Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Expat kids

My kids have an identity crisis. They don't know whether they are French, Anglais, Irish or Catalan. The two of them were born here in France and are soon to be celebrating their 7th and 5th birthdays ( yikes, how the hell did that happen?). They are Irish (even though they were born here, they do not have French nationality as both their parents are Irish) and speak English with a heavy Irish accent and French with a Catalan one. The school calls them "les Anglais" and compounding the problem is that we mix with an ex pat crowd that are mostly from the UK, confusing them even further.
They know to shout for Ireland when we are playing France in rugby, but I've caught them more than once saying "je suis Anglais" to French people. They have never been to a Paddys Day parade, they have never seen hurling or Gaelic football, they don't know any Irish songs or dancing and horror of horrors, they don't even go to a Catholic school.
They realise they are somehow different to their English ex pat friends but couldn't understand why they were not allowed have the union jack painted on their faces for the Royal wedding last year ( My Grandmother would certainly have turned in her grave)
We go back to the Ole Sod as often as we can and the Mammy does send over books about Irish legends and the like, but really it isn't enough to make them into little cailíni agus buachailli..
My Great Grandfather was one of the leading forces in the Gaelic league, an association set up in éire to promote the Irish language in the late 19th century. A múinteoir taistil ( travelling teacher) , he went from school to school re-introducing Irish to the youth of Ireland at the time. It really hit me this Paddys Day as I tried to speak a  cúpla focail  (a few words in Irish) that my Irish needs a lot of work! The shame!
So, I'm thinking about setting up an Irish Club - one where we can meet and do Irish dancing and singing, cook up some Irish food, cheer on Irish sport, watch some Irish movies and above all, have some Irish craic. I suppose what I'm saying is that I want my children to be quintessentially Irish and not French ...Ní Fraincis go háirithe! Is it too late, am I dreaming?


  1. I immagine your dilemma, being part of the invasive British contigent my kids don't have this issue, but I know in our village any anglophone - including the Dutch are labeled "les anglais"

    1. Yes, it's a funny situation to be in.. watch this space for the new Irish club!
      Ps Love your blog, spent ages this morning reading it. turned 40 myself last year, one of the best years of my life!!!

  2. Maybe there is a Gaelic football club near you? I heard about it for the first time yesterday, from an American friend who plays with the club here in Paris. But apparently there are clubs all over France and they do tournaments and whatnot. Who knew??

    1. Will be on the look out for that. Where are you situated Ksam?

  3. Wonderful article, K. Surely food for thought. I am pretty sure you have an hilarious book in you, Karen.

    As you know, we spend much of our children's youth overseas. I am Irish & hubby is American. We lived in Germany, Belgium, Italy, Korea and the US. I can remember all three of my kids (who were born on different continents!), asking, "Mom, where am I from?" Good question!

    1. Thanks Anne.
      Wow, that's impressive, three children in three different continents.
      Re-assuring too, to see how normal they turned out ( well kind of !!!)
      Merci for your comments xx

  4. buladh bos (can't find the fada for bos)
    Ye will never be our french cousins, don't worry

  5. Thanks Diane!
    Can't wait to see you in France this summer for another cook off!
    Is Josie coming too? Do we need to stock up on the the One Block?

  6. Diana, press ó, 8 times to get the fada!

  7. Dear Karen,

    Are you sure your kids were born in "France"? If they were born in Perpinyà, then I fear you've been duped as your youngsters were born in Catalonia, not France. In a way, I can relate to your concern. I'm Catalan and I was born and raised far from home long enough for me to learn English. I was raised as a Catalan within the four walls of our family home, and got to know my homeland every summer. I humbly recommend you consider this approach with your kin if you want them to grow up Irish, and I sincerely hope they will: Your people didn't struggle to survive as a nation so that no one would indentify with it, correct? That said, I have a second suggestion. Actually, it's more of a request. France may not have granted your children citizenship, but that doesn't mean Catalonia won't. How, we don't issue passports, right? True, at least, not yet. But we have a collective identity and we do consider ourselves a nation. One that will recognize anyone who acquires the defining national characteristic: our language. Birth right, is not of much use for those who can't speak Catalan.

    Now, I'm sure you know that France has done an excellent job of banishing Catalan for the public sphere and truth be told, many catalans haven't helped the situation either. Nevertheless, I wouldn't bother with this essay if I didn't think we were coming from the same place, that we might share a common outlook. You speak of a grandmother who would turn in her grave at the thought of her grandkids in the same sentence as the words union Jack and royal wedding. More importantly, you mention another ancestor who went from school to school re-introducing Irish to the youth of Ireland. This is precisely what Northern Catalonia (P-O for the uninitiated) needs desperately.

    Obviously I no one expects you or your family to spearhead this national recovery, but I think it's perfectly feasable for your children to grow up Catalan and Irish, or Irish and Catalan. It's not unrealistic, but measures need to be taken. Might I suggest you try to contact the Catalan centre in Perpinyà ( The 22nd of this month they're planning a family outing to Sant Pere de Rodes, and year round they offer catalan classes. Also, local historian Jean Villanove's classic "Histoire populaire des Catalans" Vol. 1 & 2 are a must read, and can be found at la llibreria Catalana (7, Plaça Joan Payrà Perpinyà). Alternatively, I've got some PDFs in English if you're interested. In Northern Catalonia alone, there are many 'foreigners' who have now become Catalan: Cillie Motzfeldt, Donald Smith and Benjamin Gross ( just to name a few.

    I'm not trying to tell you how to raise your kids, and I can guarantee they're not the only ones with an identity crisis. Though I do think that they should at least be presented with the basic makeup of catalan identity so that they can decide whether it's for them or not. The same goes for Irish identity, although that's something you will have to provide them and the idea of the Irish club seems to me a good idea. Who knows, you might even be lucky enough to find some catalans interested in it.

    Let me close by saying that if I were living in Northern Ireland, I'd honestly try my best to learn the language and I'd try to take part in some of the national traditions and passtimes. More importantly, you wouldn't see the Union Jack anywhere near me. (Northern) Catalonia needs all the help it can get, and for it's citizens it's a win-win situation. Plus, if your little 'mainatges' go around speaking Catalan, I guarantee you that no one will be calling them "les Anglais".

    All the best,

    Fada beo in Éirinn!
    Visca Catalunya!


    1. Hi Joan
      Thank you for your very interesting comment and suggestions. I love what I know of the Catalan culture and you have inspired me to find out more!
      Gràcies! (No parlo el català)

  8. Hi Kaz

    Thank you for being considerate enough to read my comment. Here's a link to a downloadable version of Alan Yates' Teach Yourself Catalan, which was the initial method used by Cathy Sweeney and Matthew Tree, amogst others:

    I wish you the best of luck in your new endeavour.

    Cathy Sweeney:

    Matthew Tree:

    Also, I really recommend this blog, especially the documentary that begins one you enter:




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