Expat Kids "Mommy , who am I?"

My kids have an identity crisis. They don't know whether they are French, Anglais, Irish or Catalan. The two of them were born here in France and are soon to be celebrating their 7th and 5th birthdays ( yikes, how the hell did that happen?). They are Irish (even though they were born here, they do not have French nationality as both their parents are Irish) and speak English with a heavy Irish accent and French with a Catalan one. The school calls them "les Anglais" and compounding the problem is that we mix with an ex pat crowd that are mostly from the UK, confusing them even further.
They know to shout for Ireland when we are playing France in rugby, but I've caught them more than once saying "je suis Anglais" to French people. They have never been to a Paddys Day parade, they have never seen hurling or Gaelic football, they don't know any Irish songs or dancing and horror of horrors, they don't even go to a Catholic school.
They realise they are somehow different to their English ex pat friends but couldn't understand why they were not allowed have the union jack painted on their faces for the Royal wedding last year ( My Grandmother would certainly have turned in her grave)
We go back to the Ole Sod as often as we can and the Mammy does send over books about Irish legends and the like, but really it isn't enough to make them into little cailíni agus buachailli..

My Great Grandfather was one of the leading forces in the Gaelic league, an association set up in éire to promote the Irish language in the late 19th century. A múinteoir taistil ( travelling teacher) , he went from school to school re-introducing Irish to the youth of Ireland at the time. It really hit me this Paddys Day as I tried to speak a cúpla focail (a few words in Irish) that my Irish needs a lot of work! The shame!

So, I'm thinking about setting up an Irish Club - one where we can meet and do Irish dancing and singing, cook up some Irish food, cheer on Irish sport, watch some Irish movies and above all, have some Irish craic. I suppose what I'm saying is that I want my children to be quintessentially Irish and not French ...Ní Fraincis go háirithe! Is it too late, am I dreaming?

Kaz – let me just chip in on this discussion with a different view. Because – honestly: is it your kids that have an identity crisis, or is it you having one on their behalf?

(As you write yourself: you want them to be Irish, not French)

While I do understand all your thoughts about how to raise kids whose parents have a different cultural background than the country the kids are growing up in, I cannot help to think that it might not be such a big issue for the kids themselves. So I would turn the question around and ask: why is it so important for us parents to teach our kids about our background (I am sorry Celeste, but I think the idea of having the first footfall on Irish soil is really really weird)? Should we not rather try to adapt to the culture of the country we have settled in? Or even better – give our kids the best of both, while still accepting that the dominant culture necessarily have to be the one they experience every day.

I have thought about the question a lot myself since I am Danish, my boyfriend Dutch (with an Australian mom), together we speak in English (while each of us speaking our mother tongue when talking to our son) and our one year old son is born in France and carries his dads Dutch name and a Danish passport. So the question of nationality and of what define ones nationality has off course been on my mind. I had to get my head around it, but have somehow now come to terms with the fact that since I have chosen to settle in France and this is where my son will grow up – he will (off course) be mostly French. He will learn Danish and Dutch, Danish and Dutch culture and traditions because that is what we know the best, but I do wish I was more integrated in France or could just get my head around to learn more about the French traditions so I could also share those with him. That way my son will be a French boy with an international background that will grow up with a fun mix of French and foreign ‘weird’ traditions.

In that way I agree with some of the other posts and say: let’s not impose a certain nationality of the kids. Let’s just be happy that we can give our children an understanding and knowledge of many different cultures right from their beginning of their lives. It is the beginning of making the world a better place. :)

"Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin". I think this resonates with other discussions here on SFN, such as how fully do you integrate, etc. into another country's way of life. I think Celeste has put it very well, and your children are still quite young - it will become easier when they are a bit older, and can understand the concept of different countries, with different languages. I wouldn't worry about it for another couple of years. I remember picking up my eldest daughter and the two grandchildren from Toulouse airport last year. Card wouldn't work to get out of carpark so I pressed the button for assistance. I was asked to try a different card, and replied accordingly, when from the back seat comes little Ella's voice (she's five). "Mum, mum, why is Nanna talking all funny".

The nice thing is that your children will grow up bilingual.

My boys are half French half English and they like both halves. They adore the UK and we have a great time when we visit my folks.

My eldest son is 15 and is bilingual, naturally good at languages and is a wordy type of guy. My youngest can speak English if he puts his mind to it but is nothing like as at ease with it. When he realises just how important English is I'm sure he'll make more effort. He certainly enjoys having status in English lessons.

I only ever speak to them in English. So they are primarily French but love being British too.

Thanks Andrew , some sound advice there and it's good to "speak" to people in the same boat.

Thanks Bruce! You are so right! They are so lucky to be naturally bilingual and to have both cultures

Well that's pretty complicated! I thought my kids would have possible complications but not at all. It's the other way round for us, they're born here, OH is French and we don't mix with any anglophones so the only input they have is French everywhere apart from my efforts (as a linguist/languages teacher/translator) to get them at least to understand some English which they do but they only ever answer in French. When they do repeat some English my little boy's accent isn't too bad but my daughter, nearly 5, has a very heavy French accent. I think in the end all kids in mixed nationality couples or living abroad find their own identity. Mine are 100% French but I'll try and give them that little extra so they can communicate with anglophone family when they see them (once every couple of years!). I understand the problem of "les anglais" when there's no English contact and also understand why Irish, Scots, Welsh etc get annoyed about being labelled as English - the worst is when French commentators talk about l'équipe galloise... and in the next phrase talk about les anglais... One of my many cultural awareness bit teaching English here was always the different nations within the UK and Ireland. In the end I wouldn't worry too much, they're individuals and as I said earlier, will form their own identities as they grow ;-)

Our girls, now in their 30’s,have,as Anglo Mauritians,always counted themselves lucky by having both sides of us in them. I think you should emphasise how special and lucky your kids are, to be having access to all this “cosmopolitanism”. Only wish from me is that we’d insisted more when they were little, in the UK, that French was spoken more at home. Your kids will grow up with more strings to their bows than the average kid, and, hopefully, be more tolerant to “differences” in others.
Don’t worry about the French referring to them as “les anglais”…Stella is Mauritian,of Indian extract yet she’s also “l’anglaise” !