Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

C is for Culture

with 9 comments

Hmm, I’ll bet you didn’t think I was going to go for Culture for today’s post, did you?  There is a much more obvious “C-word” for autism, and that is “cure.”  But I’m not going there, my friends, for many reasons.  Not least of all because long before ASD, ADHD, SPD and all the other lovely acronyms came into our lives, our kids were already TCKs: Third Culture Kids.  Their upbringing is a cocktail of my English and their father’s US heritage, and a blend of all the countries they have and will live in throughout their childhood.  Much as autism or sensory issues colour our lives, so does this multicultural mix.

One thing that has always fascinated me about Pudding, is that relative to her diagnoses, she is a fairly flexible child.  She handles transitions well, and follows directions and accepts authority at least as well as most of her contemporaries.  Which isn’t to say she doesn’t have meltdowns and behavioural problems, but they seem to come from a different place.  Perhaps she doesn’t understand the situation, or she lacks control over it.  Maybe she isn’t familiar with an expected custom, or she is expecting others to behave according to a custom and they don’t.  Clearly she is a child on the autism spectrum, but these are also difficulties generally found in young children who have lived in a variety of cultures.

Pudding and Cubby have adjusted flawlessly to life here.  Things that are jarring to me because they are so different, are simply accepted as the status quo.  Take Cubby, for instance.  He is currently fascinated by kombi buses.  For those not in the know, a kombi is a kind of minibus that should hold about 10 passengers, but usually has double that.  They are generally old, beat-up vehicles with lights and indicators that don’t work.  Not that it matters, because the drivers never use them anyway.  They prefer to hoot their horns if they want to let you know they’re going through a red light, or crossing your lane, or just coming to an abrupt stop in the middle of the road.  Not that they always choose to let you know.  To my knowledge, white people don’t tend to ride on these vehicles, and they certainly don’t drive them.  I’ve only lived in countries with very strict safety laws about seat belts and maximum occupancy, so I experience a little culture shock regarding the death-trap transportation here.  Cubby, however, will grab a cardboard box and pretend he is driving his kombi bus.  He thinks they are just as awesome as trucks or fire engines were in the US.

The kids are too young to pick up on the poverty and inequality that is prevalent here in the Rainbow Nation.  They are sheltered, of course, in their ethnically diverse, but still expensive and private preschools.  In her own way though, Pudding has made observations about life here.  For instance, when we are in the cleaning aisle while shopping for groceries, Pudding will say, “that’s for Leia*” (our housekeeper).  I still clean at the weekends, and certainly that was my responsibility before we moved here, but she never described cleaning products as “Mummy’s”.

The outcome of all this exposure to different cultures during a child’s development is very interesting.  Third Culture Kids generally excel at communication, and are frequently adept at learning languages.  With a receptive-expressive language delay and auditory processing dysfunction, this isn’t exactly Pudding’s strong suit.  And yet…yet I feel one day it will be.  She picks up on the subtle differences in pronounciation that many can’t detect.  Asking for a drink, for instance, will be a rather English waw-ter from me, and an American wah-derr from Daddy.  She has taken to saying ho-tay-ull (for hotel) as though she is Scarlett O’Hara.

Older TCKs often describe how they don’t feel that they belong anywhere, and both belong to and are apart from their parents’ home culture.  Without the shared experiences of growing up in the same place, they feel very different from their peers, and may adapt better in a foreign land than they do in their “homeland”, which may be neither the place they were born, nor have ever lived.  I’ve read accounts by TCKs where they describe the strange blend of feeling like an alien amongst their peers, but able to assimilate to any culture.  Strikingly familiar for me as a mother of child who looks like any other on the outside, but is so very different underneath.  I’m pretty sure that one day I’ll be steering Pudding towards the exchange students or other global nomads, who might be a little more understanding and accepting of behaviour outside of the cultural norms.

I’ve been thinking about culture a lot, because one thing that strikes me is how family friendly South Africa is.  Children are very much welcomed here, and they are expected to behave…well, like children, really.  Because young children do run around and bounce up and down.  They are loud and exuberant, and why should they be expected to be otherwise?  The western world could learn a thing or two from the attitudes here towards the young.  I’m considerably less tense when I’m out with the children, knowing that they are accepted here.

