A fish in foreign waters- a book for bilingual children-

Munichmom is continuing her quest : smart books for smart kids 🙂
Our paths crossed  with  a beautiful and talented young author, who resides in England who is, however,  a full-fledged Italian. Her book touched the right spot ( new job/new language?) and the idea that when you double the languages you double the friends , stayed with me until today ! Munichmom was lucky enough to Skype with Laura for a few hours after the kids were in bed. With a glass of wine in our hands. Literally.

MM : Munichmom

LCW: Laura Caputo-Wickham

MM  How did your book come to life?

LCW My interest for bilingualism has started with the birth of my first child, Elisa. I was fascinated by the progress that her language was making.

At the age of three though, I’ve started noticing some hesitation in speaking the minority language, and the same I could see in the children of my friends, who were older than she was. While doing a bit of research, I came across a quote from Professor Colin Baker, who writes in his book, A Parent’s and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism (Multilingual Matters, Third Edition): “Children often don’t want to appear different. They want to conform to the status-giving behavior of the peer group. This may entail a temporary non-use of one of their languages.”

Not only children don’t want to be different, they are also very aware of what language they should invest energies in learning and often this ends up being the majority language.

This made me feel quite sad. They are not aware of the great benefits that speaking two languages brings, and by the time they realize, they have probably wasted prime years where their brain would have been very receptive to the language.

Something needed to be done! And this was the inspiration for my book.

MM Did the story come first or did the illustrations ?

LCW The story came first. My publisher matched the manuscript with the illustrator whose style best complimented the story. When I heard that Pamela Goodman was going to illustrate the book I was over the moon. Her portfolio (pamelagoodman.com) is absolutely gorgeous and I knew from the start that her pictures were going to add so much to the story.

When the publisher sent me the sketches that she made of Rosie Ray and her family, I couldn’t stop smiling. It was so much better than what I pictured it in my head!Even after reading the story times and times again, I still find myself lost in the pictures and I notice new details every time.

MM How do your children live their being ‘ other’ in their daily life?

LCW It’s hard to know for sure what goes on in their heads, because they are still very little and they can’t quite express more complex feelings and emotions. But I can see in my eldest daughter a desire to fit in and being just like her friends. She wants to wear the same clothes, watch the same shows and of course, talk the same way. I think having been there myself (I was raised bilingual and so was my mother), helps me to understand a little bit more of what they might feel and this helps me to empathize with them.

MM What was the biggest surprise after the publication of your first book?

LCW Every twitter about my book, every review or comment is a very welcome surprise, but if I had to choose one, I would say my daughter’s reaction when I read her my book for the first time. She asked me to read it again straight away and then she offered to read it back to me in the minority language! I was flabbergasted! All of a sudden she started listing so many Italian words, most of them I didn’t even know she knew! Needless to say that I was in tears! A voice inside my head was shouting: “It works!!!”

MM You live between two cultures : the British and the Italian one. Can you name one positive and one negative aspect of the way children are raised in the UK vs Italy?

LCW I love how children are so organically included in the Italian society and everyday life. They are not treated as a group apart; they are part of every event, gathering, night out and they learn right from the beginning to socialize, to interact with adults and to be comfortable in a crowd. What I don’t like so much, is how institutional and cold some Italian schools can be. But I’d like to think that this is changing.

In the U.K., I love how creative the teaching methods can be. I visited a few schools and I was so impressed with the amount of drawings, crafts, projects that were covering every inch of the walls. What I don’t like so much, is the pressure put on children since a very young age. I’ve seen parents teaching their two years old children to read, and others who would hire a tutor for their three years olds. This makes me feel a bit uncomfortable as I enjoyed so much the carelessness of childhood and I wouldn’t want to deprive my daughter of it.

MM Thank you Laura, it was a pleasure e-chatting with you!



Meet Firoozeh Dumas!

Munichmom had the great pleasure of sitting down for an interview with NY Time’s bestselling author and lecturer Firoozeh Dumas. How many times in your life does it happen that an author you have read and appreciated lives around the corner from you? I have had that incredible luck and I am sharing it with you! We interviewed Ms. Dumas over High Tea at the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski München. Something about an elegant hotel lobby and its secret stories, combined with freshly baked scones and tea sandwiches, not to forget the selection of 30 different tea sorts. The perfect setting to sit down and ask Ms. Dumas a few questions about her books but, mostly, about her experiences in our common city of choice: Munich.

MM Munichmom

FD Firoozeh Dumas

How do you live your being ‘other’ here in Germany?

FD Moving to Germany at age 48 threw me for a loop. I was a well-adjusted immigrant in America and I was married to another immigrant, who came from France…and we had it all figured out. Then we moved to Germany. I have to say, it was a much more difficult transition than I thought. At first I felt like such an outsider, especially by not having the language. And the hardest thing for me it was.. well, my entire life I have always thought I am good at languages. Because I always learnt new languages easily, but obviously that talent stopped at German! I really spent my first December here just to learn how to say Merry Christmas 🙂 for some reason I kept forgetting it…Now I am happy that I am starting to learn a little more. I never felt my otherness as much as I felt it here, not having language made me feel so isolated, it just made the adjustment so much harder.

MM This has been my personal experience as well. I also never had a problem with languages, but German was a tough one. I am at a different stage now, where I understand everything, I work and socialize in German. I just do not want to sound perfect anymore. And ironically, that has been very liberating. After having climbed this last mental barrier, my German seems to flow much better and I get less and less self-conscious.

