matter of fact you can also store and collect as much documents as you want in different sections. “A clear design, easy of use tools, a well organised front page where I can put my own sections like Family, Me, Projects… it’s very appealing, tells Dana, mother of two and self-employed. My favourite tool at Journl is the check-list where you can really tick off and see all the done work.”Journl Blog5
Currently Journl is available to one user who has the option to share a section for example with a partner, or a group of friends. This can be very useful when you plan holidays together! Concerned about security? Continue Reading

“Good boy, well done!”

Une des premières choses qui m’a surprise en arrivant de l’autre côté de la Manche est la façon dont parlent les parents, éducateurs et nounous aux enfants. Pour mes oreilles de frenchy ce sont des “good boy! good girl!” à tire larigot, mais aussi des “well done! That’s fan-tas-tic!” Et le plus intriguant, ni d’ironie ou de sarcasme dans ces paroles. Les adultes, ou plutôt les “grown up” (les grands comme on dit aux enfants) le pensent vraiment, ils sont à fond!
Leurs mots sont axés sur l’encouragement de l’enfant et la reconnaissance de ces actes.
Entre nous, cela m’a fait doucement sourire. Au début. Puis, finalement je m’y suis mise. (Déjà que nos enfants ont passé le tunnel sans trop rechigner, maintenant il ne faut pas trop les dépayser entre l’école et la maison.) Et, je ne cache pas que ces petites injonctions ci et là -probablement que je les utilise avec trop de parcimonie, diraient mes amies anglaises- en tout cas, je trouve que mon regard sur l’enfant change. J’étais déjà convaincu que l’enfant dès son plus jeune âge est une personne, mais lui dire régulièrement combien on est heureux de le voir grandir, découvrir le monde et faire ces premiers pas – ça m’a fait encore évoluer. Il y a du positivisme dans l’air, certes, mais on rend l’environnement aussi plus bienveillant et joyeux. J’adore me lancer le défi de changer de perspective, c’est un réel coup de pouce pour moi qui ne veut pas faire du “non” le mot le plus utilisé dans la journée.
Maintenant, il reste juste un dilemme : comment on traduit “good girl, well done” en français?