Cross-cultural kids` adventures
Last week, i visited my son Thijs (8), who lives with his mother in the Netherlands. I went together with my daughter, Barbora (6), who lives here with me and my partner in the Czech Republic. Two observations during this cross-cultural travel are definetely worthwhile sharing. One is an incident in the train - a difference in behaviour between a Czech and a German child. The other in the Netherlands - the adventures of Bara in Wonderland.
I like traveling with children. The act of traveling is always an eye-opener for me, but after having traveled too intensively alone for over 14 years myself, travels with one or both of my children shows me even more aspects of life.
Last week i traveled with my daughter Bara (short for Barbora... this name has in Czech another 8 shorts at least :-) ) from Cvrcovice to the Netherlands, to visit my son Thijs. As always we traveled by train. Traveling over 13 hours by car is not really healthy for adults, let alone for children. Flying within Europe is - apart from being far to expensive for me - from ecological point of view out of the question. But the train offers a relaxed way of traveling and is for the children always a wonderful adventure.
From Marktredwitz to Nurnberg, there were two mothers with sons of around 7 years old in the same wagon. One mother was Czech - fashionly dressed and made up for the trip. The other German - sportly dressed as is common in Germany. Also the behaviour of their sons was very different. The German boy was outright agressive. I was shocked by the meanness in which he several times attacked his new found little friend, who did not seem to enjoy this behaviour. But also by the complete lack of reaction from the side of his mother. At one moment it was a little too much for me, and i - as stander-by - had to correct the little brat. His grandmother reacted later with "In my time we would not be able to be so free and wild - we had to be a lot more disciplined". Well, maybe like the little Czech boy. His mother had a similarly difficult job of making him listen, but it was also not needed so much. All the time, Bara - a wild one herself - just observed in astonishment and remarked "that boy is not nice", pointing at the German boy. Three forms of education appeared here. The "free" German one - which may have ran out of hand or maybe rather one of a lack of interest, the more disciplined Czech one, and then the "intermediate" one i am engaged in myself... It is difficult to speak about good or bad. I can just observe it. Maybe the "brat" will grow up to be a very nice, creative and emancipated man. And the more obedient little Czech boy to be an authoritarian father. And maybe Bara... :-) well, i think you can accept my problems in trying to depict a future image of her.
The other observation was after we were two days in the Dutch community project i lived in before emigrating, and where Thijs and his mother still live. This project of 36 houses and around a 100 people, amongst which 30% children, i consider still to be one of the most inspiring efforts i have been involved in. It features a mix between elements of common living and a lot of privacy. One of the most beautiful examples of the first being the huge common garden. When they are very small, children can play there in the view of their parents, and out of view when they get older. A real safe kids` paradise. Bara walked around as Alice in Wonderland. Then playing with sand, then in the little wooden children`s house. She observed a few fishermen angling in the water and was shocked to learn that they caught fish with a hook. She drove circles with her bicycle and joint in in a football play with her brother and his friends. She shared toys with a black girl and spent time with the chicken and one of the cats. I watched her playing and realised that i would never be able to offer her such a wonder-world in the Czech Republic. Later that day, i realised, that on the other hand, i would not be able to offer Bara in the Netherlands the possibility to play in the village without having to be scared for cars, or to go to the woods - real woods... Or visit a children`s theatre production every fortnight. What is more important?
Both my children grow up in the country of their mother. Also in the country where they have grandparents and other relatives. It is for me difficult to describe my role as father in this constellation. The one thing i am offering both is a look into a completely different culture. Until now, that looks like an enrichment. But also times will come that they maybe will not be so happy with the confusion. Still a lot to do for me as the culture crossing parent.
|Jan Haverkamp is of Dutch origin and immigrated into the Czech Republic in 1997. He worked as organizational development specialist for Central and Eastern European environmental organizations and is currently Greenpeace anti-nuclear campaigner for Central Europe. He lives with his partner and daughter in Cvrcovice near Kladno and has a son in the Netherlands.|
Názory z druhé strany - Thought from the other side
In this weekly column, pro-feminist men - men that are strongly influenced by the feminist movement - write their observations in daily life on the role of men and women in the Czech Republic.