Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Milo’s dad and I had this discussion the other night: I was explaining him how Italians feel particularly patriotic during major international sport events, how I never really learnt the Italian national anthem until a few years ago, however if a Soccer World Cup or an Olympic game was up, I have always warm-heartedly cheered for my country (like every night in the last ten days).
Milo’s dad said he never really felt particularly patriotic (although he’s nicknamed ‘The Ambassador (of Belgium),’ since he’s one of the proudest Belgians I have ever met!). Belgium being a country dealing with an uneasy tension between the Walloon and the Flemish communities, and also having a tri-parliamentary structure (a significant Germano-phone community is represented as well), clearly has little room for patriotism. He also explained how showing off Flemish pride, by waving flags and shouting hymns, has been considered a behavior typical of the (extreme) right wing. So, no flag, no hymn for him growing up.
I remember starting wondering about patriotism when I first landed the US at age 19: I was amazed at the omnipresence of the American flag in front of public buildings (such as the post office, the mall, etc.). The national anthem would be played before every game at intercollegiate sports. My volleyball team was not exempt, and I always felt a little awkward about it. I was the only one in the roster without her hand on her heart. It’s easy to understand that North America has played well the patriotism factor to provide a common denominator to all the diverse cultures present on its sole. And still, there is something nice about the anthem and about feeling very much part of one nation.
I attended Seton Hall University, in NJ and was on the volleyball team. At the time, another fellow Italian, Marco Lokar, was on the (more media visible) basketball team. Something occurred to him in those years which took my definition of patriotism to another level. When the first war in Iraq broke, you might remember, Americans massively supported operation Desert Storm by displaying and wearing a yellow ribbon. Within the sports arena, athletes at all levels begun wearing an American flag stitched to their uniform. Marco refused to, on the ground that he was a pacifist, that he was not supporting the war and was not supporting just the American troops but his heart was behind all soldiers involved in the conflict, on both sides. On February 2, 1991, Seton Hall played St John’s University at Madison Square Garden in NY City and the public and the media picked on his “lack of solidarity”. This caused a nation wide debate and created a huge upheaval, which resulted with him leaving the country a few weeks later, after having received several threatening phone calls and serious menaces (see this article on Sports Illustrated for the full story and a very moving profile of Marco Lokar, who happens to be also a true multicultural man with Slovenian and Italian roots).
Shortly after this incident all the sports teams were summoned by the athletic department director who wished no more negative media attention stirring (there were quite some foreign athletes, in my team I was along with an Argentinian and a Puerto Rican). He asked us to think it over and to decide as a team whether we would want to wear the flag or not. I was less idealistic than Marco, although I knew him and respected him. We have had several conversations on the topic. Italy was also engaged with troops in the Gulf. The volleyball team played the following games displaying the American flag on the uniform. This episode has more to do with moral values than with patriotism, however it was the first time I clearly felt “I am not from here” and realized the power of such notions even in a country like the United States, where individual freedoms (such as free thinking!) are at the base of its democracy.
But besides identifying with a flag and a song, what does it mean to feel patriotic today and is patriotism a value that will make sense for our multicultural children? Wikipedia says: “The word patriotism is used to describe emotions and attitudes, political views, symbolism, and specific acts, with respect to a political community - its territory, history, culture, values, and symbol.”
Milo’s dad asked me if I really felt Italian and why. I did not think much about it and words poured out of my mouth. I do feel Italian, even though at this point I lived half of my life abroad and have embraced many American values, like working ethics and style, or a certain positive openness. But I feel very much attached to the cultural heritage of my country. When I’m at the opera and I listen to a performance in Italian, it’s sheer pleasure; something tickles in my genes. The same for certain literature pieces, or for aesthetics, design, for certain foods, certain landscapes. It’s what I hope to convey to Milo from my side: a precise sense of belonging, a certain sensitivity, which extends to nurturing friendship and relationship with others; the importance of the family nucleus, of celebrations; the sacred sense of hospitality. Perhaps I am mixing too many things at once. I don’t know if that means being patriotic.
Would I die for my country? I honestly think that today nobody should die, for any country. And I have not been a good citizen, as I have barely voted ever since I have been of age. Does that make me less patriotic? Does it make my pride for the Italian men’s Cross-Country Skiing gold medal and my sadness for the ice dancing Italian couple placed 6th less valuable? Am I less patriotic because, finally, I decide to pursue a career abroad, and don’t plan on living in Italy any longer? Or because I am not a soccer fan and never spent a Sunday of my life glued to the TV screen following the ligue games?
