Teach your children well
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 16, 2007
It happened again – twice last weekend, in fact.
The first time, I was shopping at the local grocery store. I was standing in the housewares aisle debating whether to buy some locally made items as stocking stuffers, when a young girl ran past.
She was around eight years old, a charming brunette in a dress and wire-frame glasses. She was out on a shopping excursion with her dad, and she was having a ball. As she ran past me in search of something or other, she called back a continuous stream of Arabic chatter to her father, who answered her with a big smile in his voice.
Then he saw me, and suddenly the unsolved problem of Lebanese identity reared its ugly head. He switched to English mid-sentence, and I watched as his daughter’s step faltered.
She half-turned, clearly wondering why her father had suddenly changed languages – not simply adding a word or two of English, but making a definite switch. I wondered as well, but I doubt we reached the same conclusion.
Why do Lebanese people care so much about demonstrating their language skills in front of foreigners? This man and his daughter weren’t speaking with me. I’ve never seen them before, and I am certainly in no position to judge their language abilities.
Nor did I appear to be anyone of particular substance, pawing through the mug assortment in grotty braid and gym clothes, in hopes of finding the Starbucks mugs I had seen there several weeks previously (yes, real Starbucks mugs although judging by the $2 price tags I doubt that Starbucks sanctioned their sale). Why did he care whether I knew that the two of them can speak English – and why place so little value on Arabic?
The same thing happened the following day. I stopped in the women’s locker room on my way out of the gym. As I stopped to say hello to the attendant, I could hear a mother talking to her children in the lounge area – talking in Arabic.
The mother was seated on the couch with her toddler son, trying to put him in a sweater. His older sister – three, four years old – was across the room, changing the channels on the television. As I walked in, the mother looked up at me and … suddenly switched to English.
The little boy dropped his arms and looked up at her, confused. The girl stepped back from the television and turned toward the couch, surprised. When they noticed me and made the connection, I cringed.
What lesson are these parents teaching their children?