Thursday, 3 January 2013

Culture clash: Difficulties of raising a child as an expat

 Milo wrapped up warm for an early Autumn Winter a few years back

Many of us build opinions on child-rearing way before we have any children of our own. Some of these beliefs we then look back on and laugh at and others we go through with. Maybe I am alone in this but I don't think so? Some examples of pre-parenthood ideals I built and kept include:
  • not having my children christened - I am non-religious myself & believe my children can choose their own religious beliefs one day if they wish
  • using 'Time Outs' - I couldn't wait to get going with time outs and whilst I wish my son didn't push me to needing to use them, there is actually a part of me that is excited to put all those hours of 'Supernanny' watching in to practise
  • Having some 'me time' - Whilst I have great respect for women whose only wish in life is to procreate and to raise their brood with all their might, I am very much a person that still needs to keep track of the me that is 'Sarah' and not just 'mummy'. Before I had Milo I swore I would make sure I would still do some of the things that made me 'me' and I have kept to that.
When you are raising a child with a partner (or co-parenting as I am Milo) then you of course have to take on the considerations of that person as well. They will most likely have some very strong opinions of their own from through the years. Some couples manage this well and others are at war. Milo's dad and I are between the two. We actually share a lot of similar beliefs when it comes to discipline but we do vary on some attitudes such as certain health issues, clothing and of course television, a subject I have written about previously here

Now, if that isn't enough. Raising a child abroad can add a whole bucket load of extra opinions on top. It is one of the big challenges of expat parenting and one that I have struggled with in the last few years. 

Go out with your little baby on the streets of Berlin and it won't be too long before you'll have your first telling off from a perfect stranger. Your baby will either be wearing too much or too little. I'm not kidding! I was pretty lucky on this front with Milo but I did receive a ticking off on a few occasions. Once, a fellow passenger on the S Bahn decided that my child was clearly wearing too much for the heat we were having that day. She told me this despite the fact that she couldn't actually see Milo as he was in his pram. He was under the cover bit asleep as we were on our way home from a swimming class and I might add that he was also practically naked. Did the fact that she couldn't see what my child was wearing stop her? Did it ever?!

I've had friends who have been told off for their children not wearing hats, not wearing a jacket or a scarf and once there was panic from a woman on the train next to me as Milo and I were sitting near a tilted open window with his head bare. Oh the horror!

Since Milo has left his baby years behind, I haven't had any problems with random passers by giving their opinions on what he's wearing but I have been annoyed ney, tortured by his nursery on this exact subject. I hate it!

It's fair to say that Germans and Brits have very different attitudes when it comes to weather and clothing. I am of a nation that will happily wear mini skirts (without tights) on a windy, rainy night out and spent a lot of my late teens and twenties going out for a late night without a jacket because I couldn't be bothered to carry one around with me. No matter if it was cold out. Then you have the Germans. I swear, as soon as the weather takes a slight dive, out come the black winter coats, the scarves, the hats and the gloves and people will pretty much hibernate inside these until late Spring. Ok, I am exaggerating a little. Only a little though! (sorry German readers but you've got to admit I have a point here?!)

My apartment has laminate flooring throughout. It's pretty laminate but laminate all the same and of course, in comparison to carpeted homes, the floors can get a little chilly. No Brit has ever asked me to supply them 'Hausschühe' (slippers or thick socks) but pretty much every German who has entered has. I get laughed at when I turn down the offer of thick socks to wear when I go to a German's place. ''I'm British'' is my standard response these days. Nothing more needs to be said I reckon.

I went off on a bit of a tangent there. Sorry. As I was saying, the big problem I have is with Milo's nursery. I have been told off so many times I have lost count. We were told he had to wear tights under their trousers in the Winter (it's quite normal for boys to wear tights here and I've adapted to that). This year I was all prepared and went out and bought 4 pairs of tights for Milo to see him through only for the nursery to tell us that they want him to wear leggings instead as these are better for when the children climb on the wooden equipment at the nursery. Ok. We then have to of course make sure there are a pair of rain trousers, a rain jacket and a pair of wellies should it rain. This is also in the Summer which has meant trying to source or buy wellies that may well never get worn before your child grows out of them. Unless it's a particularly rainy summer of course. I tried sending Milo to nursery with those wonderful thick socks with the rubber underneath as slippers as they are much cheaper than slippers but alas no, for some reason those are not allowed. I can't tell you how costly it can get making sure Milo has everything the nursery demands when your child also lives between two different homes. You genuinely find yourself needing triple the amount of clothing! Thank God that Milo's dad and I live around the corner from one another as we are constantly having to bring around an item that the other one needs for nursery the following day.

