I had a great conversation a few days ago with Jenny Rutterford a British mum who spent several years in Miami, Florida. We were talking about our daughters who are of a similar age; however, her daughter’s first school experience was in the US and my daughter’s of course was here in the UK. Since moving home, Jenny noticed there were several things that they all had to adjust to, but her daughter particularly.
- Losing her American accent. This took about a year!
- Spelling things ‘incorrectly’ in school
- The size of the schools (huge in Miami, very small in Sussex)
- The way American teachers are more tactile compared to British teachers
- The way British children and teachers, in general, are more reserved
- The list goes on, but we’d had a few glasses of wine so my recall is a bit muddled!
What struck us both as fascinating was how different our daughters are and we wondered how much of it has to do with the influence of their cultural surroundings and how much is simply down to their personalities. My daughter is very British in that she’s incredibly reserved, cringes when complimented, avoids being the center of attention and physically tries to stop me when I laugh too loudly (that’s probably not a British thing, more like an embarassing mum thing). I sometimes get frustrated with her because I feel she’s not applying herself in the style that might open her up to amazing experiences and successes. And it’s not just my daughter, my eldest too is very reserved. Jenny was saying that her daughter is pretty much the opposite of that and thinks it might have something to do with her first schooling environment and the cultural differences that American children and teachers have compared to British. This really confirmed some of my fears and disappointment that my own influence on my daughter as an American has very little impact due to the fact that she’s growing up in Britain, so culturally different to where I grew up. But Jenny is British through and through and although loved her time in America, she did find some of it incredibly different and at times, a challenge to adapt. Since returning to the UK with her family and continuing her photography business that she started up there, she’s learned to change what worked in the US in terms of what attracted American clients, and making her business a success with the British consumer market. By the way, Jenny took those amazing photos of my children which, if you haven’t seen them yet, can be seen here. So how much influence did Jenny’s cultural background have on her daughter when she was in American schools and essentially, for that time period, growing up American? I suppose a key difference is that Jenny’s husband is also British and they knew they would eventually repatriate. Nevertheless, we found it very interesting indeed and joked about doing an anthropological study and swapping daughters to see if and how much our own cultural backgrounds influence them. Wouldn’t that be fascinating! I mean, I still have my own mother’s words of wisdom and the way she went about doing things in the back of my mind (sometimes at the forefront) on a nearly daily basis so I know the impact mothers can have on their daughters. Just how much of it is personality and how much cultural? Or maybe that’s not the right question… maybe it’s about the cultural influences of our environment that is the most influential. Photo by Jessica Milberg
Meghan Peterson Fenn is the author of Bringing Up Brits and co-author of Inspiring Global Entrepreneurs with Heidi Mulligan Walker. Meghan is also the Director and Chief Designer at her own design company, White Ochre Design Ltd. And, she is an award winning expat blogger.