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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Social media for expats

Yesterday, I attended a workshop by Molly Quell, entitled: “Social media for Professionals”. You can find pictures here! In her 2-hour speech, Molly told us almost everything we should know about using social media for business purposes. It was packed with useful information, and on top of that it was just plain fun. And not only did I get to attend a workshop on a very interesting topic, but I also could get to know some very awesome people: Susan Jimenez, blogger and photographer, Manuela Damant, whom I know from Delft MaMa and who is a coach and Vivian MacAllister, owner of Simply Skin.

I came back home with my brain oozing with thoughts and ideas. I was thinking about how expats and expat parents can use social media for their own purposes. And while the workshop was more or less geared towards professionals, I can’t help but think that all attending people were expats, and some of them were expat parents. But here’s the clue: social media are for everybody, depending on what you want to achieve.

I think expats’ situation in this matter is rather special: they don’t want to lose their connections to their home country, but on the other side they want to make new friends, and find new jobs in their new country. But with social media, they can do just that. Imagine that you can have a space with your school friends, and your expat friends, all together? With Facebook, you can.

Expats want to share their pictures and pictures of their children with friends and family. With Picasa and Flickr, this is possible. Maybe you need to get in touch with old and new clients? Twitter is the answer. You want to set up a blog? Check out Blogger and Wordpress, and the many other blogging platforms. By the way, blogs are a great way to tell your own expat story. Expats come in all colours and sizes, and each perspective is absolutely unique.

There are other social media that I am just starting to hear about, for example Pinterest (how cool is Pinterest?), Instagram (I am not on Instagram yet but plan to be there in the near future). There are many, many more, depending on what do you want to use it for. The cool thing, however, is that you don’t have to be everywhere. Since each of these social media have their own rules and ways of communicating with others, they require a lot of time and attention. People like Molly, who are social media consultants, have turned their passion for social media into full-time jobs!

But for us mortal people, it suffices to be on 2 or 3 social media sites, depending on our niche. I am learning to use Facebook and Twitter better, and am digging deeper into Pinterest. If you’are also using social media, let me know-by following me there! Can you think of other social media appliances that would be useful for expats? Tell me-and my readers!

Besides, I will have a great giveaway for you tomorrow!
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Monday, 30 July 2012

An expat’s confession: I never wanted to leave my country.

Even though I love exploring new countries, new cultures, and learning languages, the truth is that I always planned to stay in Poland. I never wanted to go to live abroad. I think Poland is full of potential, and if needed, I always was able to find jobs. Some of my friends from school left to live elsewhere. They might have done it out of necessity, or because they wanted to, but still they left. Never once did it occur to me that I’m going to live abroad.

However, as I was nearing my graduation, I had the idea that I’ll go to Germany to study there for some time. I thought that before I stay in Poland my whole life, get a steady job and start a family, I might as well gain new experiences, and see how living abroad is like. Or so I thought. Because in the end nothing is like I envisioned it.

In the end, while I came to Hamburg with the intention of staying there for a semester, not longer. But then I stayed another semester, and went back to Poland, only to return to Germany a few months later. And I don’t even want to mention the 4 months I spend in Canada, which were also unplanned.

But it’s OK. Sometimes things like this happen, and you suddenly have no choice, not really. But I have found a home in the Netherlands, and my experiences so far have been extremely positive. I am given the unique opportunity to raise my beautiful girls trilingually. I have projects, ideas, and my children and my husband to focus on. I am inspired, fascinated, excited.

Do I miss home? Every day. Sometimes I miss it so much it hurts. My parents and my brother are there. My friends are there. Everything I had come to love and admire, it’s in Poland. Except my husband is here. My children are here. My home is here.

I have found new friends, new places to love, and new things to do. I have come to love my new home. I have come to love my life here, so full of surprises, of meeting people, of seeing places and learning, learning, learning. I am learning so much here, from a new language, to blogging.

And while I never wanted to live abroad, here I am, in the Netherlands, far away from my country, and missing it every day. And yet these wonderful things I have here make it totally worth it! 
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Friday, 27 July 2012

The Awesomeness that is Mom’s Night Out!

It’s funny how brilliant ideas sometimes struck you when you least expect it. Like, when you cycle into town at 9pm to get money from the ATM because the one closer to your place was closed. This very thing happened to Lynn Morrison. Lynn was working on the “Me-Time” series for her Nomad Parents website, when she had an idea. She thought about organising a Mom’s Night Out. But not just a couple of friends getting together for chat and drinks, no. Lynn wanted something bigger.

