expats

About a(nother) boy

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I have been a pretty poor blogger these past couple of months. I would witness the same scenario repeating itself every morning: waking up with an idea and then finding a thousand perfectly valid reasons not to sit down. I have never indulged so much into manual jobs. I have been watching the washing machine doing its thing (yes, as in a sort of comic Poltergeist. I do sit on the floor and watch my washing machine sometimes), cleaned the oven a couple of times and went to the supermarket so often that I now have 6 bottles of dish soap on my kitchen shelf.

I went swimming every other day and kept gaining weight despite the effort. I now suddenly realize it had nothing to do with the blog. Or, not entirely. I had trouble writing because I wouldn’t write about what really was on my mind at that time.

The thing is that last November I found out that I am pregnant. And I now know it’s another boy. The third. If someone had told me a few years ago I would raise children of only one sex, I would have been sure it was girls. I am not that much into the frills and pink (though I would have indulged in some liberty blouses for sure) but I always thought I had something to tell to the next generation girls. I like women. I like little girls. I even like (most of the time) teenager girls. I like the fact that women talk all the time, and share life.

I also believe in fate, though. So, for some obscure reason which will unfold itself later or never, I have to raise (gentle)men. Before having my boys, I didn’t know a thing about men. I had a male dog, of course and had figured out they rarely hold a grudge and are pretty simple and straightforward. (don’t laugh, any dog-lover would get what I mean).

Now I know they are more fragile and emotionally dependent than girls but also simpler and living-in-the-present. I appreciate their fresh, indomitable physical energy and I try to teach them to be gentler as we will never have enough of men with a developed feminine side. I liked to think gender was imposed upon children by society but in my case, so far, it has proved innate. My boys could tell different cars before they could speak properly and would stare at a digger fascinated for 20 minutes in the same way I sat down in awe of some YSL vintage ball gowns I have seen at an exhibition a few months ago.

When I told them there was something new about our family, they asked if I had bought another iPad so they didn’t have to share anymore. As simple as that. How can one not adore those testosterone-filled brains?

That said, my pregnancy brain is slowly recovering from the first three months crash and I am now able of forming correct sentences again instead of wandering around without remembering what I was looking for.

I am determined to make the most of my writing time till mid-summer when I’ll probably have a few rough weeks in terms of daily functioning so I am planning to redesign the blog.

The thing is: when I started writing I was obsessed with my inability to be the half-dozen persons an average woman has to be on a daily basis. Then, of course, my thoughts have evolved and I have realized that my expat identity had become a shaping part of myself. One year and a few months later, it turns out my readers are most interested into the expat posts and into those related to my age group (with the one on turning 35 being a big hit, I guess us Millennials are all going through the same crisis). I will then focus on the life of a millennial expat and keep the mothering posts only when they can be inscribed into the two previous categories. The Brussels Bits will stay but with a less philosophical take and I will report more on Brussels lifestyle.

Wish me luck with the technical part of this change and stay tuned, I am back!

A character for every language: anatomy of an expat’s (non) psychological syndrome

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When I started this blog, one of my main concerns was that I perpetually felt lost in translation. Or maybe not even in translation. Just lost. Sometimes misunderstood, some others not listened to and most of the times confused. 

There’re days I can’t speak French but only English. Or there was that day I had this very important job interview in Spanish and I kept hearing myself saying words in French instead. The most humiliating is when I am supposed to talk Italian with a fellow national and I can’t but finish my sentences in another language. I look then something between a poser and a plain illiterate and that’s certainly one of the reasons I have stopped being invited to the fancy fêtes where mozzarella and ricotta are flown in by plane and everybody complains about the Belgian weather and the lack of a decent espresso. 

According to this article I can stop googling “multiple personality disorder” and looking up specialists in my region. It might be all the fault of the language(s). 

Several bi- or multi-linguals have indicated a change in the way they feel according to the language they’re speaking. Personally, I tend to talk more and to form longer sentences when I am surrounded by Italians while when I write in French my sentences result short and (too) concise, lacking all that flowery stuff French-speaking people are used to. (That was one of the first remarks my past editors made. I told them I still think in English rather than in French when I have to articulate a complex thought. They didn’t like it). What stays the same across languages is my tendence to be blunt and to avoid any possible sugarcoating of unpleasant realities.

If a good night’s sleep, followed by a strong coffee, can solve some of the above issues, there’s one that can’t be solved. No matter how strong you focus and how much caffeine you use. As you can read on the Economist’s blog, “many bilinguals are not biculturals”. 

It took me a while to realize this. For a very long time (and it still happens sometimes), every dinner party with Belgians would end in the same way: I would say something in my usual blunt way and my husband would interrupt, extremely embarrassed, to warn the other guests that I didn’t “really” think what I said. Every single time we would drive home without talking. Me, hugely offended. Him, unable to understand why I had to be so opinionated (something inappropriate for Belgian society). 

I am bilingual in French but far from being bicultural. I’m partially responsible for that: despite my decade spent in Belgium I never willfully took the time to immerse myself into French literature, films, newspapers and TV. I did it a bit at the beginning to learn the language but after a while I felt too distant from the French-speaking world to develop a passion about it. So I missed my train and if I now know how to talk to Belgians in formal occasions, I certainly have troubles in measuring my words in an informal context. 

The passive exposure since early childhood to British and American culture (cartoons, films, tv, books, stories) plus the fact that I simply like it more, makes me more sensitive and less prone to being equivocated when I speak English. 

What’s your own experience regarding multilingualism and multiple personalities? What about multiculturalism? Do you feel you are as many persons as the languages you master?