We had some friends round this afternoon. A Scottish-Italian couple and their two children and an Italian woman and her daughter. The children started off speaking in English but quickly moved to French as the common lingua franca. The grown-ups spoke English to each other. I felt mildly embarrassed to be the main reason why two Italian women were speaking English to each other.
One of the mothers explained in graphic detail that this year, her nine year old had asked her a lot of questions about Santa Claus. So she said to her “OK, you really want to know, OK, I will tell you”. In the face of some alarm from me and the other parent with a four year old, her husband gracefully interrupted the anecdote with “So, she said to her ‘Yes, of course there is a Santa'”. That’s a relief, then. We discovered that the Befana does not bring Christmas presents to Italian children who live in Belgium which makes her presence in our lives even more baffling. We had some questions for our guests about the Befana and her ways.
Us: So Santa Claus lives in the North Pole and Saint Nicolas comes from Spain, where does the Befana live?
Guests: Elaborate shoulder shrugging, shocking ignorance.
Me (to Princess): Well, sweetheart, if the Italians don’t know…
Princess (in tones of wonderment): Are our visitors Italians?
There was some talk about multi-lingual schools because that’s what we’re like in foreign exotic Brussels and, in particular, the European School which has sections in all of the EU languages (except maybe Maltese, who knows?). One of the Italians has an Italian friend who is married to a Pole and they are sending their twins to the European School and they have put them in different classes (as the parents of twins are often advised to do) but in a weird twist, one twin is in the Polish section and one is in the Italian section. Is it just me or is this utterly bizarre?
We tossed them all out at 7.00 (none of them put their children to bed before 9.00 – shock, horror) to the regret and ire of our children. Much though we enjoyed seeing them, we were glad to see them go as we had decided to compress all our socialising for January into one day and our dinner guests would be arriving at 8.30.
And now, dinner is over, everyone is in bed and I should be too.
That is all.
I would tend to agree that one twin in Polish section and one in Italian is rather bizarre. Perhaps they plan to switch sections every other year so that both twins have the full exposure to both cultures? Though that would seem to be confusing for young children, no?
I have the rare advantage of being bi-lingual (English being my family language and Spanish a gift from God), but I still somehow feel deficient if I run into someone who speaks a language outside my area of knowledge. I think it’s a Mama thing. We’re always making unfair comparisons between ourselves and other motheres.
I’m not a mother but I think being bilingual makes you more uncomfortable when you can’t speak the language. I am pretty fluent in Swahili, and speak conversational Spanish and French (sometimes both at the same time, it’s very confusing, but it does mean I can make a stab at tourist Italian and Portuguese) When I go somewhere I don’t speak the language I want to say to everyone “but I DO speak other languages, I can’t speak everything, it’s not my fault!” and wear a large badge saying “Not just another clueless Brit”. I even hated it living in the US as people would think I was local until I opened my mouth.
I think it bothers Mr Spouse much less – he speaks tourist French and German and pidgin SpanItalian (pointing/asking for a coffee, a beer, or a water/understanding younger niece) but is content to shrug, gesture, and speak English slowly if we go somewhere else.
I went to the European School in Uccle, mind you it was eons ago, before Malta, Latvia and Poland, so it was probably much simpler then. I was in the English section, my sister in the French section. We overlapped because we both had German as our 2nd language – and therefore got History, Geography and Economics, if memory serves, taught in German. Art and sports were taught in our third language – French for me, English for her. And we both learned to get by in Italian with our Italian friends during breaks. She and I still speak all those languages, and speak them equally well, so our choice of different sections did not matter in that sense. If you want multi-cultural, you can’t do better than the European School!