Monday, 23 October 2017

So, you're … married to a Czech?

By Emily Prucha | Prague Daily Monitor |
29 May 2009

Now that I've lived in Prague for several years, the city is becoming more like home. Having a firm grasp on the language has helped, as has raising half-Czech children. In general, I believe that the minutiae of parenthood are much the same everywhere, but I've found that sharing common experiences with other "half-n-half" families has helped me better settle into my own life here.

After my initial years of fiercely trying to blend in, now I'm learning that retaining my national identity is an important part of raising my children's awareness of their own bicultural heritage.

When we first moved to Prague, it took me a while to get used to the fact that my then 1-year-old daughter, Anna Lee, and I attracted attention everywhere we went. I wasn't sure if she was truly Prague's loudest toddler – or if it just seemed that way because she was speaking English. I have never been as embarrassed as the first day Anna Lee started singing loudly in English on the tram. No amount of shushing could quiet her Mary Had a Little Lamb performance. Similar scenarios occurred in other public places: in the grocery store, at restaurants and at family centers. Anna would sing or shout in glee, and heads would swivel. Once I got over my initial wave of embarrassment and realized that I would never be as invisible on the streets of Prague as I had been before children, I discovered certain blessings about being strikingly visible.

As we made our way through the city's playgrounds and its various venues for family activities, we encountered other clans similar to our own. I had the good fortune of meeting two mothers who introduced me to a whole group of foreign women married to Czechs, and we became fast friends. Since only one of these women was American, I also had the benefit of learning a little more about other cultures, customs and parenting norms.

I knew I was raising a multicultural daughter when she told me one day that she needed to "wee" and that her baby brother had a wet "nappy" and wanted out of his "pram". I thought it was just Anna's propensity for imitating other children's speech, but shortly thereafter an Australian friend told me that her daughter came home talking about "costumes" pronounced "kaastoom" like a true southern hillbilly.

I like knowing that I can share my thoughts about quirky Czech customs, such as the way my in-laws eat soup before every meal or the =ová ending on female surnames or the fact that students wear slippers at school. It's nice knowing that a group of people understands, more or less, how it feels to live among Czechs and raise Czech children, but never become Czech yourself.

Since the day I returned to live in Prague, my nationality has become the source of a different type of conversation, particularly with Czechs who have a familial connection to America. I run into women with American husbands or mothers whose daughters have married American men even more frequently than I find foreign women married to Czechs.

Just last week I ran into two women with American partners, one at preschool registration and the second while waiting for a speech therapist. Apart from exchanging the obligatory compliments – "Your Czech is quite good for an American"; "Oh, thanks, but it's nothing compared to your English" – we skipped small talk and moved right into the nitty-gritty on parenting bilingual children.

I find that language acquisition, particularly English, tops the list of concerns for most mothers married to English-speaking foreigners. Although I'm blessed by the fact that I'm able to speak English with the children for the majority of each day, I know that I'll soon face a time when they are more fully immersed in school and extracurricular activities and acquiring English-language skills beyond practical everyday use will pose a greater challenge.

Finding a sense of community among other bilingual and multicultural families means that living an ocean away from my US blood relations isn't as lonely as it could be. Now when my 2-year-old son breaks into an English song mid-metro, I just look at Anna Lee and grin. We know we'll get a few stares, but it's just as likely we'll meet a new friend, too.

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Emily Prucha is a Life Section columnist for the Monitor. She likes writing about bilingual and multicultural families.
You can reach her at emily@praguemonitor.com. You can read more of her stories here.