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


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.

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

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.

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

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

L’été pour les familles bilingues : vacances ou visites familiales ?

(English version here, please)

Gregre vacances 1bisAprès des mois intenses à l’école pour les petits et au boulot pour les grands, est arrivé le temps du repos et de la détente ! Les Allemands parlent de « Tapetenwechsel » (littéralement « changement de tapisserie ») et en effet il est crucial de recharger les batteries en famille.
En ces mois estivaux, je vous propose de découvrir quelques extraits d’interview de mon projet de livre « Familles bilingues : la parentalité entre les cultures ». La question ? Comment gèrent-elles le défi entre vacances en « petit comité » au sein de leur cellule familiale et les attentes de la famille élargie ?

Bonne lecture de ces trois réponses recueillies au fil de mes interviews (pour en savoir plus, lisez ici)

Melanie (36) et Nathan (37) ont deux enfants de moins de 6 ans qui parlent les langues de leurs parents, allemand et hébreu.

Melanie Au début nous avions établi la règle qu’on partirait au moins une fois par an dans chaque pays. Mais finalement, pour être plus réaliste on en faisait plutôt deux voyages par an. (Nathan acquiesce) Et aujourd’hui on en est arrivé à un point où l’on insiste sur nos vacances à quatre, car rendre visite à la famille, ce n’est pas toujours de tout repos.

Nathan Et cette année nous partons pour Israël, mais nous louons dans une autre ville que celle où habite ma famille. C’est près de la plage, dans un lieu idéal pour passer des vacances. De là nous pourrons rendre visite à ma famille, mais ce sera différent. Nous serons indépendants tout étant immergé avec les enfants dans un environnement hébreu. 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