Thursday, 6 May 2010

A Day at the German Embassy

About ten days ago, we went down to the German Embassy in London, to renew BK1's passport. The whole family had to go, because to renew a child's passport, the child and both parents need to be present. Sigh.

Anyway, 190 miles, one night, 110 gbp in hotel fee later and a lovely breakfast, here we are sat in the busy waiting hall of the German Embassy. Available is a good selection of children's books, mostly in German. The Babel Father is busy reading to BK1, while BK2 and I sit down a bit further away, to play.

We are sat next to another family: mum, dad, a 3-year old or a bit less girl and a small baby. The mum starts speaking to her daughter, in English, in a noticeable German accent. I think to myself, the dad must be British, poor mum, her efforts to teach her daughter German are probably not enough to counteract the influence of the father and the whole society.

Then the father asks his daughter:"Would you like Daddy to read you a book?" in an even heavier German accent. Hum. Now, this was not the odd English sentence. The parents would converse between themselves in German, then invariably and consistently switch to English whenever they spoke to their little girl. At one point, I heard the mother tell her daughter:"Your English is so much better than mine", in a somewhat proud tone. After about 40 minutes, hopelessly waiting for one of the parents to speak German to their little girl, I got so annoyed that I stood up and left to look for a free seat further away.

Now why was I so annoyed? I still can't put my finger on it. Maybe because I am a southern girl, and am genuinely interested and curious about people. I ask myself, can a parent be truly him/herself when speaking to their child in a language that is not their own?

In trying to answer this, I realized this is exactly what my own parents did. They spoke Arabic to my sister and I, while their own language was Berber. They did it with the best intention, so that their children would not feel ostracised, so that we would feel at ease and blend in. I suppose the parents in the German Embassy have the same reasoning, to allow their children to fit in. After all, we all want to fit in. The question is, how much different can we be before this hinders us, or worse, stops us from fitting in?