Immigrant Child, Bilingual Household

My wife and I are a pretty obvious match: two bookish middle-class people of the same age. The big difference is that she was an immigrant child, arriving in Sweden with her parents and sibs at age 7. But this has been more of a boon than a problem for our relationship: we keep a bilingual household even though I’m not an immigrant. I’m not. Wait a minute, am I?

Long-term Aard readers know that I advocate multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism and have little regard for nationalism or patriotism. I grew up reading scifi about galactic federations, so narrow tribalism dividing some small part of Earth has never been my thing. I’m a little embarrassed though that it’s taken so long for me to realise that there may be a little more psychological conditioning behind my attitude than that.

Right around my 4th birthday we moved to Greenwich, Connecticut and I was plonked down into Kindergarten. There I learned to speak English and understand the ways of New England children by the sink-or-swim method. I remember trying to figure out rules for how to remodel a Swedish word into an English one that people around me would understand. I was an immigrant child for two years.

For part of our stay in the US a live-in nanny took care of me and my brother. This excellent, warm-hearted young woman came from a local Connecticut family, and when we returned to Sweden she came along, living with us for several years until my brother was old enough. One big reason that our nanny moved with us was to keep speaking English with us. I spent a big chunk of my childhood in a bilingual household. Our current one is in fact the second I’ve lived in.

So as I said, my wife and I are a pretty obvious match. In more ways than I have really appreciated until now.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

3 thoughts on “Immigrant Child, Bilingual Household”

  1. Strictly speaking you were an expat rather than an immigrant, but for somebody that age there is little practical difference between the two. You had to learn the local language and idioms in order to communicate with your peers.

    No doubt the experience shaped you and prepared you to relate to your current wife. For you being in close proximity to people who do not share your native language is normal. John and I also got there, by routes that are different from yours and from each other. In a big cosmopolitain city like Hong Kong, or a town with a research university like where I live, encountering foreign-born people is part of life. Notably, at least in the US, opposition to immigration tends to come from places where few if any immigrants live.

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  2. HK is not cosmopolitan. Seriously, it’s not. Don’t believe what you read or hear.

    Do you know why there is no Year of the Cat in the Chinese Zodiac? Because the Cat drowned in the river, having been pushed in by the Rat. Don’t look at me, I’m an Ox.

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  3. I was going to say something OT about how my wife and I were very far from an obvious match *on the surface*, but I ended up writing an essay which sounded kind of self-absorbed, so I scrapped it, and will just say that love is where you find it, and you can find it in the most unlikely of places, and with the most seemingly unlikely of people.

    Also seemingly very unlikely that a boy from the Australian bush like me could successfully transplant himself to one of the world’s most densely populated regions, weird climate, surrounded by a sea of aliens speaking a very difficult to learn language. Truth is, for the first two years I lived in HK, I absolutely hated it. But then I didn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

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