So, why then, did I get the look from those ladies when we first arrived?  Perhaps they weren’t from here, or they were just plain mean.  Or maybe I was carrying a lot of baggage from living where hyperactive children aren’t so well tolerated.  Where expected behaviour is being still and quiet, two things that are impossible for Pudding.  But one thing is clear to me now, I focused on the one table where Pudding was viewed with negativity, not at the people all around who didn’t notice, or didn’t concern themselves with a child having a meltdown.

The more relaxed I become, the more I see the genuine pleasure people here get from seeing my girl quite literally dance to her own rhythm.  We feel like we belong.  And that is most definitely my kind of culture.

This post is part of my A-Z series that you can find by clicking here.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

October 10, 2011 at 8:05 am

9 Responses

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  1. I think “C” is my favorite letter so far!! What a wonderful place South Africa sounds to be!! I am truly happy for you that it has been an easy transition. What a novel idea, that kids should be expected to behave like kids!! I can only imagine how great that must feel for all of you!!


    October 10, 2011 at 8:27 am

  2. I enjoyed reading this post!
    I moved to this wonderful country 16 years ago and in the beginning it was a huge cultural shock. I laughed at your explanation of the Kombi’s ~ so true ~ and so frightening, the disregard they show to their passengers and other motorists.
    The inequality is sad, however, there is a lot of compassion out there and lot is being done, even on the silent sidelines. Our family have been through the deaths of two part time gardeners and also most horrifically the loss of a sweet 18 month girl who lived with us from birth. Her mum is still with us and yes she is HIV positive!
    Whenever there are troubles (don’t even mention that word Malama to me!!!) I am asked, “why do you live here, wouldn’t life be better in your own country?”. Maybe it would, but this is my country now and I love it.
    I so hope that you love living here too…….. by the time you leave, Pudding and Cubby will be South African kids!! 🙂


    October 10, 2011 at 8:37 am

  3. Interesting post!

    Jim W.

    October 10, 2011 at 8:54 am

  4. I really liked this, and it’s your last paragraph that struck me most. Your posts – and our conversations – have taken on a much more relaxed tone. Like you and your kids have easily “fit in” to where you are. I wasn’t sure how that happened so fast, but the family friendly nature of the place has to have something to do with it. Your kids will have their own unique culture no matter where they end up. Because you will teach them to take the best of all the places where they’ve been and make it their own.


    October 11, 2011 at 1:11 am

  5. Just fascinating to read your descriptions of life in such a faraway (to me) place! I feel like I have a tiny glimpse through your writing of what culture is like there and the different ways both children and adults perceive it. It’s funny how Cubby took to pretending with the Kombi buses. They do sound quite frightening – I’m sure I’d end up distracted and hitting one! I’m sad for the obvious disparity in the classes of poverty and wealth – that is a shame.

    I’m also find it intriguing how Pudding has been pronouncing her words… that is very multi-cultural! I hope that you will post lots of photos of life in South Africa! I’m so enjoying reading your perspectives and I want to see if the pictures you have created in my mind match!


    October 11, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    • It is a fascinating place. Sadly, I don’t take many photos while out and about for security reasons. Almost every day I wish I had my camera with me, but after a man tried to get into my car while I was waiting to turn, I’m taking the crime here pretty seriously. So lots of pictures from the safety of our compound, which isn’t nearly as interesting as everywhere outside of it!
      Her pronounciation thing is I think part of her auditory processing issues. Sometimes she underreacts, and sometimes overreacts to sound. I think she can detect certain sounds/words more acutely than most people, and others she can’t capture as well as most of us. Certain noises just capture her attention, which is part of her echolalia, I think. Bizarre stuff this SPD!

      Spectrummy Mummy

      October 12, 2011 at 7:52 pm

  6. So glad to hear you’re loving RSA, especially the kids. I rode exclusively in minibuses (in Cape Town we didn’t call them kombis as much I guess) for the first year+ I lived there. But I never really enjoyed it all that much, especially when I was laden down with groceries. It was so liberating to finally get a car!


    October 12, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    • You’re brave! I don’t feel safe driving near them, so I definitely wouldn’t travel in them. 🙂

      Spectrummy Mummy

      October 12, 2011 at 7:41 pm

  7. […] Kombi Buses. Perhaps they should just come under the driving header, but I hate kombi buses so much that they get their own special heading.  From constantly honking, to driving on the wrong side of […]

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