Living Abroad: Awash in Culture

by Miss Footloose

rice awash in waterShe stood in front of me in tears, our number two daughter, four years old. 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:


Fresh laundry

Attack laundry


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 sheets and fell into the grass. Horrified, Tuki Jon excavated her from the mountain of cotton and rayon.

Now visualize this:

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 is torn to shreds and she’s bleeding big tears of outrage.

It’s not the first time she’s outraged about what is happening to her dignity in this country. She and her sister regularly get their cheeks pinched by friendly Indonesians who love to show affection for their blonde foreign cuteness. She has no appreciation for this cultural custom. But I digress, and . . .

Tuki Jon 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.

Herding ducks in Indonesia

It’s a cultural thing

Here in Indonesia, this giggling and laughing is a nervous reaction to stress, fear and danger, or to feeling ashamed or embarrassed. 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 Jon 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 Jon 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.

Oh, here’s a PS:

A photo of number two daughter, fully recuperated and continuing her expat life and cultural education by studying the art of painting in Bali. I artified (my word) this picture with the help of Photoshop just for the fun of it.

Bali artist


* * *

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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the flex belt

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

Freedom Offshore

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!


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

All the best, B

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… Read more »

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).

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.

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.


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.


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… Read more »

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