Third Culture Kids

There is a subject that I am passionate about.  Bilingualism (try saying that fast many times!) of course but especially biculturalism or interculturalism.  Confusing all these -sms… We are so proud to be a bicultural family. Our children go to a wonderful school and are learning to read and write in English as well as in French. However, are we teaching our children the right social skills? They are young and will learn in time I suppose but perhaps we should do more so they understand cultural differences. I should talk about my experience. I’ll try to make it funny! but, in reality, looking back, it was quite traumatizing.

My sister and I grew up in a French home with very French parents and speaking French only. However we were located in New York. So we also spent a fair amount of time speaking and learning how to write and read in English only in American public schools.  We also learned American and French social skills. As most of you know, they are very different.  For example, we were at our neighbors house playing more often than in our house.  Our mother didn’t think it was appropriate and she didn’t like the noise. My father was the opposite. He let us have slumber parties and spoiled us! Anyway, that didn’t last long. The family broke up and I moved to France at age 12.

My aunts thought it would be a good idea to put me in what they thought was the best private school in Valence.  It also happened to be Catholic and nuns were running. I don’t have anything against nuns anymore but it took a while to get over it. I gave birth twice at Saint Félicité in Paris 15 and they were wonderful.  But I had to wear an ugly blue blouse over my new French clothes.  Forget the Sassoon jeans and bright colored shirts that were à la mode then in the US. I was 12 years old, very naïve but not shy at first. Until I opened my mouth too much and my american accent gave it away! I was called l’Américaine and I felt like an alien, a black sheep, a vilain petit canard. I was supposed to be shy, obedient, tolerant of bad food, and quiet, and sage! I was the opposite but not for long. I soon became shy, quiet, introvert, and very depressed. Unfortunately in that part of France and in those years, nobody, not even my own family, understood what was happening to me.

Now let’s lighten this story up! I’m fine today and it’s no wonder I studied linguistics and love to travel and learn about other cultures. It’s fascinating! I was given a book a while ago called « Third Culture Kids; The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds » by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken.  It’s a great read because it puts in words all the emotions I experienced. And today I am sure that there are many, many, other books on the subject. There are even specialists in inter-cultural relationships. International businesses around the world know how important it is to communicate well not only linguistically but also socially. In fact I would bet that the social is more important than the language! If you could use sign language to communicate effectively but not know the cultural customs of your partner, I am almost certain you would fail.

I would love to have this kind of debate after listening to a specialist while having a coffee and some scones!

I would have many questions for her (or him, sorry guys for being sexist but it seems like something a woman would be interested in!).  For example, I’ve often heard French people say that sometimes Americans will be friendly and warm towards them the first time they meet them. They will say for example: Hey, I’ll call you and we’ll have coffee sometime, ok? with a huge genuine smile. Well, that French person may be waiting by her phone for a very, very, long time. And when she’ll email them to invite them, they may not get a response! In fact, if she sees them on the street, they may change sidewalks and walk fast in the other direction! I’m not kidding. It has happened to many people I know. Or when and American person walks into a room full of French people and says loudly « Hello! » with a big warm smile, they probably will get a cold stare back and find themselves on a bench all alone. I’m stereotyping of course but I have also seen this happen.  It is really interesting. Why are we all so different? And what can we do to educate people more so that people don’t hate each other!  It would make the world such a better place if we accepted our differences but also if we talked about it. Don’t be scared! Don’t judge! Be curious!

I would love to hear your comments or examples on this page. And if you know of any event that talks about this, please tell me!

In fact I can recommend a very funny comedian who will make you beg him to stop he’s so funny! Your insides will hurt you will laugh so much! His name is Sebastian Marx and he plays every Friday night at the New York Comedy Night in Paris.  An article came out on Tuesday in Paris Update: The Funny Side of Planet France written by Pierre Tran.  Go see Sebastian. I’ll come with you! I always need a good laugh!

Please write your comments! Have a nice week-end!

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