If you are going to take your children to places where they will be exposed to different cultures, you need to prepare them. Whenever I run into Americans that are visiting Europe I get excited, but there are certain things that Americans do that break my heart. With a little bit more education on a parent’s part, we could take several steps toward killing cultural arrogance and ignorance. I hope that is a goal you have for your family. It is definitely a priority in our family. I am really open to your opinions on this topic, and I would love to do a follow up article with everyone’s input. Here are just a few things we can teach our kids (and learn ourselves) about how to be more culturally sensitive, especially when we travel.
The Bright Side
There are aspects to every culture that we will see as negative and positive. Instead of constantly pointing out the negative things, encourage your children to look for the positive things that they see and learn in the culture you are visiting. Maybe it’s the culture’s sense of community that impresses you, or their dedication to wearing bright colors. If you lead by example and avoid complaining, your children will notice that. If you tell them not to complain while you are constantly complaining they won’t listen. It’s like any other principle of parenting, if you tell them to do something and then do something else, eventually they will come to resent that rule, even if it is a good one.
New Culinary Adventures
Don’t assume you know anything about the local dishes. Do some research, and prepare to be surprised. Looking at a plate of bright red paprika spiced sausage will not prepare you for how delicious it is. In fact, looks can often be deceiving. Be adventurous, and again, teach your children not to complain publicly about food. That is a good rule anyway, because at some point you will eat with your children outside of your house, and you don’t want them to seem ungrateful. Let me rephrase that, you want to raise them to be grateful, even if they don’t appreciate the way something tastes, smells, or looks. One time at a private dinner where our family were the guests of honor, I looked down and my plate of food was looking back at me, literally. I had been served the face of the lamb that was to be our dinner, and the eye was still in place. In the US, most of us are not connected to how our food gets on our plates. We don’t slaughter our own meat, so we forget that the animals we eat at one point had a face and eye balls. But the face meat on the lamb was delicious. I would eat it again. No I didn’t eat the eye ball, even though some consider that good luck. My kids definitely noticed the eye ball, but apparently our hard work is paying off because not one of them commented about how gross or weird it was to have one on my plate. Is complaining about being given an animal’s entire face on your plate considered rude? Yes, absolutely. Don’t do it.
Teach Them Why
The teaching process is long. We are constantly spending time explaining things to our children, and if you want to raise culturally sensitive children in this angry world, you must also spend time explaining to them how and why. As foreigners living in a place that is not our own culture, we are constantly having conversations about how and why we do things. My younger kids don’t ask questions about these kinds of cultural differences where we live now, but when we are back in the US, they ask questions constantly. My oldest remembers what it is like to live in the US and sometimes she has questions about why we do certain things certain ways in Greece. These conversations are worth having because they not only inform your children, but they shape the kind of adults they will become. If you teach your children to be curious instead of condemning, their whole outlook on life will change. Maybe you don’t like deep fried spider on a stick, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to eat. Maybe you don’t agree that your child will catch a serious cold if they don’t wear industrial boots on the first day of winter, that doesn’t mean that the other person is wrong in their opinions. This whole idea of right and wrong when it comes to culture creates unnecessary division.
A New Normal
Next time you are tempted to turn away in disgust when someone offers you a plate of food that appears strange to you, or they give you advice you have never heard before, stay polite. Don’t roll your eyes or look away in disgust. You wouldn’t want someone responding to you that way, would you? It’s common courtesy that isn’t all common any more.
What do you think? What are some cultural differences that have been difficult for you to address with your children? Is it your goal to raise culturally sensitive children? Why or why not?