She envisioned a Mom’s Night Out on a national level, in the whole of Netherlands. And with this idea in mind, she started contacting expat organisations, expat mom’s networks and possible sponsors. Within two weeks, a date was set, and venues selected. With the help of other international moms, in almost every city, moms could get together for chat and cocktails yesterday. I decided to go to the one in The Hague. It was great. Not only did I manage to meet new people- one of them was Molly Quell, who will have a workshop on social media next Monday, and I am attending! Also, what is the chance of meeting a woman who comes from almost exactly the same little village as my husband? Close to none. But it happened!

I had a great time, talking and drinking, and networking. The fun thing was that we didn’t really look like moms. You would catch us talking about our children once in a while, but we mingled with other guests of the Havana restaurant effortlessly!

Since the event was sponsored, we were given goody bags. A big thank you to all the sponsors:

Simply Skin, a company producing natural cosmetics. While I don’t wear makeup, I love cosmetics, especially the kind that you can rub all over yourself. And so samples of facial cleaners, body butters, and scrubs were just the right thing for me. Simply Skin also organizes Pamper Parties. I want a Pamper Party, right now!

EGG - a company designing and producing beautiful, customizable, but above all things safe helmets for children while they’re riding their bikes.

Also, we have Slipperwereld, a company that produces swimwear for children. Most interesting! Since we want to teach Klara how to swim, their products will come in handy in the very near future!

And, of course, let's not forget Nomad Parents for the idea and for sponsoring the Mom's Night Out in The Hague!

I had a great time. I think it showed and I was even hit on by a French man. I didn’t pay him any notice, but it was still nice!  And another thing I love about Mom’s Night Out? My saint of a husband put the girls to bed so I came home to a quiet, peaceful house.

Today, I awoke to my children’s smiles. And I had to smile back. Because I had such a great time yesterday. And because my children always make me smile.

Lynn plans this to be a recurring event. I am in for the next one!
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Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Cultural identity crisis revisited

Do you think you have a cultural identity crisis because you’re an expat? Think again. I remember very well when my professor told me that each one of us is likely to experience an identity crisis in the near future. And while there were two foreigners in the group (including myself), the majority of the students were German.

The professor listed several reasons for this. First, we put a bigger emphasis on individualism than we did in the past. Which I think is a good development, except it provides us with the scary insight that we are (or we think we are) responsible for our own lives. It means that we have (or we think we have) choices. And choices are scary. What if I get it all wrong? Who am I, now that I can define myself? The Germans have a saying for this: “Qual der Wahl”- you actually can suffer from having too many choices.

Another thing is that yes, we are becoming increasingly mobile. This means that geographical and political borders get blurred. Cultures, languages, religions exist parallel to each other, but they also mix and interact with each other. This can lead to a feeling of being lost, of not knowing where to belong anymore. But this doesn’t have to be bad.  Facing questions like these can be challenging for sure, but it can make us more creative, more open-minded, and more understanding.

Also, moving to another country is hardly the only reason to have an identity crisis. Imagine you become a mother, and everything you knew about the world shifts and changes. So many new moms experience feelings of uncertainty about who they are. Imagine you lose your job that you had for many, many years. You have already started to identify with the company, and now you are jobless. This is a very legitimate reason to ask yourself the question: “Who am I?”

As you see, the thing common for all those crises, is change. Change of country, change of marital state (single to married, childless to having children), change of job. These can all lead to identity crisis. And change is scary. Sometimes, a change makes us doubt everything we’ve ever learned about the world. No wonder we feel insecure when faced with changes.

It is also a fact that many expats need psychological help, counselling or coaching. As hard as it may be to face therapy, getting the support you need is crucial to your wellbeing! Also, there is no shame in asking for help! And I am telling you this as a mom of a child who needs physical therapy!

Then, on the other hand, there are people who thrive on change. Those who love to seek different jobs, who travel the world, and meet new people. In her book: “Multilinguality across the Lifespan”, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa describes a boy who only moved once, and it was already too much for him to bear. On the other side,  she mentions a girl whose parents changed countries several times in a year, and who said her goodbyes with ease, and was looking forward to the challenges awaiting her in the new country.

