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  • Grand-parents of 3rd culture kids - Part 1

    When you live far away from where you grew up and marry someone from another culture, carried by the fires of passion, do you think of your parents? Well, you should, especially if you marry an Indian person because then you really marry a family and not only a man or a woman. In the beginning, you may try to protect yourself from the interference of the in-laws in your marriage and private life, without thinking much about how they feel. And then (often) come the children. The parents, busy juggling with their respective cultures to raise their little ones, must also make sure to leave room for the grandparents. How do they find their place in the equation? They are confronted with education methods which can differ greatly and they sometimes have to manage a long distance relationship. While doing my best to make sure my son would develop bonds with both sides of his family, I never thought of asking them how they felt about the situation. Until now! After writing and illustrating Bandati, a book for children of the third culture, I have asked the grandparents how they lived this situation of bi-culturality! An interesting moment of reflections and exchanges.

    Part 1 – The Indian grandmother

    In India, the daughter-in-law is supposed to live with her in-laws and, in the large Indian family, the baby does not belong to anyone or rather he/she belongs everyone, especially to the grandmother. She is very involved in the life of the infant, feeding him (once breastfeeding is over), bathing him, massaging him, watching over him. On the other hand, there is no real investment in the psychomotor development of toddlers, which is left to the environment; so the bonding does not involve games or activities between adults and children.

    My mother-in-law, even though she lives alone, seems to prefers staying in her native Kerala where she has a social circle. Carefully choosing the season – she does not like the cold of northern India –, she visits us once or twice a year for a fortnight. With her grandson, she tried to follow some Hindu rituals at first, but after seeing my face when she covered my three-week-old son with gold jewelry, she didn’t insist. Over the years, she has realized that the best way to bond with her grandson was to “do things” with him. At almost 70 years old, she took up cricket and drawing, and these efforts, at least, made my boy laugh really hard!

    Just before sharing her words, let me say that I quite had to gather some courage to ask her how she lived having a foreign daughter-in-law and a French-Indian grandson, especially since direct and transparent exchanges are not common in India. My approach surprised her a little bit – self-reflection and reflection in India are not culturally encouraged – but it was an opportunity to talk about our relationship, and it felt really good!

    “April 13th 2014 was a wonderful day for me… I had been delighted to hear that my son was ready for marriage, meaning a daughter in law was coming to our home... Besides that, another happy news: I was going to be a grand-ma soon. That was a dream for us.

    When I heard that my would-be daughter in-law was a foreigner, I didn't feel bad… Although I did worry about how my family, especially my strict and traditional father, would react. I also thought communication may be little bit problem, even though I can speak English, not so fluently but can manage. Now I realized I am lucky to have a daughter like mine...

    In the case of my grand-son we had a little problem because our togetherness was very rare. So at the age of his 3-4 years, he was not much attached with me. It gave a little pain for me but now he is very much ok, started communicating everything with me as well as my daughter, his paternal aunt. Feeling very happy... The only problem is he can't eat spicy food like sambar which I’m used to making when we are together...”

    india,france,bandati,multi-culturalism,third culture

    Find more about relationships between grand-parents and multi-cultural children in the book Bandati.

  • Grand-parents of 3rd culture kids - Part 2

    Part 2 – The French grandparents

    No doubt my parents would prefer to have us a little closer, but life is like that. We see each other three to four times a year, and each time for quite unique experiences. More than my son's bi-culturality, I think it's the way I raise him that could be destabilizing for them: little authority, a lot of conciliation, letting him express himself – painting an elephant red shocks my Cartesian mother, as well as taking liberty with rules when playing a game! But they have gotten used to it.

    I must also add that I have hardly left my son alone with them, simply because I took him along on all my trips. So he has with them a slightly different relationship than the one I had with my grandparents, where I spent weeks with my cousins at their place. But my son adores them, as he adores my brothers.

    The French grandmother

    My mother is a doting grandma. In addition to the clothes and the multitude of small gifts, she also often organizes workshops for him, as my grandmother, a kindergarten teacher, used to do with me and my cousins. My mother, who I have never seen spending time in DIY activities, paints pebbles and makes planes out of plastic bottles! She sometimes says that she does not do enough for her grand-son, that she is not the grandmother she would like to be, but she has a very special place in my son's heart.