The new thing we've been told on countless occasions we need for Milo are woollen vests. This is the second year in a row that we've been told we absolutely MUST buy them as they will help protect Milo's chest and theoretically make him less prone to getting a cough. I am not convinced. To stop the stupid moaning we have decided that we will give it a go though and Milo's dad put in an order online somewhere for 2 woollen vest and a pair of woollen tights. He called me up to tell me how much they cost (I am footing the bill) and it's a shocking €50! €50!!!! I can't remember what my exact reaction was when he told me this but I'm pretty sure some expletives were involved. This is the man that complains that I sometimes buy new clothing for Milo and he just went and spent €50 of my money (from his maintenance payment admittedly) on 3 items! Ouch.

I swear this would never be asked of me as a parent in the UK?! Don't get me wrong, I am all for protecting your child against extreme weathers but I also think us Brits wear a hell of a lot less at similar temperatures and we aren't all dying and permanently ill! I also think we deal better with the weather because we are more hardened to it. I don't think there's anything wrong with that?

What do you think? Am I ranting about something completely pointless or do you have similar culture clashes like this where you live? or with your partner? 

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  1. arrgghhh!! this post has really hit a nerve with me!
    I totally agree with you and it drives me crazy that Germans are so obsessed with over dressing their children. Firstly, I can not believe that your nursery are telling you to buy woolen vests for Milo. No, that would not happen in the UK!! In fact I have to tell our nursery here (in the UK) to make sure they put Amelie's hoody on under her jacket when they go out, they're not bothered about slippers, and once I picked her up and she had shoes on with no socks!) I'm dreading move back now and putting Amelie in a kita in Berlin ;)
    When living in Berlin I got told off for underdressing Amelie in the winter and felt enormous pressure to buy a woolen winter balaclava so her ears and neck didn't get cold, and to buy a 'spring' hat to make sure she had something on her head before summer kicked in. I kept hearing about the fear of ear infections. Well let me tell you this. Nearly every one of Amelie's german friends had ear infections despite being dressed like inuit children. Amelie has never had (touch wood, never will) an ear infection and I don't know any of her UK friends who have (and they really do go out underdressed) German kids ARE NOT healthier than English kids because of the way they are dressed. There might be other health issues due to the fact that more parents smoke here, or because houses are carpeted or they don't go outside as much here, but it has nothing to do with how they are dressed!
    blimey, I'm ranting, but it's an argument me and my (german) man have had since our daughter was born and I am always made to feel like the inferior parent because I'm not so worried about clothing.
    As for TV.... well I am of course evil because I've introduced TV to Amelie.
    One thing I have adapted to though, and can't agree with you on is slippers! I take my slippers with me to friend's houses here and I have guest slippers too! ha ha!

    Seriously though, I'm with you on this. I even wrote about it in a post on my blog ages ago.
    Have you read that 'how to be german' post on Venture Village? it's hilarious, and has a whole section on clothing and Hausschuehe!

    1. Ha ha, I figured you may be able to relate to this one! I am constantly using the example that British children aren't forever ill to Milo's dad but it will never get through to him. I used to actually dress Milo how I felt was appropriate and then would change what he was wearing when I then took him to his dad's. It was a nightmare and stressful because I was constantly being told I was dressing him wrong. On pretty much a daily basis!

      I get really REALLY frustrated with the Kita! They know we don't have lots of money and yet badger us to get these woollen vests. I ignored them for a year but have finally given in simply for an easier life. Some children are just more susceptible to ear infections (I was as a child and what a surprise, so is Milo).

      That's funny that you've taken on the slippers. I think I have taken on some of the German attitudes too. I do in fact have Milo in a hat a lot of the time and it's only when I'm in the UK that I am walking around on a rainy, cold day and see that no child other than Milo is wearing a hat ha ha. I wouldn't lecture anyone else for choosing not to put one on their own child though!

      I did read that 'how to be german' post, it was hilarious! Had me giggling on the S Bahn.

  2. HI! I live in the states. Wow things are different here! When my two year old was a baby I got a lot of unsolicited advice. My simple reaction was "Thanks for your unsolicited advice, but I am perfectly capable of taking care of my child's needs. If in the future I have questions I will ask for your opinion."
    I haven't really had anyone, except my mother tell me I am dressing my child too warm or too cold. Just yesterday I took him to the sitter's house with no coat, only a winter hat because we accidentally left it there over the weekend. Keep in mind it is winter and yesterday morning it was a whopping 7 degrees outside. I did warm up my car before putting him in it, and I covered him in a blanket while in the car. The sitter said nothing as we walked in the door with no coat, probably because she knew she had his coat.