Another issue is the thinking that we have one, stable identity. This is not true! In our lives, we already have multiple identities. We are spouses, parents, employees, consumers and clients.  We belong to a certain cultural background, and to a certain religion. We identify with our city, our region, with our country all at once!  In Poland, a huge argument against joining the EU was that it might make us lose our "Polishness". But it didn't seem to be much of a problem because you really identify with many things if you choose to do so!

So it all depends: whether the change is good or bad, and sometimes it’s hard to the one from the other. It depends on what kind of person you are. It depends on how you react to change. It also depends on whether you are well supported, and it depends whether the change was brought on you, or if you are in control.

Living in a different country doesn’t automatically mean that you will have an identity crisis. Staying in one country your whole life doesn’t mean that you’re safe from it. Also, in many cases, identity (or should I say identities?) is a choice! Think about it.
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Thursday, 19 July 2012

Ute's multilingual story

We only moved in a few months ago, and until recently I wasn’t really able to meet many of my neighbours. But during a party, I could to talk to some of them, and have some great conversations. One of my neighbours is Ute. Ute is a very interesting person, and I asked her whether she’d be willing to let me tell you her story. She was, and we had a very nice chat, together with tea, delicious chocolate and cherry cake (for us), and rice snacks (for Julia).

Ute’s parents are German but they lived almost 30 years in Italy. Ute was born in Lugano (the Italian part of Switzerland) and was raised to speak both German and Italian. She likes to call herself “Expat since birth”, as she never lived in her parents’ country. She then went on to study Romance languages and literature at the University in Zurich, and also specialised in bilingualism.

Ute is married to Rolf, a Swiss man who comes from the German-speaking part of Switzerland. They have three children: 9-year old Francesco, and 6-year old twins Alice and Lucia. As you see, those are all beautiful Italian names. Ute and Rolf had planned to apply the OPOL method (Ute prefers saying One Person, One Language rather than One Parent One Language and I agree). Ute spoke to their children in Italian. Rolf used the Swiss dialect of German, which is different from the Standard German Ute and Rolf adopted when addressing each other. They also sent their children to a Dutch daycare where they learned Dutch.

This seemed to work out well, with Francesco quickly adapting to the multitude of languages. The twins, however, were another story. Ute explained that the twins suddenly started speaking “Twin”, a language that nobody understood apart from themselves. Ute read that twins develop their own language only if they’re neglected which definitely was not the case with her girls. But as the children had to deal with 3 or 4 languages per day, Ute decided to reduce the amount of languages in their household. Italian was put off for a while, and Rolf dropped the Swiss German dialect.

This worked out perfectly, and communication improved. Even if Ute agreed to stop talking Italian to her children on a regular basis, she still went on reading them Italian stories and letting them listen to Italian songs and nursery rhymes. Italian is very present in their family as Ute’s sister and family live in the Italian part of Switzerland and they meet several times per year. I think the way Ute and Rolf dealt with it is just fantastic. Ute tells me that when she is angry with the children, she found that her words have a better effect when she speaks Italian. Also, the children are more and more interested in speaking and reading in this language.

I asked Ute to tell her story because I think it is unusual. First, Ute’s children are multilingual, and while there is ample research on bilingualism, multilingualism seems to be much less common, and not as many studies have been conducted so far. Then, I thought that there is even less research on multilingual twins, and maybe some of you are in a similar situation, and you can comment, and share your own experiences.

Ute’s story is an example of a situation in which “more” doesn’t necessarily mean “better”. After all, every child and every family is different, and Ute responded to her children’s needs in a way that allowed for communication between the family members. But in the end, it is a story of success in raising multilingual children. And I find it very uplifting, and exciting.

Thank you, Ute for letting me share your story!
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Wednesday, 11 July 2012

How raising multilingual children has made me a better person

The idea for this blog post came to me after an extremely hard day. I came so close to losing it several times, and maybe I even lost it a little bit. But then somehow the words formed in my head, and this post was born. I am grateful for this because rather than giving in to feelings of self-pity and guilt, I decided to look at the bright side, and remind myself that I am a better person because of my children. While this happens to many mothers, I think that the fact that my children are trilingual faces me with many challenges that parents of monolingual children do not have. And I am a better parent, a better person because of it. Here is why.

