We are family

Last week in my Arabic class we studied the words for different family members. As an exercise we were asked to write sentences using our new vocabulary. I quickly remembered the summer of 1987, where most of the family on my father’s side (aunts, uncles and cousins anyway) reunited at the same hotel on Cyprus. Being a typical Lebanese family everyone was spread out across many different countries, so it was really a rare occasion.

I remember that summer very fondly and particularly remember the feeling of truly belonging to something big. The kids were playing together all over the place, running in and out of each other’s hotel rooms. And when it became time for lunch it really didn’t matter with which aunt or in which room we ate. We were all part of the same family.

So in class I decided to write “When I was little my family traveled to Cyprus”. But I wanted to make a point out of it being the entire family and so wrote “my big family”. If I had just written “my family” people would get the impression that it was just my parents and brothers. At least that would be the Danish way. Not the Lebanese.

My teacher didn’t understand what I was trying to say and after explaining it to her, she told me that it was enough just to say my family. If I said that people would automatically assume that it was the whole group. However, if it was just my immediate family I should stress that fact. Which I guess says pretty much everything about how strong the family bond is down here.

Another sign of that can often be seen when big groups of Arabs are together. I see it here and also among Arabs in Denmark. It is almost impossible to tell which children belong with which parents, because all the adults treat the children the same. That means they kiss and hug them equally. But also that they yell at them equally.

In Denmark (and probably most of Northern Europe) how you choose to raise your child is seen as a very private thing and you will rarely see an adult telling off somebody else’s child. I can understand how there can be problems if the adults differ a lot in what they allow their children to do, say and eat. But at the end of the day, I think most parents can agree on many of the fundamental things like children shouldn’t tease or hit, they shouldn’t mess around with their food and things like that.

I love my niece and nephew to death and can’t kiss or hug them enough. But I also have no problem with telling them not to jump on the sofa or to sit up straight at the table. And if I ever have children of my own, I expect my brothers to do the same thing if they see my children misbehaving somehow. Hopefully in that way they will also get the sense of belonging to something bigger.

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One Response to We are family

  1. Vinh says:

    That’s cool. I love how language reflects mentality and society.

    In Vietnamese, there is a word for ‘I’ (which you only use when you don’t know who the addressee is), but not for ‘you’, so instead you have to use family terms like ‘father’s younger brother’ (cau) or ‘big sister’ (chi) for ‘you’. That means that I always have the feeling of being in a huge family when I’m in Vietnam. With my aunts and uncles, I use the word ‘child’ (con) for ‘I/me’ – as if I were their own child. Or a child at that.

    I love this.

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