Growing up overseas is bound to leave a mark on kids’ behaviors, assumptions, and worldviews. Any return trip to the passport country is a fun time to notice how these changes have filtered down into everyday life. I remember as a child being mesmerized by these strange creatures called squirrels and being shocked to learn that pasta was in fact not grown on a farm somewhere. Now as parents, we find ourselves doing our best to help our kids fill in their TCK gaps while also enjoying what they have absorbed as simply “normal.” Here are some recent examples.
- “Who keeps throwing their TP in the trash can? You can flush it in this country.” Yes, this is a very practical one. In many countries overseas the plumbing can’t handle toilet paper, so a small trash can is where you stick it instead. Apparently, our kids have been trained well on this front, so it’s taking a while to convince them that it really is OK to send it flushing.
- “Dad, are you drinking the tap water in this hotel?” Again, many other countries don’t have tap water that is safe or wise to drink. Hotels in our area of Central Asia usually have signs near the bathroom sink that warn guests in several languages, including bad English, that the water is not for drinking. But yes, with the exception of a few cities whose water infrastructure has recently tanked, we can safely drink the tap water in the US.
- “Is our power out?” “No, buddy, the power doesn’t go out in this country.” One way to tell that someone has been in Central Asia for a while is to observe how they don’t even flinch when the electricity goes off. Or to notice how they keep waiting and waiting for it to be cut even in countries where it’s on 24/7.
- “Guys, you always have to wear a seat belt here. Or we’ll get in trouble with the police. Or die.” Seat belt and car seat laws and customs are a lot more relaxed in some other parts of the world. Yet every time we return to the US it seems like the age for required booster seats has been raised yet again. This one, though obviously necessary for safety and not being illegal, is a tough one for the kids to adjust to with happy hearts.
- “Don’t take candy from random men on the street in this country.” With the possible exception of small towns, we generally have our kids switch their behavior from the Central Asian norm, where it is quite common for sweet older men to give candy to random cute kids in public. And maybe a kiss on the cheek.
- “Kids, people here don’t say goodbye that many times. One or two solid goodbyes are enough.” Here our offspring have ingested Central Asian culture, where goodbyes consist of a blast of honorable words. Whether in person or on the phone, it should sound a lot more like, “Goodbye! Bye! God be with you! Bye now! Goodbye! Safe travels! Bye! Farewell! Byyyyeee! … (followed by a goodbye honk of the car horn whenever possible).”
- “They have bacon at this restaurant too?!” “Yes, son, bacon is available almost everywhere here… it’s wonderful, isn’t it?” One month in, the kids still haven’t gotten over the ubiquity of pork and bacon in the states. Truthfully, neither has their dad. We assume that sooner or later this will feel normal. For now, we’ll keep savoring the availability of this sweet forbidden meat.