I can’t help wondering what Milo’s feelings will be. If we end up settling in France, will he inevitably feel French, even if he will be regularly staying in Italy and Belgium and other places? If he will have any sport ambition, will it matter to him which national team he will integrate? Will he feel a chill when he will listen to Charles Aznavour the way I sigh when I listen to Eugenio Finardi or Lucio Battisti? Where will he feel comfortable, where will he belong? I have already explored the theme of Third Culture Kids in another post, which relates to these issues as well. I struggle trying to imagine his feelings, how his identity will be permeated by the exposure to three cultures. There is something reassuring in knowing you come from one place, with deep and specific roots. He will be certainly enriched by the fact that his roots are spread around, but will this mean that patriotism will mean next to nothing to him?
Will there ever be a strong feeling of European-wide patriotism? At present times, it seems, Euro skepticism is more voiced. I felt “European” for the first time in graduate school, in California. The university had a high incidence of foreign students, equally spread among Europeans and Asians. Although I remember it as the most fulfilling and enriching multicultural experience in my life, I also remember very strongly that the Europeans immediately clung together and so did the Asians. We recognized in each other a certain common sensitivity for things, we had the same reactions. My friend Holger from those years recently emailed me his dismay for the current world events, and mentioned nostalgically how back then “people from all over would get along so well with each other.” (I also think it had to do with socio-economics, we were all coming from similar middle class miens and this made it certainly easy to interact. I don’t mean to make a classist remark here, but it is a considerable fact).
In conclusion, this will be one fascinating learning experience in watching Milo grow into an independent man. I cannot but wish that patriotism for him will have only positive connotations of olympic breath.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
- Among new words learn from Milo there are snow, please, friend, all with its Italian, French and Dutch counterpart. He’s actually sponging up vocabulary every day, he tunes in at whatever is being said and repeats virtually everything, which I believe it’s quite normal at 21 months. He does not repeat much of the English conversation he catches between myself and Milo’s dad, however his pronounciation in Italian is starting to have a distinct Anglophone accent.
He has a harder time repeating certain sounds, so he make s up his own interpretation. A few example:
-His name, Milo: he has been calling himself ‘Memo’, and lately that has shifted to ‘Mímio’ (we found it adorable and already elected it as his nickname, being Milo already so short!).
-Amico (friend): he gets the meaning of the word, but says ‘pepípio’. He gets the right number of sillables and the musicality of the word, but he substitutes certain sounds with labial sounds.
-Biro (pen) and other words with the “r”: he can’t roll the r, so he stretches the preceding vowel (biiiio)
-Luce (light) is uu-chi
- On a good note, he’s more and more aware of the different identities that the same object has in our household. He proudly recites main, manina and handje (hand respectively FR, IT and D), or avion, aereo, vliegtuig (airplane).
- My Dutch efforts have stalled a little and I need to brush up; here are my next phrases for the week:
Heel leuk u te ontmoeten (I'm very glad to meet you)
Ik versta het niet (I don't understand)
Ik begrijp het heel goed (I understand perfectly)
- The Italian conversations are also slagging behind, somehow it does not come natural. I guess we just have to go to Italy more often, then!
While we were watching the opening ceremony held in Torino on Friday, as the athletes were parading we cheered enthusiastically for all of them (I always get tear-eyed on these occasions!); however, when Italy paraded at last, I could not resist a spur of nationalistic pride and I involved Milo in a typical supporting cheer:
"I-TA-LIA! I-TA-LIA!" we screamed rhythmically, clapping our hands and stumping our feet.
Apparently, he enjoyed it: ever since, from time to time he shouts out “I-TA-LIA”! He even taught it to Antoine this morning (I hope his parents won’t think we’re brain washing their kid!).
The Belgian delegation paraded with a mere 8 athletes; if Milo will be any good in sports, then perhaps we will see him competing with the Belgian flag in 2022?!
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
He must have had his share with the nanny this week, because as soon as he does one, he labels it himself immediately: “Betich!” he says seriously, as he’s throwing his apple on the floor during lunch.
“Betich!” he declares while he spills his water on the sofa.
“Betiiiiich” he stresses while he takes is crayon and attempts decorating the white walls, after I told him not to for the 100th time.
The translation in English would be ‘silly thing.’ In Italian we don’t have a specific word, we’d say ‘stupidaggine’ (silly thing) or ‘marachella’ (naughtly thing).
I asked Milo’s dad how would he say that in Dutch. He claims they don’t have that particular word because Flemish kids simply don’t do betise!
Monday, February 13, 2006
Excerpts from MULTI TONGUE KIDS' entries will be shared regularly, linking back to the home site ('The Garde Partagée' entry has already been posted on Feb. 10, re-titled Two-Timing Nanny, complete with a lovely picture!).
Friday, February 10, 2006
The Opening Ceremony will be held tonight at the dinner table!
Some crepes flambées au Grand Marnier will symbolize the arrival of the Olympic Torch!
Napkins displaying the flags of our countries (Italy, Belgium, France and an honorary USA one as well) will remind us of our multicultural richness!
