One of the things often talked about when talking about third culture and cross cultural children, is their ability to be cultural chamelons. I’m going to cheat a little and write two posts in one. My U and V blog post is about undercover and visibility.
I have read somewhere that one of the things one speak about with awe when talking about third culture children or children who has been forced to move a lot, is their ability to adapt easily to new cultures, to pick up the social codes and cues, and quickly behave like they’ve lived there for long time.
It’s not like the children change visible apparance like the chamelons do, they are often still very visible. There is still the crowd that quickly surround the car when parked, that follow in your trail through the market, the hands that stretch through the car windows, that want to touch your hair, your face. Or the new kid who everyone looks at and want to talk with. There still are few places to hide, to go undercover. So, these children learn to survive by blending in differently.
TCKs are usually skilled at reading people around them, what attitudes they have, body language, polite gestures, clothing style, language and so on. We pick up important words fast. If women are supposed to be reserved in the culture where we live, then we look down and speak little. If we need to wear long skirts, we do. I still, without thinking about it, often adapts the dialects of people I’m speaking with. I don’t have a dialect myself. Someone gets offended by this, and I have learned to pay attention to when I do it. People have commented that I am a different person when in Iceland and not in Norway. I am a more outgoing person and laughing person in Iceland. I know I can blend in at the finest dinner parties, but also in poorer surroundings.
Usually I would say all this is a benefit. But it can be misunderstood. People might think us shallow or even hypocrits. Because we can easily blend in, we may seem to have multiple personalities or even be eccentric. That we can’t be trusted. As I’ve written before, it is a struggle to keep friendships and relationships, also because we haven’t learnt to build it over time – we are always moving to a new place, leaving people behind. And sometimes, because we have so many facets to who we are, we really don’t know who we are.
Then it’s the drama of most third culture children: we might easily blend in and absorb other cultures, but we never feel like it’s our culture. We are not part of any culture, except perhaps for a TCK culture that we share with other third culture and cross cultural children or adults who have been TCKs.
The picture is taken by me at Gustav Vigeland museum in Oslo.