29 July 2013

Foot Fingers: How You Know Your Parent is an Immigrant

Growing up, I did not know my father was an immigrant. 

True, I did realize he had dark skin, a funny accent and we ate a lot of cheese but I just figured that was all normal. 

Until one day at school, I stubbed my toe and went wailing to the nurse's office. 

This was a public school so naturally the nurse's office was filled with a thousand other kids with other ailments and/or coming in for their daily Ritalin. 

I enter, sobbing from the awful throbbing and life-changing pain of my toe stub and when the nurse looks at me and asks me what's wrong, I cry out "I stubbed my foot finger!"

Because when you grow up with a French Moroccan father, you grow up thinking that a toe is the literal translation from the French (doigt de pied) which translates directly into English as... foot finger. 

And when you run into a packed nurse's office crying from foot finger pain, your peers are going to mercilessly mock you. 

And when you come home crying from A) your foot finger toe pain (yes, it did hurt that badly) and B) being mercilessly mocked, your parents will sit you down and explain that you are not "different" or "weird" but "cultured" and whatnot. And that is when you learn the hardest lesson of all. That your parents may not be... Americans. 

A cruel life lesson, folks. 

So to spare you the pain of perhaps discovering this harsh life lesson on your own, I have compiled the following check list for you. If any one of these applies to you, your parent may be an immigrant. 

1. Your vocabulary has words/phrases in it that can not be located in an English dictionary.
To this day I still call shopping carts "chariot" and the thing that you use to switch the channels on the TV? That's called a chipchuck and will always be called that no matter how ridiculous it sounds. 

2. Your Summer vacations never involve camp.
Oh you want to go to a camp? Sing songs? Eat s'mores and make magical crafts with popsicle sticks? Tough luck. You are going to spend the Summer in the "motherland" which doesn't sound all that bad now but as a child was extremely traumatizing and humiliating when I had to explain that I had absolutely no idea what bug juice was. 

3. Your parents speak to you in a foreign language in public because they think no one can understand.
Surprise, mom- there's a lot of people out there who do speak French and can pretty much deduce what you are saying when you tell me to "mettez du papier sur la toilette". Not embarrassing at all, Mom. And yes, she still does it to this day whenever I go to use a public bathroom. 

4. When your parents do speak to you in a foreign language, you respond in English. 
This is AMERICA, guys. Come on, speak English.

5. When you parents pissed you off, you threatened to call INS.
Oh, I'm the only one? I'm the devil's spawn of a child? Really... nobody else did this?

I'm a horrible person. 

6. You grew up never knowing how to greet strangers. 
Do I shake hands? Kiss them on the cheek? How many kisses? This is too stressful, I'm going home. 

7. Alcohol was strongly encouraged. 
I distinctly remember being 8 years old and given Calvados on a sugar cube as a treat. It was disgusting, but I did eat like 12 more after that. 

8. Getting anything below an A was shameful. 
And if you did get anything below an A, expect to hear a lecture from your father on how he had to walk thirty miles in the snow (he grew up in Africa) to get to school where he would have to share a desk with 60 other pupils and they had no books so they had to memorize everything and yeah, yeah you get the idea....

9. Telling your parents you don't understand Math could make them disown you.
When I fell behind in Math I was immediately signed up with a private tutor and my father would sit with me for hours doing multiplication and calculus drills. It was my own little slice of hell. 
Basically my father's reaction every time I explained I had no idea how to multiply. And to this day I still use my fingers to calculate... everything. 

10. When you friends come over, your parents insist on "educating them about our culture".
This can include making them eat weird foods, participate in your holidays, pronounce words that no American can physically pronounce and insisting that they take said weird food home with them whenever they come over. You will not leave my house without some tupperware container and new knowledge about why we eat so much couscous. 


  1. haaa loved this. My dad's Brazilian so I get a lot of this too


    my parents are immigrants (china and jamaica) and i can totally relate. when i found out that not all kids get their asses kicked when they're bad (they get sent to their room, whaaaaaat?!? that's it?!) that floored me.

    then when no one understood that "duppies" are ghosts or "trollies" are buses/street cars or "pickney" are kids, i knew something was up.

    and the worst part was when my boyfriends came over, my mother would immediately switch to chinese (or in my dad's case, patois) and start commenting about them: "why is his nose so big?" or "he's ugly" or "why do you have to date him?!" and i would straight up have to plaster a smile on my face and pretend/act like they're not tearing him a new one.

    love this post!!!!!

  3. You totally just described my life as a kid! Especially number 3 because my mom and my grandma had a habit of commenting in French about the people around them--it drove me crazy! Thanks for the hilarious post.


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