    “Our experience of bi-culturality really began when our daughter married our Indian son-in-law in June 2014.

    It should be noted that they completely took charge of the organization of their wedding with a deliberate choice to mix Indian tradition and Western tradition. According to the Indian tradition, the wedding took place over three days. The first day was devoted to making contact between families and guests around a session of temporary henna tattoos. On the 2nd day, the day of the celebration according to the Hindu rite, all the women were dressed in sarees (for Western women, the draping of sarees had been done by Indian women and it was certainly a good idea). How elegant we were all, Indians and Europeans, in our saris!!! The bride, for her part, was dressed, according to the tradition, in a red sari, the lucky color in most weddings in Asia. The men wore the dhoti, a kind of Indian sarong. All these colors and dresses made the atmosphere very cheerful: it changes from the white gowns, symbol of virginity in the West, and the three-piece suit of our men, although fortunately the clothing tradition is changing rapidly in the West).

    On the wedding day, according to the tradition, the groom-to-be is supposed to go at the venue on the back of an elephant or a horse, but he twisted it by arriving on a motorbike, honking like crazy while his witnesses and friends were dancing. After getting down of his bike, he introduced himself to the mother of the bride who poured a handful of wheat grains on his head to ensure prosperity for the young couple; then to the aunt of the bride who had to turn an incense lamp above his head in order to ward off evil spirits; finally the youngest brother of the bride washed his feet in exchange of a few gold coins (without this perspective, it is quite unlikely my son would have done is “duty”, he was not really excited at the idea of cleaning anyone’s feet). Once the rite was completed, the young groom became an integral part of his in-laws’ family. Regarding the bride, accompanied by her father, she came to join her fiancé under a very colorful canopy. Her future husband gave her a set of yellow gold jewelry, one around her head, one around her neck. There was, like everywhere in the world, a moment of stress when the groom had trouble closing the necklace and almost strangled his bride!

    The ceremony was followed by a lunch offered by the in-laws to seal the alliance of the two families. In our case, it was a Kerala lunch served in huge banana leaves, filled with a lot of small dishes. To our greatest satisfaction (or relief), they were not too spicy; on the other hand, eating with our fingers was a real experience: isn’t it very chic for a wedding meal?!

    On the 3rd day, the ceremony took place according to Western tradition: the bride was  dressed in white, the groom wore a suit with bow tie, exchange of vows and wedding rings. Then, under a tropical rain (we were in Goa, in June, in the heart of the monsoon), the music started to ignite the dance floor. There, it was not very different compared to our evening parties: it's the same youth, the same music, except maybe for the Bollywood choreography prepared by the Indian and French friends of the bride...

    Our experience of bi-culturality took another dimension after the birth of our grandson. In India, in the first two or three months, the newborns do not leave the house. But in our case, in perfect agreement with our son-in-law, we ignored the tradition: two weeks after he was born, the baby and the whole family flew to Goa for Christmas holidays. We were comfortably lodged in a luxury hotel overlooking the beach. Sitting by the pool, I had the responsibility of watching over our grandson while his parents enjoyed a swim in the sea. We had carefully protected our sunbed under a parasol. The questioning gaze of the lady staff passing near us somewhat destabilized me. They were indeed really surprised to hear a newborn crying out for his mother's breast on a beach. But in the end, I convinced myself that it was good for our grandson to be able to take advantage of the iodized air of the seaside. Especially since this stay was nothing short of miraculous: he was not gaining weight until then, the pediatrician was worried and wanted him to drink formula but it took only a few days in Goa for breastfeeding to be set up as it should be!

    Our grandson, like all the children in the world, grew up very quickly. He is now used to seeing us in India when we visit them. On these occasions, he loves introducing us to his classmates, his teachers and the Director of his school. During his visits to France, we noticed that he very fast found his landmarks: in the taxi that brings him from the airport, he immediately recognizes the street in which we live; he also knows very well the path that leads him to the nearest park. For meals, while in India, setting the table is childishly simple (you eat with your fingers so no cutlery is needed), in France he is very happy to be able to show us that he knows how to use his knife and fork correctly. To help us set the table, he has even learned to arrange the cutlery according to French etiquette and it seems to amuse him.