1)     Because I learn

I am a brainy person. I thrive on new things to learn. I love learning just for learning’s sake, just as much as I love reading for the sheer pleasure that the act of reading gives me. And even though I am a bilingual person myself, I didn’t know much about the theory of multilingualism before I had children. When they were born, I started to search for books, articles and websites on multilingualism. I am fascinated by the topic, not only as a parent of two children, but also because I have a scientific mind and experiencing this in real life is just so enjoyable. It is sometimes said that having children makes you stupid, but this is not the case with me. Rarely have I felt so stimulated!
It is because of my multilingual children I started this blog. It is because of them I have tons of ideas for blog posts, articles, pictures, and crafts. It is because of multilingualism that I found it within myself to write about this topic. It is exciting, and extremely gratifying.

2)      Because I pay attention

Most mothers know when their children started to speak, when the little ones said their first word, their first 2-word-sequence, their first coherent sentence. I can tell you that, too. But I can also tell you in which language Klara said her first word (Tata-daddy, in Polish). I can tell you which was the first word she said in all three languages (nie, nein, nee, what did you expect?). I can tell you which languages she used in her first little sentence (Polish and German, Klara auch śpi- Klara is sleeping, too).
I am working hard to meet my children’s needs. I think the fact that I am so fascinated by their multilingualism makes it easier for me to respond to them, because I listen for new words and new expressions- and therefore I also listen to what they’re trying to say. Why do I mention this here? Because we follow the OPOL method, where each person is assigned a language (Polish for me, German for my husband), this means that the better the relationship with the parent, the better the relationship with the language. Or so I hope.

3)      Because I try not to compare

I know I should never ever compare my children with other children. But when I hear monolingual children speaking, I sometimes can’t help it but feel a bang of jealousy. In comparison with my girls, they speak so much, and so well. Their speech development seems to be faster somehow. They use expressions and sentences my girls probably never will. But then I think of how Klara and Julia will naturally speak many languages, and that their speech development is different because, well, they’re trilingual. This doesn’t mean that anything can be explained with multilingualism, it only means that multilingual children develop in a different way. And as my very clever Dutch teacher once said: “You cannot compare yourself to others. The only person you can compare yourself to is yourself.” And with that in mind, I think my girls are doing great!

4)      Because I am learning to be patient

Patience is desperately needed when you have children. I think even more so in case of multilingual children. While Julia’s speech development is rather “normal”, Klara took her time speaking. She said her first word at 18 months. She stayed in this stage for a long time since she had other ways of communicating. Whenever she wanted to make her point clear, she took me by the hand and led me to whatever she wanted to show me. But I expected her to speak, and to speak well. Now I know this doesn’t make sense. Now I know that she develops at her own pace, and it’s fine.
Another thing is that Klara loves my company, even if it just means me watching her play. She learns best from intensive one-on-one relationships. This is why we spend a lot of time reading books, singing songs, and going for walks. Being patient means to spend this quality time with Klara rather than trying to do chores. Those can be done later. Because, as they say: “Cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow…” The same thing goes for Julia, but she is a totally different child, and so her language development is different as well. And her needs have to be met, too. I love how our quality time also means quality time in Polish.

5)      Because I think about words, and what they mean

We all know that words can hurt. This is especially the case with children. So many things that we say can hurt them without us knowing it. But when you think a lot about languages, you think of what you say at the same time. This means that maybe before you say something stupid, you’ll pause to think about the consequences. In German, there is an expression for this: “die Schere im Kopf”, “the scissors in your head”. It is usually used in a negative way, to describe self-censorship. But it can also mean something positive: “think first, speak later”. Not so bad, is it?
Thinking about words also means that I’m reading a lot about parenting, and multilingualism- but the majority of the things I’m reading are in English, so I have to think how to best adapt the new words and expressions when I speak Polish.

6)      Because I see my accomplishments and feel proud of them.

In case of parents of multilingual children who follow the OPOL method, it becomes perfectly clear, who teaches the child what. So when I heard Klara describing her feelings in Polish, I was extremely proud, because it was obvious that she learned it from me. On the other hand, she only validates me in Dutch (goed zo, mama!) which makes me think that maybe I should praise her more. But then, at least I get to know where I stand.

7)      Because I expose them to a variety of languages and cultures

This one is pretty obvious. Not only do we visit our extended families regularly, we also travel a lot. Therefore Klara and Julia hear many languages, and see many countries. Also, we have many international friends, and we speak many languages ourselves. And then, the Netherlands are an extremely tolerant country. A nanny in Klara’s daycare is Muslim, and she wears a headscarf. Klara adores her! Here, my children get the chance to see people of all cultural backgrounds!

