Friday, March 15, 2013

anachrony in the EU

father knows best

time capsules

An anachronism is a thing that is out of place in time.

In Montreal, Pierre's car is referred to as le char à Pierre; in Paris, it's la voiture de Pierre. The similarity of the Quebecois char to the English car is accidental, it's not an anglicism. In fact, it's an exaptation of the 17th century French word for horse-drawn carriage (a kind of chariot). French as spoken in Quebec contains many such traces of the language spoke in the 17th Century, when French colonies were established on the east coast of what is now Canada. 

When the colonists left home, they took their language with them, and in the new world, the language evolved in its own direction. In smaller, isolated populations, evolution proceeds at a slower pace; hence the survival of 17th century words in Montreal now extinct in Paris. 

Do you remember that kid in middle school who spoke a different language at home? Did you ever have the fortune to eat at their house? Was the food weird and exotic? Did you finally surrender to the  gesticulations of the mother and accept second and third helpings? Did you fail to notice the Father and your friend were not doing the same? Were you surprised and dismayed when the next, main dish came to the table? Did they give you some wine? Did your friend seem to operate under different rules than most of the other kids, rules from the "old country," covering things like curfews, and drinking, and dating?

thousands of miles away and 30 years behind

When immigrants come to a new country, they bring with them a snapshot of their home culture, including moral values. In the relative isolation of their new home, the moral values tend to evolve more slowly than they do back home. Children of immigrants lead a time shifted life. Remember that immigrant girl who wasn't allowed to date? Her cousin in the old country was already on the pill. 

In the age of the internet, these effects are less strong, but I contend they remain strongly relevant. Day to day physical proximity and direct face to face interaction within a community is much more influential to our beliefs and behavior than online news, Skype, or any other mediated communication. I am witness to it.

expats are immigrants

My children have attended schools in 4 countries over the last 6 years. We now live in the Netherlands. My work is nearly exclusively in English, so I don't speak Dutch very well. My children often have to explain the school bulletins to me. Does my family then live in a time bubble?

In several ways, our family is an anachronism. In the Netherlands, 60% of women work, and part-time (flexi) work seems to be becoming the norm. The average family size is 2.2. In our immigrant household however, I am the sole breadwinner. Monday to Friday, I leave the home at 7:30 and return tired at 7:00, when I am served an excellent home cooked dinner. I do almost no housework. My partner, to whom I am married, the first marriage for both of us, is a full time mother of 4 children. It could be a situation from a 1950s TV show. Only the wife in this comedy is much less complacent (more pissed off) about her part.

My children complain about the strict limits on television and computer use we enforce. They claim we are the only parents in the school with such arbitrary rules. 1. I don't believe them. 2. I'm not able to socialize enough in the community to sense how far from the norm we really are.



If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader


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