Tuesday, July 7, 2015

My country or yours?

It happened the other night.  And unfortunately it wasn't the first time.  It was Sunday July 5th.  I told Juliette to try the watermelon.  I reminded her that it was part of the July 4th menu (since we had missed it the day before) and that's what people in America often eat on this day. She replied in the withering way that today's pre-tweens do, that "We aren't in America."  And to add insult to injury she said it in French.

I quickly replied that she is half-American and I am American.  I didn't push the issue too much, but inside my American soul I was feeling a little wounded.

Sometimes I'm not sure I'm going about this bilingual bicultural family thing quite right.  I only speak to her in English, even in front of her friends.  I will sometimes say something in French to her and them to make things easier.  However, this year my little girl has really played the part of the French first grader to the letter.  Like coming home with new schoolyard expressions and "I know it all" attitudes that just seem that much snarkier when spoken in French.  I find myself asking her (pleading, sometimes) to speak to me in English.

"But you understand French!" she'll say with a sigh.  And she's right.  But I tell her it's easier for me to speak in English and I do understand it better.  When I don't understand her because she's mumbling in French, she gets exasperated with me.  And I can't always play dumb and pretend I don't understand.  Sometimes I put on an exaggerated American accent and say something in French to prove that I'm not French.  Abit like the dog Pollux in this cartoon who pronounces his "r" like an Englishman.  At least we get a good laugh about it.

I'm learning to back off and let her respond in French but I keep on talking in English.  I have noticed some encouraging signs though.  She likes watching her Disney shows in English and will often revert back to English for bathtime or when we make the Playmobil characters talk.  Bedtime stories are usually in English and at this calm time of night she tends to speak more English.  And when she wakes up and I come in her room she will invariably say, "Carry me!" in a sleepy voice and in English.

If it sounds like I'm keeping score, it's because I kind of am.  And I know it shouldn't be about one language or culture "winning" but I feel it's my duty to make sure she has that exposure to the English language and my heritage (which is hers, too).  I think I would be remiss not to give her this side of her origins.  I suppose it doesn't matter if every word coming out of her mouth is English, as long as she can understand it and communicate with my family.

As far as culture goes, she is part of the French education system and so can't help but be influenced by it.  She's growing up here, visiting French historical sites and soaking up this architecture.  It's not such a bad thing.  But I want her to know there is another part of her background, another country and set of traditions that make up her personal history.

Which brings us back to July 4th.  This year I guess I didn't do my own American heritage much justice either.  I bought watermelon but rushed out after our hamburger and rice dinner that night to meet with friends.  That's why I didn't eat it till the 5th.  I spent part of the evening of the 4th on a sidewalk café next to cobbled streets sipping some daquiri type drink and laughing with English-speaking friends.  There were no fireworks and I didn't wear red, white and blue.  But I still wanted to hear all about what my family and friends did back home.

I guess I'll have to let Juliette pick and choose which parts of her two cultures she wants to celebrate.  That's sort of what I do, after all. 


Lindle said...

I think it is wise to continue to speak in English to her as that will force her brain to process it and build the stronger vocabulary. I am proud that she is decently bilingual, and I wish I was better at French myself.
When she finds herself immersed in English speaking environments (such as visiting the relatives on the other side of the pond) she will adapt and use more English---hopefully---or we'll be in a heap of trouble!
She has two cultures to bounce between, but it is natural that the one she resides in is the dominant one. But snarky isn't cute in any language! :)

Nicole said...

I find that with my two girls (10 and 6) that around CP time, it becomes important to have English-speaking friends to make English more relevant. After spending a few weeks in the States playing with American kids, they develope a fluency with the language that you notice immediately and it isn't so much vocabulary although they learn some new words. It is more about the casual way they use the language, the way they drawl 'mom' when they are fed up with me, the way they use the words 'cool' and 'awesome' to describe everything. Its a different level of fluency.

Mil said...

Thanks, mom and Nicole! Your comments make me feel better. It's true she'll gain in fluency when she's in the US. I notice how she speaks more English after trips. I guess I can't and shouldn't fight the French. She is half and half after all!

I Say Oui said...

Of course I am rooting for the American side! Not to "beat" the French side, but to have a staunch presence. There are some similarities I see with my experience as a second generation American-- my mom instilled cultural practices that I would not otherwise have gained from my American schooling. But they don't necessarily come as quickly as if I grew up in her culture-- I make an effort to keep it. And seeing and having some kind of understanding of your parents' cultures helps you to understand your parents.