8 Expat Moms Share Their Funniest Stories of Raising Kids in a Foreign Country

by Jennifer Malia Oct 12, 2016

When I was an American expat, I had a baby in Dubai. Raising a child in a foreign culture posed a lot of challenges, so having flexibility and a good sense of humor was essential. After talking to other expat moms around the world, I learned about their experiences with the lighter side of parenthood abroad.

Whether you are an expat family, a family who has spent time abroad, or a family who has plans to travel the world, our adventures in parenting are sure to make you laugh.

Lisa Ferland, Knocked Up Abroad

“We’re an American family living in Sweden. I surprised my husband with a camping trip in Falun when I was seven months pregnant, and a series of tragically comic events ensued. I booked an RV spot, not a tent spot, which meant that we had to set up our tent on gravel in between a caravan of RVs. Under Swedish law, you can camp ANYWHERE for free for two nights as long as it isn’t in front of someone else’s house or within view of someone else’s front door, so all of the RV people thought we were absolutely crazy for paying a campground to set up a tent in a parking lot. The sun didn’t set until eleven o’clock that summer night, so our two-year-old son was up all night and restless. At seven-months-pregnant, I attempted to sleep on an air mattress… Enough said. At five o’clock in the morning, I couldn’t wait to get home, so I broke down the tent, by myself, in twenty minutes flat. I could hear my son screaming on the other side of the campground with my also sleep-deprived husband. We took some beautiful sunrise pictures at four-thirty in the morning, and our son slept in the car on the five-hour ride home, but it was the most exhausting attempt at a ‘relaxing weekend’ I have ever experienced.”

Kristy Smith, The Midwestern Repatriate

“I was an American expat living with my British husband in Dubai. We often saw Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, also endearingly known as Sheikh Mo, driving around in his locally famous white Mercedes G Wagon with the Dubai 1 license plate. One time, when my son was about six months old, we drove from Abu Dhabi to Dubai for shopping and lunch at Emirates Towers, where Sheikh Mo’s offices happen to be. My son has always hated the car, and we often let him ride in only his nappy because it was hot and uncomfortable any other way. This time was no exception, so we parked the car, removed my screaming, sweating, sticky, nearly-naked child from his car seat, and began walking toward the buildings. Of course, the moment we stopped and got him out of the car, he was fine and no longer screaming, but still sweaty and sticky and nearly naked, and generally looking rather unkempt. I, on the other hand, was shaken up from the long, scream-filled car ride and was trying to get myself back in order. As I was carrying him, I looked up, and Sheikh Mo was two feet away and walking toward us. I felt so awkward. I didn’t know what to do. Should I bow? Was I being offensive because my son was mostly naked? Sheikh Mo glanced our way, but just kept walking. Nothing came of it, but I was sure I’d just committed several faux pas.”

Olga Mecking, The European Mama

“I’m Polish and my husband is German. We live in the Netherlands with our three trilingual kids. They speak Polish, German and Dutch. In the beginning, as all multilingual kids do, they mixed up the languages. One day, my German mother-in-law asked my eldest, ‘Wo ist deine Puppe’ (‘Where’s your doll?’). My daughter pointed to her butt. She thought my mother-in-law meant ‘pupa,’ which is Polish for ‘butt’.”

Nicola Beach, Expatorama

“I’m a British expat living in South Africa. My children were adjusting well to their new schools, until July 18th, when there was a celebration across the country for Nelson Mandela’s birthday. I retrieved an unhappy three year-old from preschool. He wasn’t sure which class Nelson was in and was feeling very sad and cheated. My children had iced cakes, but were not allowed to eat them. I later discovered that they were for a township school. Instead of bringing a balloon home from school, my son was told to let it float away since part of the celebration was releasing balloons into the air. As far as he was concerned, Nelson’s party was a dud. Feeling the need to fill the Nelson Mandela sized gap in my children’s knowledge, I whisked them away to see his statue in Mandela Square that same afternoon. My six-year-old daughter looked carefully at the statue and was pleased to tell everyone that she thought she recognized him as the man on the red and white chicken box. Trying not to spit out my coffee, I immediately rushed my children away from the crowds, urging them to please never muddle up South Africa’s favorite son with KFC’s The Colonel.”

Clara Wiggins, The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide

“We were a British expat family living in Saint Lucia. One time, we stayed on an old estate where you sleep in cute Creole style houses that look like little gingerbread houses. My youngest daughter was absolutely delighted with this. It was like a full-sized dollhouse for her. She was about two years old and just starting to talk. We didn’t realize it at the time, but she managed to rack up a massive phone bill by playing with the phone in the little gingerbread house. Every time we went out somewhere she would ask, ‘we go back a room now?’ because she wanted to play in the little house. When we eventually left to return home, we neglected to explain to her what we were doing. On the way, we stopped for ice cream at the cruise ship terminal, so I think she thought we were just on another outing. When we finally got to our house, she took one look at where we were and realized we weren’t going ‘back a room’ again and burst into tears.”

Rosemary Gillan Griffith-Jones, Write.Said Rose

“We were an Australian family living in the Hyatt Regency on the Corniche during our three years in Dubai. When we first arrived we checked out the hotel’s facilities including the roof-top swimming pool. It was dusk, and the Muslim call to prayer had started. Since we were on the roof in the open air, thirty floors up, the sound of the imams calling out ‘allahu akhbar’ (‘God is the greatest’) from several nearby mosques carried over the Arabian Gulf, drifting all around us. It was quite pretty and haunting at the same time. Then, I noticed my seven-year old son was missing, and I ran like a mad woman all around the roof looking for him. I finally found him crouched behind a tall potted plant. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked. ‘Aliens!’ He gasped at me. ‘There are aliens out there!’”

Cristina Pop, Mothers Abroad

“I’m French and Romanian and my husband is French. When we were living in Beijing, we traveled several times to Seoul to escape the pollution. We always went to the same hotel. The ladies at the lounge were lovely, all very young and fond of children. My daughter was only seven months old, and she was very friendly. She smiled a lot at them and was happy to be carried around. She soon started to be very popular amongst all the staff in the hotel. One time, the lady at the front desk asked, ‘Is she your only child?’ We said, ‘yes.’ She added, ‘You can make another one. This one is so cute!’”

Jennifer Malia, Munchkin Treks

“When my husband and I were American expats living in Dubai, we met an Arab family at Festival City Centre who stopped us in the mall to ask about our daughter. We answered the normal questions. Noelle. One month. American Hospital in Dubai. The father exclaimed, ‘You named her an Arab name because she was born in Dubai! That’s wonderful! A beautiful Arab name!’ My husband and I looked at each other. I nodded my head, and my husband said, ‘ummm…yeah, that’s right.’ We didn’t want to disappoint him. We were just going for a Christmas theme, though.”

We have more parenting abroad stories to share with you in a new anthology called Knocked Up Abroad Again: Baby bumps, twists, and turns around the globe. You can learn more about this anthology at knockedupabroad.eu

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