by Shaula Bellour (Indonesia) | Jun 11, 2015 | 2015, Awareness, Bilingual, Communication, Cultural Differences, Expat Life, Eye on Culture, Family, Indonesia, Living Abroad, Shaula Bellour, Travel, World Motherhood
As a British-American family living in Indonesia, we seem to speak a special sort of English in our house. Although our kids attend the British school, their classmates are from all over the world and the accents they hear are typically mixed. While my daughter generally sounds American, my son tends to favor British vocabulary – he enjoys maths, plays football (never soccer) and cheerfully reports that his day was “brilliant.”
To an American ear, my own accent has a British sound, while to a Brit, my British husband sounds subtly American. We joke that our accents have merged over time, which is further reinforced by living outside of our home countries for many years.
In our family we use British and American terms interchangeably – we have torches and flashlights, throw away rubbish and trash, wear pants and trousers, and occasionally enjoy sweets and candy. Our kids have recently started to recognize and understand some of the differences. The other day my son informed me that I was pronouncing “vitamin” wrong. I explained that I say it differently and my daughter quickly jumped in with her support: “It’s okay Mommy, I say it that way, too!” Tomayto, tomahto…anything goes in our house.
In a few weeks we will be heading back to the US for summer break. While our friends and family are generally charmed by the kids’ way of speaking (“so cute!”), my own hybrid accent mostly confuses people. I once had a job interview after moving back to the US from abroad and the CEO took me aside afterward to excitedly ask where I was from. “I’m from Seattle originally,” I responded. “No, where are you really from?” he continued. “Uh…Seattle?” Clearly not the exotic hometown he expected.
Although it shouldn’t bother me, sometimes it does.
When I first studied in the UK many years ago I was very self-conscious about my American accent. The young people I worked with would often imitate me and I was continually aware of standing out whenever I opened my mouth. Now, with my mixed pronunciation, I blend in more easily and comfortably slip into colloquial Brit-speak whenever I visit. I still sound different but I don’t mind.
Yet for some reason, it does bother me to be labeled as different in the place I am from. Partly I think it’s the perception of being “other” that gets to me. Living in Indonesia, I am used to feeling this way. But when I return to my hometown, I want to be able to fit right back in – even if it’s been years (well…decades) since I’ve lived there.
Despite my pre-vacation efforts to Americanize my accent, I can still hear the well-enunciated sounds tumbling out of my mouth and the British-style intonation. I try to re-train myself to soften my Ts, pronounce my Rs and say “really” instead of “quite”. Yet as much as I try to flick the American switch in my brain, I know I won’t always get it right. I’m bound to ask where the “toilet” is instead of the restroom and I might accidentally order in Indonesian, just to further confuse things.
I sound different because I am different. Perhaps it’s time to embrace it.
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by our American-mom-of-twins writer, Shaula Bellour, currently residing in Indonesia.
The image used in this post is credited to Jeremy Keith. It holds a Flickr: Creative Commons attribution license.
Shaula Bellour grew up in Redmond, Washington. She now lives in Jakarta, Indonesia with her British husband and 9-year old boy/girl twins. She has degrees in International Relations and Gender and Development and works as a consultant for the UN and non-governmental organizations.
Shaula has lived and worked in the US, France, England, Kenya, Eritrea, Kosovo, Lebanon and Timor-Leste. She began writing for World Moms Network in 2010. She plans to eventually find her way back to the Pacific Northwest one day, but until then she’s enjoying living in the big wide world with her family.
by Katinka | Dec 5, 2013 | 2013, Adoption, Adoptive Parents, Being Thankful, Belgium, Childhood, Cultural Differences, Culture, Education, Eye on Culture, Family, International, Kids, Life Lesson, Motherhood, Multicultural, Netherlands, Parenting, Penguin and Panther, Politics, Siblings, Traditions, Turkey, United Nations, World Events, World Motherhood, Younger Children
As an adoptive mother of an Ethiopian Panther, I’ve grown an extra pair of antennas when it comes to racism.
Truly, a lot of really nice people distinguish my daughter from other children, based on her color. Even if it is meant to defend her, like calling me disgusting for letting her carry the groceries, it basically still is hidden racism. Should I tell her that people believe she shouldn’t be helping me out because it reminds them of slavery while her white brother is allowed to do the same chores? I’d rather have people call me names than let them wreck my daughter’s self esteem.
However, as I’m writing this, there is a HUGE racism debate going on in Belgium and even worse in The Netherlands, where it all started. And despite my racism antennas, I just can’t fully agree with the racism-yellers this time. Not even if they yell all the way from some United Nations office.