We will all swear to competing honestly and at the best of our possibilities, on De Cubertain’s credo that the important is to participate!
We’ll parade in the living room with our flags!
We’ll greet the imaginary spectators and feel moved to be there!
As for the challenges:
-My Dutch greeting of the day is: Ik spreek maar een klein beetje Nederlands (I only speak a little Dutch).
-Milo’s word will be: snow (neve (IT), nege (FR) and I have to check in Dutch)
-As far as the conversation in Italian, I hope to have something fun to report on next week!
Altius, Citius, Fortius!
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
- We will teach Milo 1 new word a day in Dutch, Italian and French.
- I will learn basic Dutch greetings and small talks phrases.
- Milo’s Dad will carry one conversation a day in Italian with me.
Stay tuned for a gold medal performance!
Feel free to sign up for the challenge by visiting the Multilingual Children’s Association website. (Hosted in California, it has been founded by a Swedish woman who’s raising her daughters bilingual. This site fills a great gap in terms of information, resources and centralized forums among multilingual parents).
Friday, February 03, 2006
In fact, our nanny is originally from Morocco, and if we didn’t already have all these languages to deal with, I would have been keen on her speaking Arabic to Milo. But we commonly decided that she sticks to French, so during the day Milo is in a 100% francophone environment.
This has been proving very fruitful: this week Milo pronounced his first full sentence in French:
“Elle est partie ma maman ?" (Has my mum left?)
It was originally “Elle est partie ta maman” (Has YOUR mum left), since it was Antoine who posed the question and Milo kept on repeating it. The nanny eventually corrected him and personalized it!
At night the nanny keeps me up to date on new words learnt and topic addressed, so that we can provide the Italian and Dutch counterpart, and viceversa on Monday mornings. So far we feel he has progressed rather homogeneously in all three languages.
Sometimes I wonder, had I been a stay at home mummy, the advantages would have been others, of course, but how would we have handled the French language acquisition?
This is the issue that a couple of friends are currently facing, and they decided to sacrifice their own languages, unfortunately. Here’s the case study:
The Mum is Egyptian and speaks Arabic, Italian and French fluently. The father is Anglo-Italian and has been raised in both English and Italian. Their 20 month old Gabriel is looked after at home by his mum (together with his 3 months old sister) and is being raised in French primarily. The parents switch easily between Italian and French among one another. They fear that if he does not hear French enough he’ll have a hard time once he’ll enter school. Hopefully he’ll pick up all of the other languages later on.
We started when Milo was 8 months, and we found rather easily a family already equipped with a super nanny (there’s an abundant numbers of websites where parents can investigate the issue and touch base with other parents).
It has been exactly one year now, and we are totally satisfied about this experience, especially because we have been lucky to find a star of a nanny. Milo has been looked after together with Antoine, a French boy six months his senior.
Milo and Antoine have become like little brothers, they share their days, toys and escapades to the park, socializing among one another.The financial weight is important, although the French government allows for a substantial tax write off for hiring home personnel. The advantages are numerous: Milo did not have to adapt to a totally new environment (in our case the arrangement is that the kids are always at out place), they get individualized care and attention, they are not constantly exposed to the millions of bacteria and microbes that circulate in daycare, if they fall sick the nanny comes anyway and I am not obliged to stay at home, etc.
Antoine’s 6 months leverage has been an accelerating factor in Milo’s physical development, while now it's a great one for his verbal development in French. It's fun to hear the two exchanging full sentences, often about nonsense...They look after each other, they learn how to share and to do things together, they fight, they cuddle, just like two siblings!
When I come home at night, competition peaks for attention! Antoine has become part of the family and I naturally greet him as such, but Milo is VERY possessive of his mummy, and has made clear numerous times that he has got attention priority!
The cultural exchange is even: I have been singing to them little Italian rhyming songs, and Antoine is also now capable of singing them in flawless Italian!
The harmony between the two is guaranteed by the nanny, who happens to have a very charming and solar personality, and from day one has interacted with them a lot, playing and truly teaching them not only words and games, but also manners.During the weekend we are always impressed to see how Milo asks about his little friend and the vice-Mum, they have become very much part of his life, and when we go on trips, finding them back is a source of joy for him! This arrangement has made my going back to work much easier, although the first months I was naturally very apprehensive. It is a great human experience.
Next September Antoine will start kindergaden but only in the mornings (and on Wednesdays schools are shut in France!), so we will continue the adventure until at least December. After that I hope some school will accept Milo, even if he will not be three yet; I am already investigating the matte, a year in advance: life in a metropolis gives the expression “planning ahead” another meaning!
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
“Mamma…bibi, bibi...” he moaned several times, while rubbing his belly.
Another step forward toward efficient communication!