Saturday, July 14, 2007

Kiddie Culture Shock

When I was in elementary school, my family lived in Germany on a U.S. Air Force base where my dad was stationed. In those pre-internet days, I had no idea what my peers were up to back in the U.S. We had one television channel on base that mostly played reruns, which meant my friends and I mostly played outside, climbing trees and building forts. Sounds idyllic, right? It was.

Until we moved back to the states.

I'd seen the changing of the guard outside of Buckingham Palace, touched the Berlin Wall, and sailed past Norwegian fjords. But I'd never heard of the new hit TV show Laverne and Shirley, and some blockbuster movie showing coast to coast called Star Wars. Kids at school asked what my favorite bands were and which radio station I listened to. Huh? The only time I ever listened to the radio was when my parents had it on in the car. Needless to say, I wasn't exactly the coolest kid on the block.

I know my own kids will go through some of this culture shock/cluelessness when we move back to the U.S. next summer. I thought I'd take advantage of the time we have here this summer and help them catch up on some good 'ol American culture. Here's how it's going so far:

1. My 8-year-old knows the value of the European coins, so I decided to teach her about American coins. I explained which presidents were on each coin, and how much the coins were worth. The next day I was watching The Today Show, and Willard Scott came on. My daughter asked, "Is that George Washington?"

2. Today we went to a water park called "Water Country USA." I've been working with my 8-year-old this summer on reading in English, and she read the sign, pronouncing USA as OO-zah (the way it would be pronounced if it were an Italian word). I told her it was U.S.A., and asked if she knew what the letters stood for. She had no idea.

My problem is I don't know exactly what my kids know and don't know about America. I'll assume they know what something is--like a bagel or a fire hydrant--only to find out that they don't know. I've definitely got my work cut out for me.


Africakid said...

This resonates with me! My folks moved back to the US when I was ten, and I remember being clueless when kids mentioned the latest singers and pop stars. But it was worth all the funny looks, for such a great childhood.

TinaFerraro said...

Hey, Natalie! Sorry to have been AWOL for so long, but I've been traveling, including last week at National in Dallas.

I have a friend who is a whiz at pop culture--you do not want to opposite him in trivial pursuit--except when it comes to a window of time that he spent abroad as a kid. To this day, he still isn't caught up. But hey, he can recite all the goings-on in that country during that time, and that's more than the rest of us. I guess it's a tradeoff!

Rilla said...

Hey Natalie,
I'm still clueless...always will be...don't have cable ;) Your kids will deal with clueless, forget it ever happnened and be grateful they had such a fab, interesting, international childhood. And you will be grateful as long they're clueless and aren't hankering for the latest cool gizmo ;0

C.K. said...

Hey, Natalie. I hope you're having a fabulous summer back in the States.

And what Rilla said! Way cooler for your kids to have all these interesting childhood experiences than to know what a bagel is. They'll find out all that stuff quickly enough when they're back fulltime, right?

And the Willard Scott-George Washington confusion probably happens all the time! I'm not even sure I can tell them apart!

Natalie said...

Hi africakid,
I agree--even though I didn't appreciate it at the time, I'm grateful for having lived overseas as a child!

Hi Tina,
Glad to see you back! I have big cultural black holes, too--not just as a child, but as an adult, as well!

Hi Rilla!
I hope you're right...even when we're back in the U.S., we still plan to spend the summers in Italy, so my kids will always be straddling two cultures. I'm sure they won't always be happy to leave friends behind, but hopefully they'll appreciate their bi-culturalism someday!

Hi C.K.!
Thanks for the vote of confidence. I agree that my kids are gaining much more than they're losing..hopefully they'll agree with that one day!

DMH said...

Ha ha! George Washington!

Katia Novet Saint-Lot said...

Nathalie, still catching up on your posts. Have you heard of Third Culture Kids and David Pollock ? He died last year, unfortunately, but he was among the first people to study the phenomenom of children growing up in more than one culture, and sometimes in a culture that has no relation whatsoever with their passport country - ies. If you haven't, read those books. I agree with Rilla and africakid that your children - and mine - are immensely lucky to live such a diverse childhood, but at the same time, it's important to be aware of the problems that it can foster or create, because then, you can deal with them better, or at least be prepared, and also prepare your children to deal with them. BY the way, I discovered a discussion board just about that, created by another TCK who just launched an online bookstore called Through The Magic Door. It's still new, so not much traffic, so far, but you might want to check it out.

Natalie said...

Hi Katia,

I couldn't find the discussion board you were referring to, but I'd be interested in having the link. I first heard of the term TCK in a class I took for my ESL teaching endorsement, and it was like a lightbulb finally went on for me...I lived in Germany for three of my elementary school years, and even though we lived on an American Air Force base, my experience was nothing like those of my peers once I moved back to the U.S. (we moved to Texas, which might explain a lot...Texan culture really is different from the rest of the U.S.!) And I'm definitely a Third Culture Adult, if there is such a term!

Katia said...

So you are one TCK, too! I'd say that totally explains how you ended up in Italy and married there, wouldn't you? That's one thing that most TCKs have in common: whether they went back to their passport country or not as children, they almost always end up travelling again, living, working outside, and creating their own TCK's families.
Here is the link to that online bookstore, Through The Magic Door:
Click on community at the top of the page, and you'll see different threads. One is titled expatriates. As I said, not much going on at the moment, but it would be great to have more people join. There is so much to say, to share, and I really think that the whole TCK's issue needs to be addressed more and more. Our community is growing by the minute, wouldn't you say ?