Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Instilling Britishness

It's not easy being the sole English/British element of Lydia's daily life as she grows up in Switzerland. All day she is surrounded by French: my wife and her family and friends; the crèche she attends twice a week; the TV and most of her books, and of course everyone else she meets or interacts with in the outside world. Well, it's what you would expect really, given that we live in a French-speaking area of Switzerland.

So, the enormous task of instilling the British spirit into my daughter, from the traditional stiff-upper-lip and politeness to discussing the weather and standing patiently in queues, is all down to me. I am responsible for making sure Lydia knows her heritage, and that at least some of my own upbringing rubs off on her. I think my parents did a pretty good job in raising me, so if I can be at least half as good a parent to Lydia then I will be happy.

But how can you make sure the British influence is present in such a francophonic environment?

Well, it isn't easy. During the week I only see Lydia in the evenings after work, usually for around of 2 hours before she goes to bed. I try to spend the whole time engaged in conversation, asking her questions and prompting her responses in English.

I'm trying to teach her the difference between French and English, to help her understand why I don't use the same words as my wife, and to explain that her Daddy comes from a different country entirely. I think she has started to grasp the fact that England is not in Switzerland, and she knows that she has to get on an airplane when we want to go to see her Nanny and Grandad. When I ask her where Nanny and Grandad live, she says "England", so at least that's a start.

I have just recently started to try a new technique, working on the British identity. For her 2nd birthday a couple of weeks ago, Lydia was given a chalkboard by my parents, and we have spent a fair bit of time drawing different objects, kind of a guessing game for her to play. Whilst doing this the other day I doodled a castle, and then drew the Union Jack flag (bottom-left in the photo).

Lydia asked me, "C'est quoi?" (what's that?), and I replied that it was called the "Union Jack", and that it is the flag of the United Kingdom, where her Nanny and Grandad live. She seemed to grasp this idea quite well, as when we looked at the photo on my phone a couple of days later she said, "ça, c'est Nanny and Grandad". Step 1 complete.

We are already working hard on the politeness side of things, making sure Lydia says "please" and "thank you" when she wants something. This is part of normal growing up, but I can count it as part of her semi-British upbringing.

As she grows up I will start bringing in mini history lessons, discussing the rich tapestry of British history. When she is a little bit older I also plan to take her to some of the museums in London, as the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum are fascinating places to spend the day. OK so this isn't entirely focused on Britain, but everything is written in English so at least she will get to practise that.

One thing is for sure, I will do whatever I can to make sure Lydia knows she is part-English, and that she understands where her Daddy comes from.

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