    1. So the unsolicited advice isn't just here then! It is incredibly frustrating. Back when my first son was a baby I didn't always have the language capability to rebut peoples 'advice' well but I'll be more prepared this time around! Your own parents aren't so easy to rebut ;)

  3. Wow, that sounds annoying. I would tell them no and tell them they aren't allowed to tell me how to dress my child, end of discussion. German children's clothing is usually ugly and over priced anyway :)

    1. I've put my foot down on a number of things with the Kita but finally gave in to this one just to shut them up. I also plan on proving to them it won't make a difference in case they start on at me with child No. 2 once he goes there ;)

  4. HAHAHA! that was very funny for me as a German to read :-D
    I know, Germans interfere a lot with parenting. I had quite some experiences while babysitting ( BUT, to say something for my country: I think the interfering comes from the 90ties. In the beginning of the 90ies there were lots of child abuse cases and TV and Radio had a lot of adverds running about that you should interfere rather than look away. This might still be on people's minds, but I agree, it's too far telling you to buy vests for 50 euros, as normal ones work fine as well.
    And another thing:
    When I first came to the UK in September (a cold one) to mind 10 week old twins as an Aupair I was shocked to see that the NEVER wore socks or a hat. Coming from Germany I found that very disturbing and went to Primark and bought lots :-D

    1. I'm glad you found it funny rather than offensive! That's interesting about the adverts in the 90's, I didn't know that. ha ha, I bet that was odd going to the UK and then seeing the difference just like it is for me coming from the UK and how children are dressed there to here! Culture shocks both ways.

  5. Hahaha. That made me grin. You are so right - this is something very German I don't miss at all. But if you think the Germans are bad when it comes to telling off strangers, try living in Zurich...

    1. I was quite shocked when it first happened. Having a baby certainly seems to open you up to strangers opinions so not looking forward to that again! Sounds like I'm better off not being in Zurich!!!!!

  6. Haha, this made me laugh. As you know, I don't have kids, but German unsolicited advice is not just limited to children! I've even had my boyfriend tell me I need to put on a scarf because my chest is exposed and it's winter... and this was inside the house!!

    1. Indoors?!!! ha ha. Ah, the German's. Brilliant. Yes, I think Milo's dad would do the same. I get many a lecture from him on such matters!

  7. Ze Tschoermans can be rather irritating with their unsolicited advice, I agree.
    However, I haven't had any issues regarding P's clothing with KiTa so it may well be something that's isolated to your place? I dress P in normal cotton vests and they even take off any clothing that's more than a long-sleeved t-shirt on top of the vest. They also remove trousers if he has tights underneath. They don't even mind if he wears socks with stoppers and no slippers!

    1. Definitely a very different attitude to my Kita then!!! Ah, I wish mine were so easy going. They are great generally and I'm happy with the Kita but I will never agree with their attitudes on the clothing.

  8. One year when I was home I went into Tesco's and asked to buy boys' tights....I was like: i need boys' tights, blue or black or maybe Bob the Builder or something? The woman was really polite, she was like: erm, in England boys don't wear tights. I'd totally forgotten.

    1. I do think that when my friends in the UK see photos of Milo on my personal FB page, they must wonder why he is wearing tights but it's so normal to me. This story really made me laugh ha ha.

  9. LOL. You know, I think the clothing thing really is a cultural difference. When, at the tender age of fifteen, my German classmates and I were for the first time confronted with real-life British teenagers as part of an exchange visit, we were flabbergasted by their clothing. What, a tummy top in autumn? At first we interpreted this as some weird kind of fashion statement. Then we wondered if there was some deeper psychological reason behind it - could it be that because they had been toughened up by flimsy school uniforms from an early age, they didn't actually feel the cold as we did?

    Some time ago I came across a 19th-century travel guide aimed at English gentlemen travelling through Germany. It's fascinating that even this book mentioned it, so it really seems to be a very old phenomenon:

    "A characteristic feature of the German character is the love of warmth in their clothes and habitations, and an unwillingness to expose themselves to the air. This effeminacy prevails even among the lower orders, who seem to breathe with reluctance when removed from the favourite atmosphere of their stoves, their tobacco smoke, and the fumes of their beer. It is shown in the great unwillingness which an Englishman experiences, on the part of his fellow-passengers in the cabins of steamers, and in public coaches, to allow a window to be open, even in warm weather"
    (John Murray. A Hand-Book for Travellers on the Continent. London 1850)

  10. i'm from california and wear flip-flops in december..basically i look at how the weather actually *IS* that day and then dress for sun, rain, etc. in germany (where i have lived 10 years now) people dress for the date. yes, it's november, but it's sunny and quite warm...and you have tights, a wool jacket, scarf and hat on? i'll stick to my dress with sandals and a cardigan sweater..thanks. and you're looking at ME weird? it's warm for crying out loud..

    i got used to the tights and onesies for my kids. my US cousins thought i was weird but they were both like 3 by the time i gave them up so i probaby am. it's a layering thing, like i don't want their actual jeans and rough knit sweaters touching their bodies. also onesies totally help hold on the's just funny buying boy tights at h&m and size 2 yr old onesies with snaps on the crotch..

  11. Hi Sarah! I'm posting for the first time but I have been following your blog...!

    As a fellow Brit, I hear ya! I've been told that my son is under-dressed even though I usually send him out in a T-short, top, scarf and coat as it has been quite warm. I was even chided by HIS SCHOOL no less, that I should allow my son to go to bed later as 20:30 is too early! I spluttered when I heard and told them to mind their own business!


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