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Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Stereotypes in Bringing up Children


(This is the follow-up to the article Cultural Stereotypes)

Where to live?

On a recent long-haul flight, I was talking with an American who lives in Germany and has lived in France for some time. We spoke about family and children and I mentioned that I was not sure whether I preferred my children to grow up in the UK or in France.

I have three girls and my feeling is that I’d probably like them to be French rather than English. He agreed and added “it would be the other way round if you had boys.” I was surprised how right that answer felt. We discussed further and realised that our preference of French over English girls was based on positive stereotypes – French girls’ positive attributes are better then English girls’.

Borderline racist, isn’t it?

I talked about it with a couple of English colleagues and friends (in a pub, obviously). They all felt that raising daughters in the UK was better, because the UK is all about choice and France is all about women being bitchy. It seems stereotypes also depend on your own cultural background and are extremely subjective. I’m guessing that they highlight the cultural divide between observer and object more than anything else.

How come then that both the American and I prefer France?

I have formerly speculated that the French are “Europe’s Americans,” mostly because of the way they see themselves and their culture. Maybe that is something the American recognised when he lived there. But what about me? I should be a lot closer to the UK, culturally. The 6.5 years in France must have done something to me, I just don’t know what.

A second discussion with a German colleague who lives in England and a Scottish colleague who lives in Spain had the exact same result: they also preferred girls to grow up in France and boys in the UK. This time we also discussed the latter. We all had the same image in our heads of boys in the UK being tougher than their French counterparts and we all thought that was an advantage. Funny.

I wonder: were I to discuss this with Germans or French who have never lived abroad, would they opt for their respective countries? They would, wouldn’t they? Proof that we expatriates are different after all. I guess the real question is: will it matter? It might well be that no matter where we raise our daughters, most of their character and behaviour will be based on ours anyway.

What do you think? Where would you want your children to grow up?

© 2011 – 2013, Jan Petersen. All rights reserved.

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Jan, who is German, works mainly from home as a software engineer. His wife, who is Algerian, stays at home to look after their three girls aged 7, 4 and 1. They live in the U.K. and are raising their children multilingual in Arabic, French, German and English.

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