This is my daughter’s first year of school, so I’ve tried to keep up the American presence as much as possible by introducing it into the French classroom and the school day. Because she is being brought up in France, my daughter will most likely be more French than American, but as a full-blooded American, it is important to me that she knows where she comes from, can carry that with her, and will pass it down to her own children.
Language is possibly the easier part of raising a bilingual, bicultural family. The bilingual part is easy (well, not quite easy). Language has rules which are reinforced at school, by TV, books, music, and so many other outlets. Culture is subjective and being bicultural is complicated. How, as an American parent in France, do you maintain an American cultural presence in your child’s life when they are in a French learning environment all day long? How can a parent fill a Franco-American child’s life with tidbits of American culture that you fondly remember from your own childhood like Halloween trick or treating, Thanksgiving turkey, 4th of July fireworks, the joy of eating cupcakes and other experiences that your child can only get from you and that won’t be reinforced in French schooling?
Here are some ideas of how to introduce a little American culture into your little bilingual’s French school:
Thanksgiving – Introduce the kids to new tastes. My daughter’s class appreciated the mini pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins I brought in to celebrate the day. I gave the teacher the recipe and a little explanation (in French) of what the holiday meant and how it was celebrated. The teacher was happy to learn something new and the kids were happy to eat!
Winter – The amount of space Christmas takes up in the public school grates against my politically correct American sensitivity. So when the teacher asked me to teach the kids a “Christmas” song, I decided on the wintery,-or less ecumenical -“Jingle Bells” which also exists in French as “Vive le vent”. Many parents actually came and thanked me for introducing their kids to English. And even as recently as May, the kids tell me words in English that they learned during my December English lesson.
4th of July – invite your children’s friends (and parents) over for a 4th of July barbecue. Make sure to have old favorites on hand (for us it’s corn on the cob, watermelon, potato salad and hamburgers).
Weekly baking – my daughter’s school has a weekly bake sale. I make 4 dozen chocolate chip cookies every week and they sell like hot cakes! I’d suggest not straying too far from typical American foods – oatmeal cookies with a pinch of cinnamon seem to work, as do cupcakes, but avoid frosting at all costs. French kids seem not to like it.
Birthday party – this year, we had a typical American fair birthday party. Cupcakes and piñatas are not only American, but they’re fun!
There are many ways to be bilingual and there are certainly other bilingual children in your area– even if they are not American or even English-speaking. It is important to frequently reinforce the fact that being bilingual and bicultural is an advantage and is special in order to avoid being stigmatized as “the weird kid who speaks English”. Kids learn from other kids so making sure your child interacts and speaks with other English-speaking kids on a regular basis is important. Organizing frequent playgroups with other English speaking children outside of school is important for you and your child. It helps reinforce their awareness of English and lets them interact with other English speaking kids and adults.
And most importantly, make sure your child knows that being bicultural and bilingual is really cool even if it is tough sometimes.
If you too have a story or an opinion to share on raising children abroad, we’ll be glad to publish your contribution !