Those darn bilingual kids and other stories
Amanda the 'Expatresse' is trying out the women's club scene in Luxembourg. Coping with the language may be easier here, but her kids' fluent French put her own to shame.
One of the perks of being an expat is the opportunity for your kids to become bilingual. One of the downers is that your kids will inevitably speak a foreign language better than you do.
In our case, the girls are pretty much fluent in French. Other French adults (for example, parents of their classmates) sometimes don’t realise that my kids are not native speakers until they have to deal with me (usually on the telephone … BWAH-HA-HA HA!) to arrange a play-date. I have been told that they have no accent, or no identifiable accent, in French.
I wouldn’t know. Half the time I don’t understand a word they are saying. All I get is the tone.
And let me tell you, for some reason the sound of kids arguing in French is a million times more annoying than kids arguing in English.
Perfectly Bilingual Child: Oh, la, la! Mais, c’est ma DS!
Me: GIRLS! ARE YOU FIGHTING? Cut it out or I am taking the DSs!
What is especially funny about this is how I feel compelled to translate menus for them when we are in restaurants.
Me: Oh, look, you can have smoked salmon ‘comme les grands’. That means ‘just like the adults’!
Perfectly Bilingual Child: Oy! [Smacks forehead.]
In other news, I ventured out to a ‘Welcome Coffee’ with the local women’s club. No BFF yet discovered, but there seem to be plenty of activities available that I will want to do (wine tasting, hiking, fitness, bookclubs where they don’t really stress reading the book: my kind of bookclub). The group is extremely organised with a very nice permanent facility.
It is weird that, now my kids are older and I really do have more hours I could fill, it feels as though the lion’s share of activities are designed for mothers with really little kids. I know that is not at all the case (especially since I just listed four appealing activities), but it feels that way to me.
Or maybe it is that I associate this sort of club with the time when my kids were so little. Then, of course, especially when we were in Argentina, it seemed that all the good stuff was best appreciated by the older kid/empty-nest crowd. Funny how that works.
However, what most concerns me at these groups is that I am/will become one of the crazy regulars. In Bratislava there were a LOT of crazy women’s club members. (I don’t recall the Buenos Aires group being so, um, colourful.) In a move guaranteed to bring me very bad karma, I referred to them in private as ‘Crazy Cynthia’ or ‘Crazy Inez’ or ‘Crazy So-And-So’. I was pretty sure they referred to me as ‘Crazy Expatresse’, possibly not-so-privately.
Sometimes they really were crazy. There was one woman who had succumbed to the siren call of the bottle, to the point that any conversations with her much after lunch were too late in the day to be memorable to her.
Another had followed her new husband to Bratislava where he suddenly, tragically died shortly after their whirlwind courtship and marriage. As he was Slovak, she now felt a tie to the region: “Who will tend his grave?”
Since I had no such tie, I could never understand her wish to stay, but it clearly was very important to her. Last I heard, she was still living there, although I don’t know how she managed it, financially or bureaucratically. I always felt sad when I thought of her, but maybe she was not sad.
So it is hard to enter a new women’s club in a new country and not wonder about all the stories in the room at an event like a ‘Welcome Coffee’. There is always much more than meets the eye.
That said, I do think the group here will be an extremely valuable resource. I am completely sincere when I say that today they revealed many ‘Parking Mysteries’. That by itself is worth the annual membership fee!
I had to smile when the woman who greeted us all told a few stories about her first few months in Luxembourg and her struggles with the French language. She did not speak any French and had adventures like running the dishwasher with only the salt (European dishwashers often require you to add salt as an abrasive) and no actual detergent. She had to get a native companion to come over and explain how some of her appliances worked.
It reminded me of those first days in Slovakia when I could not read anything in the grocery store (Is this flour? What kind? Still or sparkling water? Is this sour cream or yogurt? What the heck is zákys? Can I substitute it for buttermilk?) and had to buy mystery items and open them in the privacy of my own kitchen.
Generally, the languages on any product package were Czech, Slovak and Hungarian. Boy, when you got something labeled in French: Oh, thank God! It’s in French! A language I can deal with. Well, as long as all I’m doing is reading ingredients or instructions.
I have no doubt it was extremely challenging for her at the beginning. But for me this is a walk in the park compared to my first month in Slovakia. Even in Moscow before I got a handle on Cyrillic. I mean, I’ve been here for three weeks now and I haven’t even cried yet, other than tears of joy in the grocery store.
Compare that with these now-famous, early-in-the-adventure, marriage-challenging, weeping incidents such as:
- “I Don’t Give a Damn if Heads Are Turning in the Food Court!” (Slovakia)
- “Why Don’t You Know What That Table Ordered and If I Would Like Some Too?” (Moscow)
- “I’m Sobbing in the Phone Store Because I Don’t Understand What You Are Buying for Me, You Horrible, Horrible Man!” (also Moscow).
Oh, good times. Good times. I am married to a man with the patience of Job, truly I am.
Reprinted with permission of thebeetgoeson.net.
Originally from Ohio, Amanda was bitten by the travel bug when she spent a summer as an exchange student in Australia. Before following The Spouse to Luxembourg, they lived in Taiwan, South Florida, Buenos Aires, Bratislava (SK) and Russia. Follow Amanda as she settles into Luxembourg on her blog thebeetgoeson.net.
Photo credits: Crazy woman by davidChief (Flickr.com)
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