8)      Because I am learning the majority language (Dutch).

Not only is learning a new language fun, it is also extremely important if it’s a majority language in the country you’re living in. And even more so if you have children, who will grow up to speak that language, and it will become a part of them. So for me, learning Dutch means trying to maintain a good relationship with my children- that way, I hope, they will feel accepted for who they are. I see this at work when I sing Dutch songs to Klara (although I only do it if she initiates it), and her eyes sparkle, and she smiles. It’s like she’s saying: “Oh, you know that, too? I like you. You’re a cool person!”.

9)      Because I am learning to be resilient

While my family and friends are very understanding about multilingualism. Actually, I think that we’re pretty lucky in this regard. All the nurses at the Consultatiebureau, while they lacked the theory, knew better than to say: “Oh just speak Dutch with them”. On the other hand, even some nannies from Klara’s daycare complained of how little she spoke in Dutch. They’ve probably never heard of the silent phase- a topic for another post. This is where resilience is needed, to explain the theory, or to stop caring about what people say, and go on.

10)   Because it’s fun!

Let’s not forget fun. In fact, let’s never underestimate the power of fun. Parenting is enjoyable, because it’s challenging and gratifying, and funny all at the same time. Seeing my children grow, and develop, and learn is fun. Hearing them adopt their many languages as if it is the most normal thing on Earth, that’s another reason why having children is fun. Tons and tons of it.

How about you? What would you add to this list? Do you feel the same way?
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Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Multilingual cards *GIVEAWAY* ends July 23rd!

Are you a multilingual, intercultural family? Did you want to buy beautiful cards for your own wedding invitations/birth announcements/thank-you cards but couldn't find any?

Enter Annabelle. Annabelle was already kind enough to let me share my story on her blog, Gato&Canard. Not only is she a blogger and researcher in languages, but she is also a very talented craftswoman. Inspired by her own wedding a few years back, she decided to start making multilingual wedding invitations.

Her cards are both multilingual and eco-friendly. I loved her simple, thoughtful designs so much that I ordered my own business cards with her. I can’t wait for them to arrive!

I asked Annabelle whether she would be willing to send me some of her designs as give-away prizes. She kindly accepted my offer! So, I am very proud to present to you 3 sets of beautiful postcards. All of them are blank so you can write your message yourself. You can find 2 of the 3 designs here:

For the third set, Annabelle cooperated with MotherTongues® to create thoughtful postcards with untranslatable words on them! And if there is ever an untranslatable word in Dutch, it’s gezellig. You can find the gezellig cards here

Personally, I think Annabelle’s paper designs are pretty gezellig! And now they can be yours, too!

To enter, please answer this question: Were you ever in need of multilingual cards? Why? Why not?

This give-away will run for two weeks, till July 23rd. The winner will be picked by random using Random.org. You can start commenting now!


1. You must be 18 or over to enter.
3. You must read these rules.
4. One commenter will be selected as winner. Please answer the question: Were you ever in need of multilingual cards? Why? Why not?
5. Comments will be open until 11:59 PM on July 23, 2012.
6. The Winner will be chosen randomly using Random.org.
7. The Winner will be announced on July 24, 2012.
8. Prize is the following package: 1 set of Bird-in-a- Tree blank postcards, 1 set of Speech Bubble blank postcards, 1 set of gezellig postcards.
If you are interested in Annabelle’s designs, visit her here. She can customize her creations to best accommodate your wishes! You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter
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Monday, 9 July 2012

Multilingual cards *GIVEAWAY* ends July 23rd-RULES AND REGULATIONS!

This are the rules and regulations of the giveaway. Please see the giveaway post here! Please submit all your comments on the giveaway post!

1. HOW TO ENTER: The giveaway begins from the moment the post is published on the site through 12:00 p.m. CET on the end of the contest date. Any entries received after the contest has closed will not be included.

In order to enter, participants are required to do the following:
Leave a comment on the Giveaway post.

Entries are limited to up to five entries per person and ten total entries per household. Additional entries will be deemed in violation of terms and contestant will be disqualified.
Comments left on Facebook, Twitter, via email or other sources will be considered ineligible and will not be included. The EuropeanMama is not responsible for transferring comments left on these mediums onto the post for submission into the giveaway.

