You know you are creating an expat brat when…Part 2

I’m starting to think we may have permanently ruined our child. I’ve mentioned this before, but feel it’s prudent mention it again. He does not live a normal life, despite our best intentions. Honestly, we try to keep it real, but it’s kind of difficult when your life involves jetting across two continents at a time (and back) for the summer holidays. My son isn’t five yet and already has two separate air miles accounts with more points racked up than most people get in a lifetime. He’s living in a gold plated sandpit for three quarters of the year in near-permanent sunshine, where ‘nature’ is limited to sand, camels, scorpions, palm trees and bougainvillea flowers blowing across the fake grass.  Then we blast him through time and space to various destinations for the remainder of his year, travelling with as many upgrades as our own air miles can muster in order to make our travel experience just that little bit easier. The kid barely knows what economy class looks like and certainly has no idea that flights can sometimes last as little as two hours to get you from A to B. But it’s not all bad. He’s had some pretty cool experiences that mean expat life can and should be celebrated. Ask him about time zones and he can tell you which of his relatives is eating breakfast while he’s tucking into dinner. He hasn’t been on a pony, but he’s ridden a camel across the Liwa desert. He hasn’t been to a football match but he’s nipped to the Dubai 7s for the afternoon. And the ferris wheel in London was cool, but not as high as the Burj Khalifa.

But living a normal life? Keeping it real? WTF is normal about any of this?  NOTHING.

So I admit defeat. My son is an expat brat. Here are seven more signs for the summer vacationing expat parents out there, that you’ve probably been smoking something if you think your little darlings are growing up ‘normal’:

1. Arriving in at any airport, the first words they utter are: ‘Mummy, where’s the driver?’

2. When other kids ask where they come from, they mutter ‘America, England AND Dubai’ in a sort of reluctant mid-atlantic accent which leaves the other child in question a bit flummoxed and their accompanying parent rolling their eyes, as though you’ve deliberately trained them to show off about it, as oppose to encouraging them to embrace their international heritage.

3.You go to lunch with old friends at their house, and turn up in jeans and jumpers. You walk in to find their kids dressed in swimmers and galavanting in 4 inches of freezing cold paddling pool. Instead of begging to join in, your child takes one look at the grass and dirt infested ice water and scarpers inside to play in the warm.

4. When you mention, six weeks into the summer trip, that they need a haircut (again), they say: ‘But Mummy, I had a haircut two places ago.’

5. Long sleeves are such a novelty your child insists on wearing jumpers all the time, even when the temperature hits a reasonably warm 24 degrees. You acknowledge, however, that they may actually still be cold in the shade, and don’t bother to argue about taking it off.

6. They collect stones off of people’s driveways, presenting them to you as ‘special gifts’. Twigs, seaweed and flower petals hold similar fascination as unique aspects of nature they don’t see at home which are expected to be kept and transported back without being detained at customs. In fact, everything is exciting. This is because the average 5 year old expat has spent approximately 80% of his or her life living away from the things the rest of us take/took for granted. This includes letter boxes, policemen on the beat, rain, cbeebies, flowers that smell, and trains.

7. They know the airport drill better than most grown adults: ‘Are we at Heathrow Mummy? After we’ve checked in, and gone through security, can we go to Giraffe for pancakes?’

And I say ‘Of course we can, my lovely little world traveller.’ And then I realise all over again, that although his normal is not my normal, and my normal is not very normal either, however not-normal it may be, we are just plum lucky to be doing what we do.

 

Advertisements

Celebrating the expat brat

Annabel Kantarina, writer and fellow expat, wrote a post this week about the demise of the Expat Brat. Whilst I’m not inclined to believe it’s the last we’ve seen of the spoilt rich kid abroad, I do think it’s probably not as relevant a ‘label’ as it once might have been. Not meaning to start a war here, but let’s face it, there’s plenty of kids who live in their home countries who are spoilt rotten, plenty who have no manners and can’t seem to behave themselves if their life depended on it, and plenty who are lazy and let everyone around them do everything for them. I know, because they come here on holiday. So I agree that it’s grossly unfair to tar all our third culture kids with the same brush, and hats off to Bellakay for championing their cause.

