Raising Ital-indo-glish Franco-ameri-latino kids in France
So where are you guys from?
The dreaded question and how I attempt to answer it as well as fun facts on living and raising kids in the South of France.
I was born in the UK, I live in the South of France (Montpellier), my grandparents immigrated from India to the UK. They were from the Punjab and my first language was Punjabi. I’m American too. I moved there when I was a kid and grew up outside of Detroit, (or in French D-twa, because it’s actually French). My kids were born in Italy and France. My husband was born and bred in Peru.
Here’s a breakdown of living abroad, specifically in France, as a multi-cultural family.
1. Creche process: Many children go to nursery at an early age and it is quite affordable. Although, I falsely believed you just sign up and send the kids to nursery in France, it is actually quite an intensive process involving lots of paperwork and meetings. Now that we are in, the teachers at nursery speak a few catch phrases and sayings in English and Spanish with my eldest so that he feels comfortable.
2. One Dos Trois and Panee: Because of the city’s close proximity to, and history with Spain, many kids are exposed to three languages. One of the private schools here is actually tri-lingual and offers a curriculum in all three languages. Added bonus is my husband is Peruvian, so we have also formed a group of Latino friends, which further allows for the boys and ourselves, to be in a Spanish-speaking community. Additionally, my eldest son’s first word was pan-ee (Punbjabi for water), he still refers to water as ‘paa’ because his maternal grandma spent some time with him as an small child and spoke to him in Punjabi!
3. Vous parlez anglais? It is essential to speak French here. Despite speaking English, Spanish and Italian, French is a must when you live here if you want to get anything done. All things from opening a bank account, moving houses and setting up utilities as well as buying a car, require us to speak in French. Despite the fact that many French people actually speak English very well, the go-to language is their own. I took a course about a year in and it's been the best investment we made.
4. Not-so baby friendly: I wish there were more places where you could take the kids without thinking twice. We have made a list of a handful of food spots where we can go in town that we know are baby friendly spots, meaning they have a changing table or more than one high chair.
5. Introducing international foods: Food is so cultural. With my first, my Peruvian mother-in-law lived with us offering advice on quinoa and platanos to feed baby. In France, babies start with veggies, then fruits for their first foods at the ripe age of 4 months. Yogurt and eggs are introduced much earlier than in the States. As a new mom, I tried to “follow the rules”. The second time around I mix in the quinoa, the veggies and anything else that is mushy and edible– et voila! Multicultural baby food! Our cuisine, in general, consists of spicy chicken with achar, finger licking arroz chaufa, pasta and pizza (doesn’t everyone have this as a staple?), lots of baguettes and croissants, Heinz beans with HP sauce and choco chip cookies.
6. BYOV: Bring your own vaccines: When you have a routine check-up that requires vaccination, you must be sure to get your prescription and go purchase it from the pharmacy in advance. Sometimes they will give it to you in a special bag so that it stays cool. In any case, you must store it in the fridge before you head to the appointment. One time I completely forgot to buy the vaccine ahead of time, and when I sent to the cornor pharmacy, they didn’t have it! I had to run across town before the doctor’s checkup.
7. A kine trip, literally a trip! For young babies and actually children in general, if there is a lot of mucous during a cold and it seems to pass through to bronchios/lungs, doctors in France tend to recommend you go to a kine. A kinetherapist will start the visit by pushing firmly on the child's chest, and then sucks out mucous with a tube connected to a “sucking machine”. It's a nightmare to watch, but apparently clears passageways and does miracles to mucousy kids.
8. Shaman Maman and other remedies: Each culture has remedies. So, we have a lot of ideas. When the kids cry a lot, or seem extra fussy, we have our Peruvian family/friends pasar el huevo (pass the egg over their body and pull out the negative energy). If it’s a cold and stuffy nose, it’s bottles of sterilized water: In France each family will have a least a few boxes that contain little bottles of serum phisologique. These are recommended for babies to clean their nose when they are little, given they cannot blow their nose. The method is to lay baby on one side and squirt the little bottle up one nostril, then do the same on the other side. Baby doesn’t love it, neither does momma. I also used the Frida nose sucker, coupled with the serum phisologique, as a complimentary method for removing snot. You can tell my baby has had a lot of colds!
9. Homebirth midwife shortage: My first midwife told me it was illegal to have a home birth in France. I imagined going against the rules, bad-ass momma, giving birth and then being escorted into my jail cell. I later learned it's not illegal, it is just VERY difficult due to laws and restraints. In the end I found a midwife that would deliver my second son in our home. She and her co-worker deliver babies at homes across the region, given there are not many midwives that do homebirths here. They have even taken patients from Paris!
10. Mediterranean city, healthy vibes: Montpellier is quaint and family-friendly city. It’s multicultural. There is the man who walks down the main street and sings his call to prayer in Arabic (my eldest son is always intrigued), the corner Chinese food shop in town with delectable ready-to-eat treats, the Peruvian resto that is run by a Colombian guy who is a bit lost on how to cook and my husband will eventually go and be ‘chef du jour’ and teach him some tricks, the babysitters we had from Algeria who offered to prepare couscous and the Colombian who sang Spanish rhymes but was a bit overwhelmed with two kids, the mom’s group I participate in with mommas from all over the planet. With this group we share and live our experience of raising multi-cultural global kid-raising together.
11. Family-friendly and friendly-family town: Montpellier is pleasant and family-friendly, well I’m comparing it to Rome, where we lived before. Trams and buses flow like Rose wine and allow for easy mobility. It is considered college town that has a bit of everything – cheap so-called taco stops and vintage shops, bookstores and cafes. One of the oldest colleges of medicine is located here, along with a botanical garden that was used to grow medicinal plants for the college. Montpellier is nestled in between the sea and mountains and there’s plenty of vin rouge, oysters and baguettes to keep you here.
12. Get that Bread: The two most important places in town are the boulangerie (bakery) and patisserie (dessert shop). All things bread and pastries can be found here, including everything from quiches, baguettes of all types, pain au chocolat and of course flaky croissants. Sometimes we eat the food as is, other times we do combos – add a dash of ginger spice, thrown in a Peruvian onion and lime salad, slather on a bit more Nutella, or dip it in an Indian chai. How do you like your pastries?
13. French-born, but not French: My son was born in France, but is not granted a French passport because neither myself or my husband are French. This is an interesting for me, given if you are born in the US, you are American, or in my case, if you are born in the UK, you are British. This highlights, to me, measures of preserving culture at the expense of exclusion. The same is in Italy. For example, my eldest son was born in Rome, but not eligible for Italian passport citizenship for the same reason.
As you can see, and looping back to the intro, it is a bit complicated these days explaining where you are from, and how you got to where you are and living a culturally uniform lifestyle. It can be exhausting, and even annoying at times (especially at US customs – [eyes rolling emoji here]), but we are embracing it and are thankful for this unique and dynamic experience.