I am an Embarrassing American Mom

by Allison Ochs, M.S.W.
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When my daughter was eight, I went to pick her up from sailing on a Wednesday afternoon. I merrily walked through the harbor in my cute summer dress, very pleased with my life abroad. There I was on the shores of Lake Geneva, and my adorable daughter was sailing and speaking French to other children. As I approached, she smiled and looked up as I introduced myself to her new trainer with my very pronounced accent, "Bonjour, je suis la maman de Carli" (Hi, I'm Carli's mom). He looked me up and down as if I was some weird creature from Mars, not the cute mom of this adorable little French-speaking girl. He then he looked at Carli; everyone was staring at us and I realized how much Carli wanted me to be like all the other moms, without the accent, the bold personality and overly excited approach to life. I explained I was American, mentally shrugged and the two of us started chattering in English as we walked away with everyone's eyes glued to us.

This scenario has replayed itself over and over. My daughter told me she was at a storytelling event and a young Irish man was speaking. She spoke to him creating small talk, "So where are you from?" She meant where in Ireland but when he answered, "I am Dutch," she about fell over. I am sure that young man had this scenario play out as well with his parents when he was a child in Ireland.

Going local or sending your children to a school in a language that isn't your mother tongue means you will embarrass your kids with your accent and strange ways, you won't be able to help them with their homework all the time, you will misunderstand things, and they will feel at a disadvantage.

I thought we would grow out of this, but at 22 my daughter still complains that even though she is fluent and did all of her schooling in French, others tell her she isn't a "true" native speaker. Actually, she isn't a native anywhere and just has to live with comments about how her vocabulary isn't the best in every language.

Is it my fault? Am I to blame? Maybe. I sure tried to fit in everywhere, but regardless of my efforts, this happens. Even if I change passports,  I will forever remain the crazy American mom; I might as well drape a flag over my shoulders. It's the life of an expat child: no matter how much you try to improve your vocabulary and be perfect, someone will make a comment. This is just something you will have to grin and bear.


Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash