Saturday, July 25, 2009

Being an Expat: Out of This World?

My daughter came home from school this afternoon with a tattoo. It had been a prize for something. They give the children little prizes and treats the whole time here – it drives me nuts. Anyway, she said that the teacher had told her “stick to your face”. I didn’t want her to have a tattoo on her face, for heaven’s sake, so I was just persuading her to put it on her arm, when I saw what it was. It was a picture of a cross, with the motto “stick to your faith”.

Well, I was outraged. I don’t like the whole tattoo, body art thing on a 6 year old in any case, but that aside, the school isn’t a religious one, and I just felt the teacher was making huge assumptions. I mean, this might be the Bible Belt, but brain-washing young children through tattoo slogans, that is a bit Below the Belt. I was going to phone the Principal straightaway, and tell her how I felt. I think a school should be a haven of cultural sensitivity, as well as an establishment of learning. And I am well-placed to know, since my husband is a university lecturer, and if that is what universities strive to be, then so should elementary schools. You can't start too young.

I didn’t make the phone call, though. I stopped and took a few deep breaths. Thank heavens for those NCT ante-natal classes and the breathing exercises! I calmed down, but it did make me think what a difficult job I have to do, raising a child in a foreign culture.

People underestimate how hard it is, being an expat. It’s not just remembering to say ‘tomaydo’ instead of ‘tomahto’, ‘dennist’ instead of ‘dentist’, or ‘refrigerator’ instead of ‘fridge’. It’s a question of adapting to a whole new way of life. It’s as if your whole physical, emotional, moral, religious, ethical and tactile sphere of operation has been turned upside down.

I thought of a rather good metaphor for this. If you moved from the northern to southern hemisphere, the very stars in the night sky would be different. I think they even move in the opposite direction. Your whole world has been literally turned upside-down. I am very aware of these things, as my husband Des is a university lecturer in Astro-physics.

I asked him what he thought, and he said

“Sweetie, I think you’re a bit confused. We’re still in the northern hemisphere. The US is in the northern hemisphere.”

I replied “I know that. Duuuh. It’s joined on to Canada, which is pretty much the North Pole. What I mean is that it is as if we had moved to South Africa, or New Zealand, or Australia, and are looking at the stars.”

Des clearly needed time to reflect. He pushed back his recliner, pulled his baseball cap down over his eyes, rubbed his big belly, belched loudly and said

“Hon, could you quit yabberin’ and get me another beer?”

So I went to the refrigerator and got him one. When a man needs a beer, a man needs a beer. My refrigerator. That’s a whole blog post in its own right. Its HUGE, and has a chilled water dispenser on the front, and an ice-maker inside. I’ll have to explain what that is another time (hint: there’s a clue in the name).

See what I mean? One minute you’re helping your daughter put on a tattoo, and the next, you’re questioning your place in the universe, and wondering how your husband found it so easy to transition from warm beer to cold, and realizing that only a few months ago, you had no idea what an ice-maker was. No, it’s not easy being an expat mum.

Iota Manhattan of Not wrong, just different has been Dee in this post.


Stuck in the UK said...

Well, don't you want a tatoo on you daughter's face (is there any way you can move away from the bible belt, I take no responsibilty there.) Watch out, Des sounds like he is turning into a yank (cold beer?)

Louise said...

LOL!!! Made me laugh out loud... yep that rare literal use of the word LOL.

Man.. a religious tattoo being told to be stuck on their face!?

Note to self... Stay in Scotland!! Push aside those rare "I'd like to live in America" thoughts....

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