2. ELIGIBILITY: Open to anybody who is 18 years of age or older at time of entry. Family members and/or those living in the same household of the European Mama or Sponsor are not eligible to participate.

3. WINNERS SELECTION: The Winner will be selected within 72 hours after the close of the event from among all eligible entries received during the Giveaway. The Winner will be determined at random by the EuropeanMama using Random.org. The Winner will be announced on the giveaway post and contacted by The EuropeanMama via email. The Winner will have 48 hours to claim his or her prize or a new winner will be selected. A list of winners can be requested at any time by contacting olencja.ba@gmail.com

4. PRIZES: Odds of winning prize is dependent upon the total number of eligible entries received. Prizes are limited to one (1) per household.

5. GENERAL: Subject to all federal, state and local laws/regulations. Neither the EuropeanMama, Sponsor, nor their affiliates will have any liability whatsoever for any injuries, losses or damages of any kind caused by any prize or resulting from acceptance, possession, use and/or misuse of any prize or participation in these promotions. The EuropeanMama and Sponsor are not responsible for any typographical or other errors in the printing of the offer or in administration of the promotion.

6. INTERNET: Neither the EuropeanMama nor Sponsor is responsible for electronic transmission errors resulting in omission, interruption, deletion, defect, delay in operations or transmission or alterations of entry materials, or for technical, network, telephone equipment, electronic, computer, hardware or software malfunctions or limitations of any kind, or inaccurate transmissions of or failure to receive entry information by the EuropeanMama or Sponsor on account of technical problems or traffic congestion on the Internet or at any website or any combination thereof. If for any reason the promotions are not capable of running as planned for any reason the EuropeanMama or Sponsor reserves the right in its sole discretion, to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend the Giveaway and select the winners by random drawing from among all eligible entries received from all methods combined up to the point of the action taken by the EuropeanMama or Sponsor.

7. SPONSOR: The EuropeanMama is the host of the giveaway and is in no way to be considered the Sponsor, unless the giveaway specifically discloses that The EuropeanMama is the Sponsor. The Sponsor is deemed to be the party providing the product for the giveaway. The Sponsor is responsible for shipment and delivery of giveaway product.

8. DISCLOSURE: The EuropeanMama may or may not have received the same prize and/or compensation in order to facilitate a review for giveaway purposes. The comments made within the post are in no way reviewed, edited or influenced by any parties, including the Sponsor. All opinions are 100% that of the EuropeanMama.
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Sunday, 8 July 2012

Happy birthday to blog!

July is a special month for us. Klara’s birthday is in July. My own birthday is in July. And, this blog’s birthday is in July, too. This is no coincidence. Because behind every blog, there is a story, and this is mine.

I started the European Mama blog last year, as a birthday gift to myself. I had been playing around with the idea of starting a blog for a while, but I had never found the time, or hadn’t thought of anything to write about. But then, something happened. Something that has shaken me to the core. Something that I still think about.

To make a long story short, a lady (or should I say, a witch?) once saw me struggling to put a crying, fighting Klara into her stroller. In her overzealous desire to save all children from their evil mothers, she flew down on her broom to confront me. When she heard that I am a foreigner, she called the police on me. Yes, the same police that is supposed to deal with real crimes, like stealing or murder. Luckily, nothing happened. They came, listen to our stories, and left. So did the Witch.

But I was shaken for two reasons. First, this was the first time I’ve ever seen a full-blown temper tantrum. Second, having the police called on you is a traumatic experience for anybody. I knew I needed a platform to express my thoughts and share my stories.

Two months later, on July 8th, two days after my birthday, The European Mama Blog was born. This blog started as trilingual (in Polish, English and German), and attempted to cover a variety of topics. Not a very successful strategy, I must say. But along the way, I found that somebody somewhere was listening to this little voice. Yes, that’s you, dear readers! And so I tried to adapt to your needs, and started writing more about multilingualism, and being an expat. But I also wanted to write about being a parent. I translated my German posts into English, and deleted the ones that didn’t fit the topics of being an expat and parenting. Now, it seems that this blog has a name to match.

Did you ever wonder why I called this blog “The European Mama”? For many reasons. The first one was that I was trying to find a name for someone who comes from one country, is married to someone from another country, and lives in a third country. Someone who speaks many languages and was exposed to many cultures. I think “European” is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of somebody like that. At least, it was for me. Poland, Germany and the Netherlands are European countries. And it doesn’t matter whether they belong to the European Union or not.

