One day I was picking up one of my bilingual cherubs from an afterschool club.
We were still a little bit early, so there weren’t too many parents waiting in front of the school.
My other bilingual cherub joined his school friends who were also waiting for their siblings to come out.
Richie was running off and coming back to me and I was talking to him in my native language and he was talking back and then going off and speaking to his friends in English.
Very close to me was an elderly gentleman waiting for his grandchildren.
It was very obvious that he was following the conversation between Richie and me.
He was intrigued.
After a few minutes, he couldn’t hold back anymore and asked:
‘What language do you speak to your son? If you don’t mind me asking.’
And I replied: ‘It’s Czech, I come from the Czech Republic.’
(I love re-educating the older generation in the UK that still think that Czechoslovakia exists. Sorry, I can’t help it… I love geography too much. And my home country too, so this 25 year old misinformation really makes me laugh.)
And he added:
‘I can see your son speaks your language with you. That’s so lovely to hear. Good on you.
My mother was Austrian. But sadly, she never thought me German. What a shame! I’d love to be able to speak it. I go to Austria every year to see my cousins. But luckily they can speak English.’
I was lost for words.
I am more used to getting some looks: ‘Another bloody foreigner.’
Especially from this love-Brexit generation in their 60’s and 70’s.
Not that it really bothers me.
I always remind myself that I can’t read peoples’ minds and unless they tell me what they think so ‘giving someone a look’ doesn’t really scare me anymore…unless I am doing something naughty… or perhaps rather my bilingual cherubs.
We are all sometimes in title to having a bad day.
In the end, we had a really interesting conversation with this half-Austrian grandad.
I can imagine that it wasn’t easy for his foreign mother that was living over here in the 40’ and 50’.
In those days, Brits weren’t exactly over the moon when they heard someone speaking German, especially in their home country.
The WWII was still a very open and sore wound back then.
Equally, I can imagine for someone who was a German native speaker to teach their child their native language wasn’t very popular back in those days.
It must have required a great deal of character.
People like that must have had a good level of self-worth and self-esteem if they dared to do it at all. Or perhaps the ones they did keep quiet about it.
Not something I could do, but who knows, maybe back then, I would have to.
Luckily nowadays you don’t have to feel like that.
Brits or any other English native speakers can nicely surprise you how welcoming they are to the idea of being bilingual.
The problem that you might feel that they seem a little bit skeptical usually lies is in that:
1/ they have no idea what’s involved when raising a bilingual cherub
2/ they feel a little bit insecure about people speaking a different language in front of them.
And 3/ which is probably the biggest problem, that we as foreign bilingual parents living abroad trying to raise our bilingual cherubs, very often get too worried about what the others might think of us.
We worry that we might not be inclusive, we don’t want to be rude, we want to be understood…
We all want to be liked and accepted.
The problem is that if you wait for other people’s approval, you’ll most likely never get it.
Not from all people around you anyway.
So why bother? It’s easier to ignore the strangers.
Or rather ignore your own fears of what they might think of you.
Don’t get me wrong, at the beginning I also used to get scared now and then.
But the more I’ve done it, the less I worry about what others might think of me when I talk to my kids in my native language in public.
After all, I am not doing it for myself, I am doing it for my bilingual cherubs.
And the others, the strangers that I don’t know and they don’t know me?
It’s none of their business what language I speak to my kids.
After all, I am just doing my best as we all do. I am who I am and that’s good enough.
You take it or leave it.
That’s fine by me.
I carry no stigma of being ‘yet another immigrant’.
On the contrary, I am fairly sure that I contribute to the diversity of this country and by talking to my kids in a different language in a monolingual British public I am helping my bilingual cherubs to be proud of their heritage.
There’s no need to hide.
Luckily, we live in the 21st Century.
Long live our diversity! Bilingual or not.
P.S. Do you still care about what strangers think of you when are you sticking to OPOL in public?
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