Most of my posts are about the lighthearted side of being an uninvited guest in this country, but today I am sad, and a little mad. Just to be clear–I am not trying to start a debate, I’m just sharing with my friends and family back home the whole kit and kaboodle.
When I picked my seven year old up from school last week he told me something that broke my heart. A teacher at his school was speaking to a group of children at an assembly and, in response to an apparently overly exuberant child, said quite forcefully “We aren’t American children, we don’t hoot and make wild noises when we clap”.
My son said several kids turned around and looked right at him, and one lad (who is definitely going on the nice list this year) actually leaned over to say, “don’t worry, I know that not all Americans are like that.” Clearly my son was not the only one who heard the comment and got the underlying negative message.
To the school’s credit, the head teacher took the matter seriously. When I talked with her about the incident, she apologized and explained that she saw it as a clear case of racism and would deal with it accordingly. She talked with my son right after I met with her the next day and she had the teacher apologize to him, too. It’s all been sorted, as they say here.
I knew it wouldn’t be easy to move to a foreign country. I expected some of the other kids to be a bit mean sometimes, to make fun of their accents and give them a hard time, but I didn’t think I’d have to worry about the teachers. With my experience here so far, however, it did not surprise me. It is not as if the wave of political correctness failed to wash ashore here–it is definitely considered a faux pas to ridicule minority, ethnic and social groups just like it is back home. However, it is as if Americans are somehow considered fair game. Even with the French, people still seem to look around with that “I know I shouldn’t say this, but…” before they toss out a zinger, but not so with Americans.
I’ve heard the little barbs on the radio, standing in lines, on TV, and in conversation. It’s usually a witty comment about how an attitude or action (like wasting energy or cutting corners or hooting and yelling wildly) is “so American”. Yes, I know we are far from perfect, but all three hundred million of us don’t drive hummers and idolize Homer Simpson.
The fact is that my son will probably never forget the way he felt that day. It is an awful experience to feel like you are on the outside looking in, but I also know that it is part of life. We all get through these experiences and learn something from them. After all, that is part of why we packed up and moved to a foreign country, to get a little perspective. It’s just that getting perspective isn’t always fun.
I can’t run around plugging his ears, but I can tell him how much I love him and treasure him for exactly who he is, an amazing, creative, kind, polite and also American boy. I can encourage him to have patience and tolerance–other people are not perfect and neither are we. Everyone makes mistakes and the nice ones even apologize, just like that teacher did. And who knows, we might all grow and learn a little bit.
Now, on with our adventure!