I have given Europe a lot of thought. Apart from being Polish, I feel European. The European Union has made so many things easy for me (getting married, travelling, formalities, etc.) but with the uncertain future of this construct it is hard to feel attached to it. Also, not all Europe is EU. However I feel European. Maybe a post  on this would be in order?

I’ve come to love this thing called blogging. I am excited that you are reading this and commenting, and sharing some of the posts. All the time, I think about new topics, new articles, new stories to tell you. If I am not writing my posts, I think about writing my posts. I sometimes find myself in a given situation, and think: “Would this make a good blog post?” or “Can I blog about this?”, or, most importantly: “Will my readers like it?”

I hope you have as much fun reading my posts as I have writing them. You make this so enjoyable. But also, you make me think about quality. I’ve already started working on this, on making this blog “bigger, better, bloggier”. I am trying to come up with a nice logo, and to make this blog look better. From you, I have received nothing but support and encouragement. Thank you so much!

Please let me know what you think of the European Mama blog. Maybe you have ideas for more blog post topics and design. Please, share them! Maybe you do or do not like a certain feature. Please, tell me! Maybe you would like to express your general opinion about this blog. Please, do! You can comment, write on my Facebook wall, or tweet me. Or, if you don’t like going public, please email me at olencja.ba@gmail.com.

Besides, I think it is high time for my first give-away. Stay tuned for tomorrow! 
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Wednesday, 4 July 2012

And not because he’s German: my take on intercultural relationships

Can intercultural relationships survive? And if they can’t, is it because of cultural differences, or maybe because of societal pressure? Or maybe there were other things at play?

There is a story by Bernhard Schlink (the same author who also wrote “The Reader”. The book was turned into a film, and I recommend both), called “Circumcision”. It describes the relationship of Andi, a German student currently on a scholarship in the USA, and Sarah, a Jewish American girl. Andi considers Sarah to be the love of his life, and she loves him, too. However, they fight a lot because Sarah often mentions that she loves him “despite the fact that he is German”. Andi, on the other hand, doesn’t want to be loved conditionally. He just wants to be loved. In the end, he decides to get circumcised for Sarah’s sake. Only she doesn’t appreciate his sacrifice, and so he leaves her.

Maybe you think this is such a typical story of why intercultural relationships can’t work. You might say: “they’re too different, their cultures just can’t understand each other, no wonder it doesn’t work out“.

As you know, I am Polish, and my husband is German. Those two countries have a curious relationship with each other that covers everything from hate to respect and admiration. When we first started dating, somebody posed the question what my parents would think of me having a German boyfriend. My parents of course, didn’t mind. They were happy for me.

I guess that maybe I should have behaved more like the Polish princess Wanda who jumped into the Vistula river (oh, the symbolism, as the Vistula is considered the “most Polish of all Polish rivers) and drowned rather than marry a German man. That would be patriotic, and tragic, and I would be a hero. Only what good would it do me? Not much.

My husband is many things: kind, and intelligent, and hilarious, and well-educated, and handsome. He is a fantastic father to our two girls. He is tolerant, and open-minded, and he also happens to be German. We don’t really have the “because you are German” discussions, although we might joke about it. With him, I feel at home.

Somehow so many marriages fail, but if they are intercultural marriages, everybody assumes that it was because of the cultural differences that the relationship fell apart. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. There could have been other things at play.

I think whenever something is different from the norm, people tend to say that this marriage can’t work. The same things have been said about same-sex marriages, relationships between people of different ages, or anything else that is even a little bit out of the ordinary.

Intercultural couples are just like any other couple: they go through ups and downs, they argue, and they make up again. They just speak different languages, and they have the experience of having lived in different countries. And yes, both of them were shaped by their culture and their home country. However, marriages and relationships require mutual understanding and a big dose of diplomacy- and it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about intercultural couples or couples from the same culture.

When we got married, we had picked a wedding verse that we liked: "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay". There is no better way to describe an intercultural relationship. In fact, there is no better way to describe any relationship.

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Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Native Speaker Myth: Translators

Eowyn Crisfield of Raising Bilingual Children has written a series of 2 posts on the topic of native speakers. The first one was devoted to teachers. The post basically explains why it’s not always preferable if a teacher is a native speaker because often he has been chosen for that very reason, and not for his education or talent for teaching.

