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Jun 14, 2009

Why the Bay Area is great to raise multi-cultural kids

As a parent who speaks exclusively French to my baby Daniel while living in the US, I often feel unsure when talking to him in public places. I always wonder if other parents are thinking that this is strange or even worse, that this represents a lack of respect for the country I live in. It's true that it makes things more difficult: people around us don't understand what I tell Daniel, so they don't know if I am suggesting him to play with the other kids and be gentle, or to do something completely different. How can they know of my and my baby's good intentions if they don't understand what I say to him? After 17 months however, my brain has gotten so used to speaking French with Daniel, that I can't speak with him in English even if I try hard. Words will come in French, that's all.
Today was a typical Sunday for us: brunch with friends, visit at the playground. Nothing special, but plenty of time spent with other people. This could have brought a lot of my concerns about speaking French in public. However, a few situations reminded me why I love raising multi-cultural kids in the Bay Area.

First, during brunch. Some of the guests were German families with kids. Most of them speak German at home. We had a lot of discussions about the choice of schools (bilingual vs. English only or German only), and how to help kids know which language to use when. This felt very familiar.
Then, there was the playground. There were about 5 families when we were there. Daniel shared a toy-bus with another boy whose father was speaking to him in Spanish. I felt a lot better already. The father probably couldn't understand me when I spoke to Daniel, but I couldn't understand his interactions with his son either (well, I actually can understand Spanish, but this was just coincidence). In any case, the father didn't seem bothered to continue speaking Spanish in public. And it's something I have observed a lot around here: you can hear a lot of different languages in the playgrounds. And people interact happily with each other despite the language differences.
As I was playing with Daniel at the swing, a mother approached us with her 2 daughters, saying "bonjour". It turns out that she is French too, and her husband is Italian. The girls are learning French, Italian and English and they speak to their mom in French... If Daniel was a little bit older, I am sure he could appreciate the similarity to his situation.
So at the playground today, about as many children spoke French as the ones who spoke English. At least, another one spoke Spanish. While this doesn't quite represent an accurate sample of the Bay Area population, today reminded me how lucky I am to be raising a multi-cultural kid around here. There is a great openness for people speaking all kinds of different languages. And chances are Daniel will easily be able to find friends that speak his languages too. He just needs to go to the neighborhood playground on a typical Sunday...

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