A friend called me the other day to discuss a delicate situation.
'Look' she said 'This English mother from my son’s school is asking for him to go back to their house after school. For play and tea. Without me...'
‘Of course without you’, I told her. ‘It is totally normal. He is a big boy now, and play dates come along once a child starts school. The happy days are here! Enjoy your freedom and don’t worry! ‘
But she was worried. Her son had never been anywhere without his parents. Who is going to help him wash his hands, who is going to ensure he eats enough and who would help him if he needed toilet?
We spoke at length, and decided it was not a big problem after all.
Suddenly, she called me again last night, distraught. Her (Azeri) husband, she said, was not impressed.
‘My son is not going visiting some people we don’t know without parents like some Jindir’ ( Jindir is a very commonly used word in Azeri, meaning someone unkempt, unlooked after and basically with no money; or I presume, in this case, parents)
‘Let's invite them all to our house for some proper dinner!' he suggested.
‘No, no, no!’ I interrupted. ‘You don’t want to do that!’
‘I know...’ my friend sighed. ‘I explained to him that it was quite normal and it was just a play date...But he was adamant. ‘
In the end, after hours of negotiations and convincing, my Azeri friend decided it was possibly OK for his son to go to someone’s house for a play date. But, he said, on one condition.
‘My son is not going to visit someone like a Jindir. He has to take something with him.’
That was the only way he’d let him go, my friend laughed.
So what did boy take with him to a play date, you might ask?
Well, this, my friends, is the interesting part. He took a box of nice chocolates.
And a bottle of expensive cognac.
I have to say, I would love to know what the English mother thought when she saw that her 4-year old son’s play mate showed up with a box of chocolates and a bottle of brandy. I wonder if inviting the whole family over for a huge Azeri dinner with plov and 15 elaborate starters would have been a less hmmmm.....unusual gesture? Who knows.
The story made me laugh, but also made me think of many people I know, who managed to remain just the way there were back home, even after having lived in this country for years. It made me wonder how it was possible. It also made me think just how difficult it must be to build a home in this country without assimilating in the culture. On one hand, I can understand why some immigrants would try to keep their individuality and cultural values. That is what helps them to hold on to who they are, who they were and what they don’t have any more. But, building a life in this country, and most importantly, raising children who will belong here (no matter what we, as parents, might do to stop them) requires a desire to accept things the way they are done locally; and an understanding that one day, some things just have to give. Like the notion of jindir.