November 18, 2009


I've had this unique experience of being the step-parent of a foreign child from the time she was a baby. First, a cross-cultural relationship/couple is already a continual process of another culture and set of assumptions being unveiled. Then, experiencing a child who is not your own, but who shares your life in the same way your own child would is perhaps even more instructive. Xavier has sort of acted as the porter and gatekeeper of French culture and Marguerite has been the person who has turned the key and let me in. You see, it is very subtle with children. The people around them don't see it happening. Marguerite, little by little, before my eyes, has turned into a French person.

As she plays in the bathtub and serves me tea and meals with her plastic orange tea set, within their proper structure and time, she is French: "Est-ce que tu veux prendre ton thé à l'heure du goûté, Mimie?" (Do you want your tea at the snack hour? Le goûté is 4pm in France, where kids have their appointed snack time).

She is French in her facial expressions. The way she blows air out of her mouth in that certain way when she doesn't believe something. I've never seen an American kid do the same thing. The way she uses the long drawn out "baaah oui!" (evidenced below in the Marguerite on the phone video). Even the way she elongates her mouth and forms her words - all of it is her already imprinted French acculturation. It makes me laugh when we speak English because she often has a little French accent when we first learn words. Soon enough, it goes away after we repeat and repeat the word, but just a few short years mark little people.

She is French when she instructs me as if I were another French child. "Ne mets pas tes doigts dans le nez Mimie." (Don't put your fingers in your nose, Mimie). "Il faut pas dire ouais, il faut dire oui." (Don't say 'yah,' you should say 'yes'). "Il faut pas marcher pieds nus, Mimie." (You shouldn't walk barefoot, Mimie).

Perhaps none of this is revelatory. Maybe it even seems obvious. Yet, it wasn't to me. It is the classic nature/nurture discussion. I have watched this little person being made French. I might be a mitigating factor, something that throws a wrench in the process from time to time in just how French Marguerite may become. But I must say, Marguerite is the best evidence I've ever seen of how culture and language and facial expressions get passed along. Basically, how culture is done.

I am grateful to Marguerite because she wholeheartedly lets me in. Adults have a harder time doing this in any culture. I suppose a kid doesn't know you are meant to be outside, so they start with the assumption that you are in. There are times when she cocks her head and looks at me strangely, when I've missed some very obvious reference to her in the discussion or activity at hand. In those moments I think I've given myself away and she'll put me in a place apart - the way it so often happens when you are the foreign person. Then she smiles and clips along as if nothing happened, and if it did, she doesn't care.


Gina said...

Oh, what a sweet entry, and the photo of you two together is adorable!

janene said...

been reading for over a year now, and i feel like it's a good time to "come out of the woodwork," since i imagine i'll be commenting more once you start to share your NY adventures.

i'm out on long island, but often take the 2 hour trek to nyc for the weekend - i share your enthusiasm for the city, but really feel the need to have some open space around me to really "recharge". i can't imagine living full-time in the city, but i sure can't wait to hear your adventures! i'm already eager to read about Marguerite's future nyc visits. what an enchanting child. i have a feeling she's going to love it.

your writing is beautiful. your photos are beautiful. your family is beautiful.

your blog is my most worthwhile find using the "random blog" button!

nyc will be lucky to have you back, for however long we get to have you! can't wait to compare nyc restaurants/shops/cafes!

happy travels.

Emilie said...

nice to meet you janene! thanks for introducing yourself and i'm glad we'll soon be neighbors...keep adding your thoughts. i love when people tell me what they think.

Rosie said...

Em congrats on becoming a famous blogger! I am delighted by the description of Marguerite and her beautiful French culture. Our world has grown by having her in our lives as well. All our love to you.

Melanie said...

Thanks for sharing, it is amazing how children will let you in their trust, like you said as if there wasn;t a difference. that is so cool. I love you! I am excited to see you soon.

Mary Elizabeth Liberty said...

hmm, insightful writing indeed, what a blessing to be involved with Marguerite.

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