As coincidence would have it, I’d actually been thinking this week, about how totally cool it must be to grow up in Dubai. We’ve just got back from a few days in the desert, and my son hasn’t stopped talking about how much he loved it. And he really did have a blast, discovering new things about his environment and himself and filling every bodily crevice with sand in the process. Despite my continual misgivings that he is ‘missing out’ it occurred to me this week just how much he would have missed by growing up in Surrey instead. Our expat brats might miss the leaves falling, have no idea how to put gloves on, and have an unnerving tendency to ask ‘is it real?’ about every animal they come across, but they have another host of experiences notched up that most ‘stay at home’ children can only ever read about in books. So here are my reasons to celebrate being an ‘expat brat’ in Dubai:

– You get to run up around the dunes or dance in the waves every weekend and picnic on the sand in either place while you watch the sun go down.

– You can eat your lunch and watch the fountains go off next to the tallest building in the world.

– You can have your lunch inside the tallest building in the world.

– You’ve been up the top of the tallest building in the world. Twice. Aged four.

– The sun always shines. Yes, it might get hot (gross understatement) but everyday, for months, you know you can make plans for the park/pool/play date and pretty much rely on the weather being perfect.

– When it does rain, it’s magical: a day off school in case a lethal puddle engulfs the 4×4, and as exciting as snow. And snow – well snow is just THE BEST THING EVER because it is only ever accompanied by grandparents and presents, or it means you’re about to hit the toboggan run in Ski Dubai.

– By aged five you can pack your own suitcase for a six week holiday taking into account travelling to three countries with three different weather patterns, and you are able to negotiate airport security and long haul flights with expertise and finesse usually reserved for fifty year old travelling salesmen.

– Being different is your norm.You have friends from 15 different countries speaking 15 different languages and you will grow up never knowing what it’s like to only know people who come from the same place as you, or who all dress the same as you, or who all look and sound the same as you.

– You have no idea what a sheep looks like in real life but you’ve ridden a camel.

– You’ve been to Sri Lanka, Jordan, Thailand and Oman and seen temples, beaches and ways of life you would normally have to wait until a gap year to experience. Plus you stayed in a nice hotel instead of a dingy hostel (you’re welcome) and the only thing in your backpack was a set of felt tip pens and a Leap pad.

– You accept change as easily as ice cream, and adapt to it faster than a cockroach in a nuclear holocaust.

And finally

– You think all this is normal, which means on trips home when you’re collecting conkers or climbing trees or staying at Nanna’s house it’s special and exciting but at the same time, feels like slipping on an old familiar pair of shoes.

The best of both worlds, our kids live a special life that we can barely imagine having as a child, one that is certainly privileged, but doesn’t have to mean spoilt. And for the most part, I think we all do our best to make sure it’s as kept as down to earth as it can possibly be, when, let’s face it, it’s pretty surreal to us parents a lot of the time. But, in 2014, if this is what it means to be one: all hail the expat brat.

 

 

 

 

Fashion victim

Do you remember being seventeen? I do. Vaguely. I was finishing up A-levels at a girl’s grammar school where I never really fitted in with anyone (although I’m not sure anyone else did either) and more interested in boys than school. I drove a beige mini cooper with a maroon top that broke down on a regular basis, usually when I was hanging out late at my friend’s house and had to get his dad up at 2am to jump start me and send me on my way. I had an unsuitably ancient boyfriend who worked in the city and cooked me cheese on toast with herbs on at the weekends (the height of sophistication when you’ve never even boiled an egg) and I earned enough money waitressing at a variety of pubs in the area to pay for the car, until I was old enough to pull pints and graduate to the heady heights of ‘barmaid’, when I used to spend my wages on drinking pints when I wasn’t serving them.