FD Yes I know…I just want to know what the bus driver is saying when the bus stops in the middle of nowhere. 🙂

What was hard for me.. I am a very friendly person and here I felt you could not be the outgoing friendly American that I am in the US. It took me a while to realize that ;)Do not smile at the old lady with the walker, because she does not like that!

MM I see your point of view and I can only empathize. But, aren’t we different people when we speak different languages? My German-speaking self has a different personality than my English-speaking self. And so it is for other languages. Are you different when you speak Farsi?

FD Well, I speak louder when I speak Farsi.

MM How is it for your French husband; is it different?

FD Well, yes. .He goes to the office everyday and works with a bunch of highly educated people who speak English. He had a built-in network. For me…I also left America when I was at the height of my career. I had been a panelist a few times, on a show called ‘Wait wait don’t tell me’, on national public radio, listened to by millions of people. And I could not do that anymore when I moved to Germany and that made me very sad, so I already moved here missing my career .

MM I think this is something we all share….Both Munich moms ended up changing their careers, almost completely, as they moved to Munich.

FD I want to emphasize that I really appreciate living in Munich. I love the fact that 6 year olds go to school on their own. It would be unthinkable of in the States. My daughter just this week went to run an errand on her own and she was so proud of herself! It was very exciting for me.

MM How important is humor for you in everyday life?

FD I could not live without it. I can be friends with anyone, but they must have humor. If you put all of my friends in a room, they all look different. You have every color, different sexual orientation, but they all have humor. If you don’t have a sense of humor, it is going to be hard to be my friend.

MM Do you think there is such a thing as a German sense of humor?

FD Of course there is but, because I do not speak the language, I know nothing about it. I recently met in Greece a German comedian, who did a piece without language, he was very funny. Yes, of course there is humor in Germany, they just do not think I am funny….tragically 🙂

(The conversation shifted on to Firoozeh’s New York Times article on foot fungus and the negative comments by the readers who read the article as a journalistic piece and did not understand the satire behind it)

FD I was a bit thrown off by some of the comments. One thing that I do not like about Munich, and I go on record about it, there are not enough public restrooms. Whereas in America for example, you can pretty much go into any store and use the bathroom. No restaurant facilities in some small restaurants or supermarkets here.

MM Going back to being a parent, what are your thoughts about the German educational system and the fact that 10 year olds are already ‘judged’ by their grades and then, respectively, sent to Gymnasium or Realschule or Hauptschule.

FD I just had a year of experience with German public schools, and I have to say I am very impressed. In America, with my 2 older kids we were nonstop fund-raising for our school, because of education cuts and so on. It is exhausting to be a parent. Here, the fact that the kids go to school and the parents are not expected to be part-time employees, is amazing to me.

The other thing I love about Germany, or at least Munich, is the healthy lifestyle. I look around senior citizens, and they are agile, fit and are moving. In America you are inundated with junk food. God help parents in America. It is a fight against corporate America. It is a fight with your kid to convince them that the blue squirt yogurt is what you do not want. But here I love that my daughter tells me:’ Mom I want cherry tomatoes for snack, can you buy them for me?’ I love that. You can’t find that in America, because corporate America has so taken over the food.

MM I know, I love our local farmers market. You need to come with me the next time. …

FD Oh Yes!!! So this is my funny experience in Munich—- I asked an English-speaking physical therapy doctor I was seeing, how do you stay so fit, do you exercise….? She gave me a very German answer: ‘ I go by bike everywhere, I only eat organic food’ …So she told me her favorite store in Munich and the next day I go and I buy and organic chicken. I do not look at the price and when I go to the cashier I see the price: 26 Euros. And I said, oh no, I just bought a chicken…I paid 26 Euros for a chicken and I emailed all my friends in America and told them I had just spent 32 dollars for a chicken. It was the leanest, most delicious chicken and then I went into a period of mourning because I realized I had been eating fat chicken all my life! I felt I was so cheated by America. Why did I not get a chicken like that in America? So now, I just turned 50 and I never felt so healthy in my life. It is so healthy here that you feel healthy by default.

MM Here is my last question…So, you grew up in California, and both Munich Moms spent a large chunk of their lives on the East Coast…Now I love Munich, it took me a few years to get used to it, but I would not change it for any other city right now.. Sometimes, though, I think that Berlin is trendy, dark, introspective, artsy and Munich tends to be a good-looking, outgoing, sporty town. Sort of like LA and NYC. How do you see Munich? Is it East Coast or West Coast?

FD Oh Munich is definitely West Coast. But I need it. As a writer I live in my head. For me living somewhere where looks matter, as I already live in a world of words and books, is the perfect match. I need a little bit of shallowness. It is good for me.

MM Dear Firoozeh, thanks a million for chatting with us!

Your Munichmom

P.S. In celebration of this interview and the countdown to Firoozeh’s new novel, we are having a giveaway. Firoozeh was kind enough to autograph two of her books, ‘Laughing without an accent’ and ‘Funny in Farsi’. To enter for your chance to WIN you must go to our blog. http://www.munichmom.com and click the follow button. You will be prompted to enter your email address. It’s that simple. The contest will end on July 31st. It is open internationally. There will be a random drawing of the emails to choose 2 winners. Good Luck!!