    Although he understands French perfectly well, he struggles to speak it except to surprisingly say a few French words for which he does not know the English translation such as "buanderie” (laundry room) and “brouette” (wheelbarrow). It has always been very touching to hear him say these words when they are not very frequent words. Moreover, he loves when his grandfather speaks French to him with a Saint-Etienne accent; suddenly, at six years old, he started to really speak French by imitating this accent which makes him laugh.

    Like all children, he is very mischievous. I made the choice to speak to him systematically in French (his mother speaks to him in French but also in English when required to go fast; on the other hand, when I feel he is tired, I agree to speak to him in English as well as I can!!! And then, he doesn't hesitate to correct my mistakes in vocabulary and/or pronunciation: it's a good exercise in humility and an excellent way to improve my English.

    We therefore live rather well the bi-culturality of our daughter and our son-in-law. Thanks to Skype and now WhatsApp, it is relatively easy to manage the distance: we have at least two to three contacts per week. Our grandson, since he was five years old, sometimes even exchanges directly with us on WhatsApp with his parents' phones.

    To conclude, I would like to share a lovely remark of our son-in-law; when he found the black doll that I had brought back from the United States to our daughter for her seventh birthday: “Now I understand better how you agreed to welcome a dark-skinned son-in-law!”

    india,france,bandati,multi-culturalism,third culture

    Find more about relationships between grand-parents and multi-cultural children in the book Bandati.

  • Grand-parents of 3rd culture kids - Part 3

    The French grandfather

    My father is an much beloved grandpa, as he was (is) a beloved dad. The grandpa who makes you laugh, who tells endless stories during the long days of trekking, who takes you trout fishing (even if it means destroying his back), who goes to the park or to the market, who plays football, etc.

    “While on vacation in a beautiful hotel in India, I remember exchanging a few words with another client, working at the French Consulate in Mumbai. I told her of the recent birth of our grandson, from a French mother and an Indian father, living in India. She replied, “That's great! He will get the best of both cultures!” It was a strong signal for me: at that moment, I realized that the relationship with my future grandson could be different from the one I had had with my three children.

    It is true that at that time we were still wondering: how will this cutie fit into our life, what would his relationships with us, grandparents and uncles, be? Would he be rather Indian or French? If only in terms of language, were we going to have to learn Hindi or will he be bilingual or even trilingual?

    Regarding food and clothing, how was it be? The idea was starting to grow in my mind: it was clear that we were going to have to adapt to the situation and the little treasure surely too; and each in their own way! It didn't take long to start. In terms of nationality, it was simple; since India doesn’t recognize bi-nationality, the parents decided he would have a French passport (for obvious reasons of administrative facilities for his future trips abroad, especially in France).

    Regarding language, his mother speaks to him in French or English, his father mainly in English but sometimes a few words in French. So it was up to him to choose his “mother-tongue” and he selected English. And it was not us, grandparents, uncles, even his mother, who was going to make him change his mind! Even his entire kindergarten class took to English because of him. Me, I immediately felt that he was the strongest! I gave in on the first day and spoke to him in English (well, with MY English…) and curiously he adopted me right away. Afterwards, I tried to speak to him in French, but I felt like I was playing a table tennis match all by myself. He would ask me to speak to him in English and anyway he would only answer in English. The most impressive thing is that he understood very well almost everything I said to him in French. In short, he only wanted to speak English. The only thing he accepted, even if reluctantly, was for me to tell him the bed night story in French. But there was no question of compromising, I had to make my contribution to his learning of the French language! I must admit however, that I may have (and more than once) told him the said story in English, even if the book was written in French! But shhhh, don't tell his grandma! She considers that for his own good and future life, her grandson had to speak French as well as English from an early age. “Children have this ability,” she says. So she only speaks to him in French, but he answers in English… when he answers! The uncles are divided: one prefers French, the other English.

    Regarding eating habits, he has well integrated that there is French cuisine that he likes (melon, cucumber with cream and lemon juice, etc.) alongside Indian cuisine (dal, rice, etc.) . But above all there is a common cuisine: fries or pasta, WITH ketchup! In France, he eats with spoon and fork; in India with the fingers. NO problem switching from one to the other.”

    india,france,bandati,multi-culturalism,third culture

    Find more about relationships between grand-parents and multi-cultural children in the book Bandati.