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TCKs – putting people into boxes

11 Dec

I follow quite a few blogs about expat life and the concept of a third culture kid (TCK) is a common topic.  A third culture kid is someone who grows up in a different culture than his/her parents.  Recently I met a woman who is a counselor and a TCK herself.  We had a fascinating dinner conversation about what it means to her.

One strange thing was how much food came up as we were having the discussion.  I normally wouldn’t put bananas and eggs into the same sentence (unless I was going shopping), but they both can represent third culture kids (as well as people who have traveled and lived in many different places).

The words themselves in other context mean just that – I make a mean omelet and buy bananas regularly.  In this context though an egg is a white person who is “Asian inside” and a banana is an Asian person who acts “white.”  Neither is very polite.

I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone call me an “egg” to my face, but I could see in some circumstances that people may believe that based on some of my likes and dislikes.  However, since I just learned the term within the last month, I may have missed it.

I do know someone though who has been called a “banana” many times.  She said at the beginning that she didn’t understand what it meant, but even her family used it (born in China, lived in the UK and US) and when she finally looked it up it made her very uncomfortable.

These kinds of words exist to put people into boxes – make decisions about what they should think and how they should act, without understanding what made them the way they are today.  I think one of the great things about growing up in the US is that at least at first glance, we assume everyone is an American, then go figure out the particulars later.  In China, it is more – if you are Asian, you are Chinese and if you are anything else, you are foreign.

The discussion made me think.  I think a less intense way of the boxes are the stereotypes that we help push.  Asians are good at math.  Americans are loud and bad dressers when they travel.  I remember teaching a unit on stereotypes when I was teaching English several years ago and how difficult it was to explain to my Chinese students.  To them – those stereotypes were just “true.”

I don’t consciously try to make those distinctions but I am sure that I do.  Do you have any examples of putting people into boxes?

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