Life's journeys: Language, culture, communication

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MultiKulti auf Deutsch

The time was 2 p.m. and the temperature was 32 degrees centigrade – in the shade. The parking lot was teeming with expensive cars whence packs of hyperactive, overwrought children irrupted. The mothers were carrying plates and salad bowls and cakes and the fathers looked as lost as they usually do.

Dragging my feet across the tarmac that led to the kindergarten, I was desperately trying to conjure up some of my initial enthusiasm, but my thoughts had apparently fled to a cooler place. This was supposed to be our kids’ summer celebration, their wonderful outdoor performance dedicated to Europe and its oh, so heartfelt community of nations.  But just imagine fencing 250 people into the space of a basketball court in the sweltering heat. Tables buckled under the weight of international goodies on the verge of going foul on you from one bite to the next, babies were screaming because they were literally getting scalded in the unrelenting sun, older children were screaming for lack of better occupation and wives were screaming at their husbands because they were there to be screamed at. Who on this multicultural Earth came up with the brilliant idea of scheduling this kiddie performance at the hottest time of day of the hottest weekend of the year?!

Anyway, I was determined to make it through the performance and capture it on film. That was my quest. By the time I got crushed in the stampede of parents scurrying to the outer garden where the performance was to take place, I realized that was all the other mothers were after, too. “I don’t care how shitty this performance is as long as I survive the heat long enough to get my kid on film. ” That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Our kids. Our favourite vanity projects. It appears we cannot live without recording things on video anymore.  How did our parents manage it? Or their parents? What??? You mean just watch, live, remember and then share memories by word of mouth? Subjectively recount the past? Not us. We are the generation that can objectively recreate and reproduce the past at the turn of a button. Every smile and every fart our sons and daughters ever put into the world. So gorgeous because they are ours, so oblivious we have become of the rest.  But I digress. The point is, I was going to offer a critique of the whole event, but seems I can’t remember the actual centerpiece. I didn’t actually see it. I didn’t participate. I was the eye behind the LCD screen behind the camera…

At the beginning of the year, when we were informed that our children were to become more internationally-minded and dedicate the year’s pedagogical activities to multicultural awareness, I was excited. There are so many different nations in my son’s kindergarten and I expected a fertile and fervid exchange of knowledge, ideas, understanding. For a couple of months I kept hoping the Erzieherinnen would summon us foreign parents to give poignant, funny, informative speeches about our places of origin, to present our food, language and traditions. It never happened. Instead, the children learned the same old dusty cliches about Spain, Sweden, France and Italy that are already too ludicrous even for cartoons.  The natural, open communication of “Hey, where are you from? What is it like there?” was completely replaced by the typically rigid and preprogrammed teaching about reindeer in Sweden, the Eiffel Tower in France and pizza in Italy. Granted, they did learn a few words in each language – my son developed a particular and understandable affinity for Italian. But hey, a child could get that on his/her own by the age of 4 if only films and TV series were broadcast in their original versions instead of the maddening omnipresent German voiceover…

To make a long story short, I was looking forward to the annual kindergarten performance, with its international focus – so the flyer said. Obviously, the flyer had misprinted our flag (looked more like Belgium than Romania) but I tried to ignore it. What was harder to ignore, however, was the so-called Russian dance: it looked more like a medieval French country dance (or quite possibly a minuet) than anything Russian. The music was definitely some Central European classical composer, but since this is not my area of expertise, I will refrain from venturing a name. Then there was an umbrella number that was supposed to represent Britain, but which was danced to “Raindrops falling on my head” by B.J. Thomas (100% non-European – as non-European, in fact, as Missouri and Oklahoma) and, to add insult to inury, a Hungarian catwalk presentation with… (surprise, surprise!)… raz-dva-tri… Russian music!!! (Guys, that was supposed to come like three acts before!?)

The actual surprise, though, was that nobody else seemed to notice. Or care. They all got their progeny on camera, the year ended and I have still not been asked by anybody “Hey, where do you come from? What is it like there?” I have been waiting for eight years now. Is it possible that I am waiting in vain?…


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