Lost in translation

Lost in translation 


I have been living abroad for 20 years this year and as some would say “look at you, you are living the dream”. Yes I am. I love my family and my life with and around them.  However, for a non English speaker living in Australia it also meant uprooting my culture. I would encourage anybody to live in a country with a language different to their mother tongue for a couple of years if you can. It opens your mind up to a different culture and a whole lot of different ways too. Living in a country that doesn’t speak your mother tongue means a whole different culture and understanding how people communicate doesn’t necessary means being fluent in that language. There is more to communicating than just words, being able to understand new jokes or figures of speech means that some words are completely “non-translatable”. I recall first saying to my now husband, I have “chicken skin” instead of “goose bumps” because the slangs are translated differently in French vs English. This is still a running “joke” in our family, my husband loved it and understood the meaning. We live in a society who calls itself multicultural. If multiculturalism means one thing is that we embrace and accept various or diverse cultures. People with different cultures living in the same community means that a same phenomenom can be experienced or understood in various ways because of those different cultures.  


As such I will broach the subject of racism. Yes I know it’s a big “NO, NO” but as a foreigner I feel like I have been on the receiving end a bit too many times. Racism is not always as obvious as “white extremists being the superior race”.In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front party, which advocates strict restrictions on immigration and asylum seekers by particularising, pathologising, and essentialising whole groups of people (namely, Muslims as terrorists), was leading in six of thirteen regions in the country’s latest municipal elections in 2014. Racism can be expressed in a lot of different ways and often harbour implicit biases such as “French are rude and arrogant”, “I have been to your country, you are all the same pedantic”, “you have such a strong accent”..etc, particularly subtle or unconscious racism.

Racism hurts at the core of human being, it goes well beyond mere feelings, it harms people self-esteem, reinforcing a sense that they don’t belong or are second class. It is also often used as a “joke”, imitating someone’s accent when speaking English..etc. Many comics are based on racism or multiculturalism, nowadays more in a satyric way though. More often than not people try to brush aside racism or pick their fight carefully. It is often more trouble than not to fight specially with biases. Social media has been playing a huge role in harbouring those racism trends. It has become acceptable to use one’s race or culture to determine their actions or lack thereof. Social media has become a breeding ground of hate. If we are not posting about our over happy life and our perfect family, kids, house….etc, we are judging someone else words, actions or cultures because of our sense of self-worth or dare I say it “entitlement”. We are so quick to judge a business and its owners because we feel as a customer that we should have the right to demand anything and everything in the fast lane society we live in,  reinforcing the expression “The customer is always right”. We have all become critics, keyboard warriors. Those developments have reinforced and reignited the ideology of cultural wars.   

Another effect of racism is isolation, hence why people from the same cultural background often live in the same neighbourhood while abroad. The lack of communication ensuing racism means a reduce social network. When living abroad you already are isolated from your  family and friends as well as your cultural background, so add to this, some form of racism abuse and you add even more isolation. Isolation is a major cause of depression. Victims of racism often feel “worthless”. 


Australia is a great country and I wouldn’t dare judge its culture nor should you judge any other culture. I love the life I made here with my husband and children, our business, our friends and family. I only hope for a society with respect and compassion. Life abroad is not always as “rosy” as it seems. If your friend or family are living overseas and they haven’t communicated in any form for a while maybe reach out, make sure they are ok. Time differences and work/life can also make it difficult to keep in contact. And next time you meet someone who speak a “broken English” don’t be so quick to judge them and put yourself in their place.