There have been a few posts on blogs about culture and differences the past day or so. One of my favorites American in Norway had a post regarding her son playing with an Iraqi friend. A brand new read to me, Mommy Gossip posted a thought provoking entry from her journal. It was about how to teach our children culture.
That is the amazing thing. Teaching children culture. How do you accomplish something like that, especially when they are young? We have been living in another culture since my son was 4, so by the time we leave in 18 months he will have lived in America, the country he was born in, just as long as he has lived here in Germany. I know our experience is not entirely the same as some people. We have an english speaking international school, we belong to a large english and American community of expats here, my Hubby’s office is english speaking based. How much do we really integrate with the Germans who make up this country?
The truthful answer is probably not that much. While some have had other experiences than mine (and I can only comment on my experiences here) I don’t find myself integrated into the German culture. I may shop in their stores, observe their holidays and listen to their language but I am still very much American. I made the choice not to go further in learning the language other than basic, basic communication. I can gladly tell you that is a cow, house, bike, pencil; decipher a menu, tell you which gas pump I am paying for and general polite exchanges that involve few words. This was my choice to not learn more and maybe I will regret that someday. The German language is so complex to me and there was just a bit going on when we moved here (umm, like an international adoption from Taiwan) that I never took the time to try. Those are excuses of course. I have consciously made the choice not to integrate further into the culture and the people. I have honestly found trying to do so very hard and met with resistance. I simply tell myself ‘It’s the way it is here’ and try to accept it.
This is my take on life here and yours may be very different. I spent almost 18 months trying to get a German woman I passed on my nearly everyday walk to my son’s school to return my friendly smile. I failed. Never once did she smile back. That is definitely a moment that sticks out from this entire experience in Germany. In general, Germans seem to be far more reserved, less open, less ready to make friends with outsiders. I suppose given the history of the country, and having traveled last year to Berlin, having seen the wall, seen the markers in the pavement where it used to divide the country, having seen the memorials to the Jewish people who died; it’s completely overwhelming and understandable. It really makes you stop. And think. And just imagine what it would have been like to be told you can never go over that wall to see the people you used to call friends. I’ve posted about that before here. I think Germans see what happened as a blight on their country and maybe they are in part right; but it is also an opportunity to learn – for everyone – to be sure something like that doesn’t happen again.
Children soak up culture in everyday interactions. My son has German, Brazilian, Chinese and Indian friends at school. It is one of the wonderful benefits of an international community. We all mix together and I hope it has taught him differences in culture and appearances don’t have to be bad. They are good and important and we all need to see differences as positives, not negatives. My son has a Taiwanese sister. She is part of our family and we hope we can try to bring some of the wonderful culture she was born into as part of our regular life. If we were to ever adopt again I’d like to adopt from another country (or maybe again from Taiwan), not solely because it would make my family even more multi-cultural but it would be one of the benefits to my children.
Aren’t we all multi-cultural though? My Hubby’s family has roots in Russia, Hungary and Ireland. Roots not so far in the past. My family has roots in Scotland, Canada and Ireland. Again, not so far past as my Great-Grandparents emigrated from Scotland. I want to combine all these wonderful cultures that make up my family history and include them in our lives. So my children can learn. Differences are good things.
My post strayed a bit from my original intent about teaching culture. But maybe not too much. What I hope is that my children will not walk away with the impressions of this country I have gotten. I hope they have formed positive experiences and ideas about this country they currently call home.