by missfootloose on May 29, 2010 · 10 comments

in Culture and Customs, customs, Expat life

rice paddies in IndonesiaShe stood in front of me in tears, our number two daughter. Sadly, expat children don’t always realize how privileged they are to be living such an exotic educational life in a foreign country, to be able to learn about new customs and cultures and therefore become true Global Souls and grow up to be ambassadors for world peace. Our four-year-old certainly didn’t care about becoming a Global Soul that tropical day in Indonesia, land of rice paddies and smiling people. She’d come running into the house, wailing, followed by Tuki Jon, the young man who took care of our housework and laundry.

“What happened?” I asked, ever the concerned mother. Her hair was a mess, she was missing a sandal, but I saw no blood, no broken limbs, and she was breathing.

What happened was this:


The laundry was fluttering blissfully on a washing line strung between a tree and a wooden post. Daughter was playing nearby. The wooden post decided it had had enough of holding up expat laundry and keeled over, taken the washing with it. Daughter got buried under an avalanche of clothing and fell into the grass. Horrified, Tuki Jon excavated her from the mountain of cotton and rayon.

Here they are in the kitchen: He’s giggling, she’s crying.

“Are you hurt?” I ask.

“No!” she wails. “But he’s laughing! He’s laughing at me!”

She’s all in one piece physically, but her four-year-old dignity was torn to shreds and she’s bleeding big tears of outrage.

Tuki Jan is still laughing. Actually it’s more like giggling. But it’s not because he’s having so much fun. He’s trembling all over, terrified he’s in trouble. Surely I will blame him for my child’s distress, fire him and render him jobless, hungry and destitute. He may have to go back to his home village and herd ducks in the rice paddies. He can’t stop giggling with the sheer horror of it.

ducks in the rice paddies of Indonesia

It’s a cultural thing here in Indonesia, this giggling and laughing: a nervous reaction to stress, fear and danger. But number two daughter does not understand this. She’s little and all she understands is that she was terrorized by a tidal wave of textile and Tuki Jan laughed at her when she cried.

Clearly we were in the middle of a Cultural Crisis. But rest assured, I managed to solve this one. It took a hug and ice cream for the daughter (and a quiet talk later), and reassurance for Tuki Jan that I wasn’t going to fire him, or even chastise him. He dance-stepped out of the kitchen to gather up things cotton and rayon.

And now I have to wrap this story up somehow, so here goes: It’s a difficult world, but it’s the only one we have, so deal with it.

PS: Here a photo of number two daughter, fully recuperated and continuing her expat life and cultural education by studying the art of painting in Bali.

* * *

You know what I’m going to ask you, don’t you? Hit that comment button. Tell me a (giggle) story.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Freedom Offshore May 29, 2010 at 4:19 pm

This story struck home to me, thinking about a young man I know (10 years old). He was living in Panama.

He had a house right on the beach, with a swimming pool. He went to school half days and all of his lessons involved field trips. His friends came by and picked him up on horse back or quads (4 wheelers). He took surfing lessons and more.

And all he did was complain and want to get back to Canada, where he goes to school all day and watches TV all night.

It made me laugh!


Boonsong May 30, 2010 at 6:01 am

Another delightful story from you – beautifully told. Thanks for this.

All the best, B


Carolina May 30, 2010 at 4:50 pm

You know how to tell a great story. Wonderful. And I soooo love the gorgeous photos you manage to find and include. Cute picture of your daughter.

This story reminds me of what a friend and I talked about just last week. We were sharing embarrassing moments involving horses and we both had once upon a time been given a leg up to mount a horse, but the ‘giver’ was too enthusiastic and both friend and I had ended up on the other side of the horse, on the floor. On separate occasions and by separate ‘givers’. We concluded that stupid things like that are far less embarrassing if not everybody watching the ‘accidentally-fly-over-the-horse-trick’ isn’t laughing their socks off. The laughing is what makes silly accidents so embarrassing. I sympathise with you daughter. Oh, and being frequently reminded of that unfortunate event, for years and years after it happened, doesn’t help either 😉


Madame DeFarge May 31, 2010 at 9:39 pm

I suppose that I’ve never really thought about the ways in which different social and cultural customs affect children – it’s always been more about adults. So, I found this very interesting (and amusing).


LadyFi June 1, 2010 at 4:20 am

I can imagine the scene! So delightfully described.

When I was a kid, I giggled every time I was in trouble and could be seen laughing outside the headmistress’ study.. much to everyone’s annoyance. It was a reaction to fear although most teachers thought I was being cheeky.

Love that last pic – looks like they are having so much fun.


Mary Witzl June 1, 2010 at 11:56 am

Our kids are finally old enough to realize how good they had it and what an unusual (in a good way!) life they’ve had.

I once saw an elderly Japanese woman burdened down with shopping, trip and fall — hard. She immediately picked herself up and brushed herself off, grinning all over her face. I’m sure she didn’t think falling down and hurting herself was the least bit funny, but it’s definitely a Japanese thing too: deny the pain, save yourself loss of face, hide your trauma.


marigirl June 1, 2010 at 2:26 pm

oh no….I laugh or make lame jokes when I feel awkward or uncomfortable, like at the dentist. Or one time during an English class and my favorite student told me they, the salarymen, were the modern samurai. It was complete with a pose, so I thought he was joking and cracked up. He just looked at me, so I continued to smile and nod and try to pass it off as enthusiasm…..groan.


Marilynne June 2, 2010 at 3:05 am

I don’t have an expat story, but I’ll tell you about my 2-yr-old and the rooster. I’m a literal person and you can believe what I say (most of the time), so my daughter was lacking in understanding of that thing called “pulling your leg.” She was with some older children and when they saw she didn’t know what a rooster was, they told her, exaggerating and modifying as she went. The first thing I knew, she had run into the house screaming, climbed into my bed, pulled the covers over her and lay screaming at the foot. She was terrified! I couldn’t talk her out of her belief that the rooster was some giant thing that would peck her. Her father was coming home that night. I told her that the reason she’d never seen a rooster was because her daddy would kill them if they came near and I would cook him for dinner. When he verified my tall tale, we all enjoyed chicken (rooster) for dinner.


the flex belt July 1, 2010 at 3:50 am

Super-Duper site! I am loving it!! Will come back again – taking you feeds also, Thanks.


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