I wore jeans, t-shirts, or long paisley skirts with tassels on, and owned a short black skirt for work. On my feet were usually a pair of ‘chinese sandals’, awful flat misshapen things from Chelmsford market for a fiver, that were almost compulsory for every sixth former. I used to occasionally trade these in for a pair of jazz shoes to dance in, or boots, if it was wet weather.

When I was seventeen, my idea of a career was non-exisitent. I had no idea what I wanted to do, I didn’t mind too much, and nor did anyone else. I wrote a diary, not a blog. I didn’t know about fashion and fashion didn’t know about me, and we got along fine that way, because I was young enough for it not to matter. I thought the pink and orange chiffon top I bought for a party at Chelmsford City Football club was the height of sophistication. I owned a black cotton bag with sequins on the front (again from the market) and lived in my black cardigan with buttons down the back until it rotted off my shoulders. My hair was curly and out of control and done by my mum’s friend when it was done by anyone. I owned eyeliner and mascara and an old Clinique lipstick from a multi pack my mum didn’t want. I danced to the Happy Mondays and the Farm and mixed Bacardi into a bottle of coke to take to parties.

I was considered fairly cool, I think, although slightly odd (not much has changed in 20 years). How would have I described my personal style? Top Shop meets Miss Selfridge. Whilst I’m aware than a few decades have passed since then, and we are admittedly living in a very different place to the chavland of my youth (although sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference), I wonder at what strange creatures Dubai has managed to produce, for example the teenager I happened to stumble across on the back pages of Grazia Middle East this week:

‘This trendy twin describers her personal style as classic and minimal. “I tend to stick to a monochrome palette when dressing.” she says. Here, she works her style magic with this ultra-feminine white and nude ensemble. She teams a slouchy white tank top by Michael Kors with a pair of cream lace trousers by Cameo, adding a vintage Chanel belt to nip in the waist. She finished the look with a pair of nude Louboutins and a beige Chanel bag.’

You’re seventeen, FFS. You’ve got years to covet nude Loubs and neutrals. Go out and get yourself a pair of Havanias and a crop top from H&M and have some fun, girl. And give me your wardrobe. I may be old enough to be your mother but I’m not above borrowing your clothes.

You know you are creating an expat brat when…

I’ve been poorly with the ‘flu over the weekend and so instead of getting some much desired family time I’ve spent most of the past few days curled up in a ball shivering. Whilst flaked out on the sofa I stumbled across this blog post about ‘Things you never said until you lived in Dubai’. It got me thinking about writing something myself but I couldn’t face the computer. Then my husband and son got home from Dubai Mall and – hey presto! The work was done for me.

Me: Where did Daddy take you for lunch?

My son (aged not-quite-three): We went to the Armani cafe

Me: Did you?! And what did you have to eat?

My son: I had a wagyu beefburger and fries and dip dip, but the dip dip was too spicy so I asked the man and he gave me some nice dip dip.

Me: A wagyu beefburger hey? Wow, aren’t you lucky?

Having picked myself up off the floor and raised an eyebrow to my other half, who claimed that ‘all the other restaurants were out of kids food’ I realised with a cackle of amusement and horror (I told you I was feeling ill) that we were indeed raising our own little expat brat. So here for your pleasure are the top 10 signs you might be headed that way too:

English: Dubai Mall

Mummy is this our new car? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. They automatically turn left when they get on the plane

2. ‘Lamborghini’ is one of their first 50 words

3. Princess manicures are a Thursday afternoon ritual

4. Their 3rd birthday party cost more that your first car

5. They refuse to wear any polo shirt that doesn’t have a horse sewn on it

6. They think all beaches come with free ice pops and a man that sprays you when it gets too hot

7. They are on first name terms with the staff at the Polo/Golf/Beach club (or indeed, all three)

8. You buy them the cute little housework set from ELC and they leave it outside the maid’s door

9. They can operate Skype before they are out of nappies

10. They think gold and silver are part of the colour spectrum