In the other post, Eowyn goes on to explain why we can’t expect our multilingual children to show a level of language skills that would be somehow comparable with monolingual children. This is because multilingual children show specialisation of languages, meaning that they use certain languages in certain situations.

Maybe you would be interested in knowing that I occasionally work as a translator. So when I read Eowyn’s post, I pondered on how the myth of native speaker influences translators. And it does, on many levels.

First, it is sometimes assumed that if you bilingual, you are by default a good translator. Not true. That’s because of the very thing I explained above: language specialisation. A bilingual person might not know the vocabulary of his target language, but understand the source text very well. Therefore he or she won’t be able to translate the text. Balanced bilinguals, though they are an ideal worth striving for, are extremely rare.

Furthermore, the mere fact of being a native speaker of a language does not make you a good translator. And it does not even mean that you are able to translate a text into that language. However, many institutions, organisations and translations agencies require translators to only render texts into their mother tongue, on the ground of this being “professional conduct”. And while this seems logical and understandable, there are many exceptional translators who prefer not to translate into their mother tongue, for example because they know their expert vocabulary in the target language, for example because of their studies. I consider Polish to be my mother tongue, but I can translate texts into German.

There are many definitions of a “mother tongue”: it’s the language your mother used. It is your best, strongest language. It is the majority language. For most people, that’s the same thing. But not for all. So, in case of bilinguals, even the mother tongue becomes problematic.

So maybe it’s better to think of qualities that a translator should possess? It depends on so many things. For example, education is one thing. Of course, a strong knowledge of language is a must.

So, maybe it’s better to find translators who are just best suited for their work? And this doesn't mean that this person has to be bilingual or translate into his or her mother tongue, even though for most it’s easier and their translations are better. It just means that this person has to be good at what they're doing.
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Monday, 2 July 2012

I hereby declare the bathing season to be open!

So many times I thought of how I would write this post. I’ve always loved the sea and I couldn’t wait to write about it. But somehow, I didn’t get the chance. Because, let’s face it, we’ve been going to the seaside since late February but none of the times we went, counted. I mean, how can going to the seaside count for opening the beach season if I didn’t get in?

So, the time when we wanted to go to the seaside in the winter, and forgot to put on Klara’s diaper, that didn’t count. Neither did the time where we just got our feet a little wet. That time, the water was so cold that it hurt my feet. The one time, when Klara went into the sea didn’t count, either, because I didn’t. I thought I’d have many possibilities to go for a swim, and then you know what happened. The so called “summer” of rain, cold weather, and some more rain.

But today, I am very proud to announce, today is finally the day where I actually get to go for a swim. With my husband on what I call his “Good Weather Leave” (I think it should be mandatory for all people living in the Netherlands), and my girls in daycare, AND the beautiful sunny skies, this proves perfect for opening the bathing season.

First, we go for a long walk in the dunes in Scheveningen. We pick our path with great care, and we decide to take the one where we could not have gone with the stroller. Then, we eat some pistachio ice cream. And finally, we arrive at the beach.

I change into my bathing suit, and into the water I go. It takes a while because at first, it isn’t pleasant. The waves are high, and the water is cold. I hear some part of my brain telling me off for doing such a crazy thing. I don’t listen, and continue my walk into the sea. And at some point it happens: the point when the water is up to my waist, and it is not cold anymore, and I wait for a wave, and dive in.

This is bliss. The water is now warm, and it encompasses me. I swim, and turn, and jump at the waves. I dive into the blue-green water. I am the only one in the water. Life is good! In “Blue remembered Earth” Alistair Reynolds writes about a world where it is possible to be turned into a mermaid. For a while I want to become a mermaid myself.

Water feels so natural to me. It is my element. I might be shy and awkward on land, but I become graceful and fluid in the water. I feel exhilarated by the fact that even though the water is icy cold, I still go in, and immerse myself in it. I love being the sole swimmer. So, it is no wonder that I am tempted by the idea of actually living in the water.

But then I think of the man waiting for me on the beach, dozing off in the sun keeping an eye on our stuff. I think of our beautiful girls, playing at daycare, and singing songs. So I don’t become a mermaid. Instead, I return to my Lord Husband, and change into my usual clothes. We go home.

As I am writing this, my hair is still wet, and my skin is dry and salty. I am immensely happy. Being a mermaid for 10-20 minutes is all I need.
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