The debate is all about the ancestor of Santa Claus: Sinterklaas. You can read here about how Santa Claus evolved from our Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas, who is actually believed to be Turkish, who resides in Spain, has a white horse called Bad-Wheater-Today (Belgium) or Amerigo (The Netherlands), and celebrates his December birthday by coming over to our countries and surprising children with presents.
In the Netherlands he comes over on the evening of December 5th. Later that night, he comes to Belgium and delivers toys and sweets to be found in the children’s shoes on the morning of the 6th. It’s really a children’s celebration, full of magic and anticipation. You will bump into him just about everywhere during November.
Now, because Sinterklaas is getting old and forgetful, and has a lot of work to do within 24 hours, he has helpers. These helpers are all black, and hence all called ‘Black Peter’ (Zwarte Piet).
And that’s where all the accusative fingers point.
Indeed, this tradition can be seen as offensive. I, for a fact, believe it is partly based on a slavery and stereotype-loaded past, and a lot of people agree with me. Black Peter has long been depicted as a bit slow, barbaric (kidnapping and hitting the naughty children), dressed in clownish clothes, with stout lips and being submissive to his white boss.
Of course I agree this is an awful, insulting picture to brainwash our children with during the big Sinterklaas-Awaiting-Month-of -November. I also agree an outsider would be shocked, when he meets Sinterklaas and his Black Peters for the first time, especially if oblivious to the folklore. And I honestly understand and feel the offense people take.
For me personally, Sinterklaas has me cringing with bittersweetness ever since I found out about his racist taint. I’m not even particularly fond of the Sinterklaas tradition anymore.
However, I also don’t agree that we are teaching our children racism, nor paying ode to slavery by honoring this tradition every year. Not any more, that is.
Since the 1990’s, we have a children’s holiday special on TV portraying the real story. Children are elegantly taught Black Peter is black – and not brown/colored/african – because he came down the chimney. No more, no less. Nobody really tries to explain why his clothes didn’t get black during his journey down the chimney.
It is just part of the mystery, just like Bad-Wheater-Today walking on rooftops or Sinterklaas having this enormous book in which the good and bad behavior of every single child is listed. It doesn’t make sense, but children buy it anyway.
In this TV-special, Sinterklaas is depicted as a bit senile. In fact his Black Peters are now the smart ones, all with different names according to their function or character. A bit like the Smurfs, and everyone likes the Smurfs, right?
For the past 20+ years, this special comes on every November. Along the way, children started to grow more afraid of this very strict and grumpy old man than of his joyous, candy throwing helpers. The Black Peters became the true friends of our children. And every Belgian child you ask about Black Peter’s color now, will patiently tell you the chimney-story.
To me, this shows our tradition is evolving from, I admit, a racist past, towards a new story. Just like it evolved into Santa Claus overseas—who, by the way, appears to imprison a whole lot of innocent, little people in a Siberia-like, harsh environment without paying them for their round-the-clock labor.
Therefore, I trust society may even evolve towards a tradition of White Peters in a few more years or decades. After all, with more and more houses being built without huge chimneys, we will sooner or later find out that Peter’s color is fading, won’t we?
I’m hoping that by the time this post runs, all the petitions –pro and con–the social media frenzy, any UN investigations and any public manifestations, will be over and done with. I truly hope no-one got hurt along the way, and that both camps have reached a certain level of understanding towards each other by the time Saint Nicholas wants to celebrate his birthday.
Because, you know, my children are already expecting Sinterklaas to send one of his Peters down our chimney on the 6th of December. Especially my very dark daughter is impatiently awaiting. I’d hate to disappoint her if he decided not to come this year, because he’s afraid to be called a racist. She would definitely not understand, mainly because she doesn’t see any resemblance between Black Peter and herself.
I’m confident Sinterklaas will make it, though. We are both alike, Sinterklaas and me. We’re already used to people calling us racist slave handlers. And we both know better than that.
Did you know about Santa Claus’s European past? How would you feel if he had black helpers instead of elves?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by K10K from The Penguin and The Panther.
The picture in this post is credited to Sinterklaas Himself, who published it on Wikipedia, while undercover as Gaby Kooiman, under GNU Free Documentation License.
If you ask her about her daytime job, Katinka will tell you all about the challenge of studying the fate of radioactive substances in the deep subsurface. Her most demanding and rewarding job however is raising four kids together with five other parents, each with their own quirks, wishes and (dis)abilities. As parenting and especially co-parenting involves a lot of letting go, she finds herself singing the theme song to Frozen over and over again, even when the kids are not even there...