Lost in Translation

>> Sunday, 11 October 2015

Spending a few years abroad as a family when your children are young can have many benefits, not least the fact that it opens their eyes on interacting with people from different cultures.  Children are chameleons, let's face it, and if exposed young enough can slip easily from one set of social norms to another without blinking an eye.

This is mostly a good thing, and even when it might not be, you often you don't even notice they are doing it until it's pointed out by helpful family and friends when you return home for visits.  Examples of this might be American accents (the result of attending a school with a high proportion of American students or teachers), or taking their shoes off the moment they walk into someone's home (it's the height of rudeness in Russia to leave your shoes on in a house).

Some of the habits they adapt might rankle a little.  The accent, I have to admit, is one of those.  My kids are British, not American - I would probably prefer them to sound more like me although as long as they're polite, courteous, confident and well-informed I'll go with whatever is on offer.  Another one I wasn't keen on - and I know this is going to sound ridiculous - is the Russian way of singing 'Happy Birthday', which is as follows:

Happy Birthday to you...
Cha - cha - cha
Happy Birthday to you...
Cha - cha - cha
Happy Birthday dear whomever...
Cha - cha - cha
Happy Birthday to you!
(Cha - cha - cha)

The 'cha - cha - cha' is spoken, in case you hadn't picked up on that.  And I'm sorry, but for the love of god, why?  Every time, it drove me crazy...  But I digress; I was talking about some of the ways your kids are affected by living away from their home country.  Which not so neatly leads me into this conversation I had with my older son this morning, when it became clear that some things I had taken for granted about the English language were not, actually, immediately clear to my kids...

Me:  "They had snow in Moscow this morning, apparently."  (True fact, btw)

Boy #1: "Really?  I hope we get lots of snow here this winter - enough to go all the way over the door."

Me:  "I think that's unlikely, I'm afraid.  England doesn't get much snow, especially not where we live.  And to be honest, I sort of hope we don't, they're not really equipped for it here."

Boy #1:  "But they must be!  What about in the hills?"

Me:  "Well - they're not that high.  And it's very damp and not that cold, so there isn't a lot of snow."

Boy #1:  "What about the panninis, though?  They must have snow."

Me:  "The what?"

Boy #1:  "The panninis.  You know.  And scaffolding pike.  There must be snow up there..."


Me: "Do you mean The Pennines, Boy #1?  And Scafell Pike?"

Boy #1:  "Yes!  The Panninis!  That's what I meant!"

So now, the Pennines are the Panninis*.  Just in case you didn't know.

*with apologies to any readers based in the North of England


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