How about living with three nationalities?
I am not English, but French. I do not celebrate the Battle of Agincourt, but the victory of Orleans. At school, I was good at German, not at English. I support Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy as long as England does not win the Six Nations Championship. Yet I am bound to my best enemy for life: my wife was raised under the Anglo-Saxon school system; English is my business language; I lived in Canada, a wonderful country over which France and England have fought for decades in the past; I now live in Mauritius, a left-hand traffic country; my ancestors come from Normandie; My son has red-haired glints… And I like it!
My first expatriation dates back to 1990. I followed my parents to Indonesia, at a time when Internet did not exist and there was still a real primitive forest in Borneo. This experience profoundly influenced my personality. I met my wife seven years ago. She opened new doors, let fresh air come into my life and helped me repeat this experience, first in Canada, then in Mauritius. Being an expatriate helps me to step back, open my mind and accept differences as a great wealth. I want to pass these values to my children.
Our children were born in Canada. They have three nationalities. As Mauritian citizens, they live at the crossroad of African and Indian cultures. As French citizens, they bear a European heritage and ideal. As Canadians, they embody the hope for a better life. Their three nationalities give them the right to live in many countries without visas. A luxury which is paid by the duty of assimilating three adverse cultures, three ways of living and seeing the world.
But honestly, is it possible? How many bi-nationals left their host country in the hope of re-engaging with their family roots, and finally went back to France, frustrated of having been considered expatriates in the land of their grandparents?
It is worth reminding that children quickly assimilate their host country’s culture. School and extra-familial relations play a central and inclusive role. Family’s culture and origins must become an inspiration, not a factor of social exclusion. One of the best examples probably comes from the artist Jain, who was born in Toulouse (South of France), was raised by a Franco-Malagasi couple and spent several years in the United Arab Emirates and in Congo. Her first album Zanaka was strongly influenced by her life experience abroad and certified as a Gold record in February 2016. What a great success!
Ultimately, what is the role of a father and a mother in such circumstances? I do not have a magic bullet. More humbly, our aim is to develop our children’s sense of curiosity and put as much distance as we can between intolerance and prejudices.
Our time is characterized by the expansion of globalization, migratory pressure, loss of familiar landmarks and the temptation of inward-looking attitudes. We, the expatriates and cross cultural families, have a role to play. As a bridge between cultures, our children represent, today more than ever, the hope of a soothed life.
Séverin is father of two and a communication/marketing professional at www.expat.com