Culture Shock And Special Treatment: Raising Kids Overseas

29/03/2017 16:58
Thomas Vilhelm via Getty Images

Seven months after moving to Singapore and I'm still struggling with some aspects of everyday life here. The stifling heat and humidity haven't gotten any more bearable, my armpits are currently a fetching shade of grey thanks to the Asian beauty obsession with skin whitening products, and my fair haired children are still having camera's pointed in their faces by complete strangers. Occasionally said strangers will ask me if they can take a photo of - or with - my children, but usually they don't even bother to ask they just go ahead and take a few sneaky snaps of us like we're zoo animals/celebrities.

In any European country this would definitely stray somewhere close to harassment, especially when neither of the kids actually want to have their photo taken, but here it seems to be a normal and acceptable way to treat children. Not okay (for us), but normal. And what really shocks me about this attitude is that fair haired children are not even a rare sighting here! With a population comprising of huge numbers of foreign born workers and their families, seeing and photographing a white kid is not exactly hitting the jackpot. To put it bluntly, the only photographs of my children I want out in the world are the one's that my husband and I have appoved, and that don't show our kids in a compromising position, legs akimbo in the pushchair etc. Maybe I've read too many Daily Mail articles, but I can't help but fear where those unsolicited images could end up, or for what purpose, and where on social media they will be shared and by whom. In no other place that I've ever lived has it been acceptable to photograph the child or children of a complete stranger, and especially not because of the colour of their skin. If someone tried that in a park in England there would be outrage at the invasion of privacy and sinister undertones to the request. I can't shake that fear, and so politely but firmly declining photograph requests has become part of our life here, and it's so, so weird.

I don't think the kids have noticed it for the most part, which perhaps make it all the more sinister in my mind, but what if they do notice it one day? Would they stop and smile upon demand for a stranger? One of them would. The one I have woken up in a cold sweat worrying about in the middle of the night with her porcelain skin, dazzling blue eyes and perfect blonde wisps of hair. Oh yes, she would pose up a storm for anyone pointing a camera in her direction. But how do I teach her that it's not okay for strangers, men in particular, to take photographs of her or with her? Maybe I'm over thinking this, but honestly this feels like I'm having a series of conversations with my daughter that I didn't think I would have with her until she's older. A lot older. At no point in the (albeit fairly brief) moving-to-Singapore considerations did I ever think that we would need to start talking to our three year old about being aware of her appearance - that she's more than a pretty blonde girl even though that's all she hears she is, and that she owns her own body and NO ONE can touch/stroke/cuddle her if she feels at all uncomfortable. And of course she does feel uncomfortable with complete strangers man-handling her without her permission just because they think they can as she looks like a doll, who wouldn't? But how is a three year old meant to differentiate between a harmless stranger stroking and touching her skin in curiosity, and a stranger with unspeakable intentions?

The fascination with white-skinned, fair-haired children does nothing to quell the tide of entitlement among expat children either. If you were to grow up being placed on some sort of pedestal, being admired and photographed for no reason other than existing, wouldn't you have a warped sense of your place in the world? It's no wonder the term used here so often is "expat brats". Nothing sums them up better. But what can I do about it? It's an unexpected parenting conundrum raising children at risk of hugely inflated ego's after all this special treatment, and that's my problem, how do I teach my kids that actually they're not all that special?

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