The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

A classic TCK dilemma: Which of my 3 heritages counts for the Olympics?

We welcome back Third Culture Kid Tiffany Lake-Haeuser to the Displaced Nation. (She last joined us during fashion month.) Born in the United States to German parents, Tiffany returned “home” to Frankfurt when she was six. But then at age 13, she moved with her family to Abu Dhabi, UAE. Now back in Frankfurt, this 16-year-old divides her time between this city and Paris, where her father currently resides. So which team(s) does Tiffany support in the Olympics? That’s the million-euro (or is it dollar?) question.

I was never really very interested in sports. This year, during the Olympics, that changed. You still won’t find me glued to the television to see all the events, but I’m definitely more interested than in the past.

Then of course, there is the somewhat confusing decision of which country to cheer for. Do I support my heritage and the country I now live in, Germany? Or do I support the country I was born in and often associate with, the USA? Well for me it was easy to decide. You see, I am extremely competitive and enjoy cheering for the country that wins, which for the most part leads to me cheering for the USA.

I watched the pre-Olympic trials for the American gymnastics team when I was in the United States visiting childhood friends earlier this summer. I was gobsmacked — not only by the amazing talent of the athletes, but also by the enthusiasm shown by the spectators.  I think that’s when I caught the Olympic bug. Suddenly I was eager to see the team compete for gold in London.

German apathy

But when I got back in Germany, there was barely any sign that the Games were fast approaching. Maybe I was just in the wrong environment, but no one was even talking about it. Even when the Games started, it felt like no one cared. The most excitement I observed was a small promotional program by a pharmacy(!). Unless I was on some social networking site, I barely ever exchanged views with anyone about what was happening at the Olympics.

While waiting for the Games to start, I did some research and found out that since the modern Olympic Games began, the USA has always been in the top three countries when it came to the number of medals won.

This history made me even more inclined to support my other “home” country. I love cheering for countries that are doing well. I love being a fan.

Go USA! Hmmm…unless it’s soccer?

As anyone who read my March interview with The Displaced Nation knows, I’m something of a fashionista. I love the idea of showing some pride for the US team by wearing red, white and blue. It may seem petty, but half the fun of watching the Olympics for a non-athlete like me is getting dressed up and painting your face in your team’s colors.

That’s something I picked up from Germany, in fact. Germans get truly pumped up for one thing: soccer. It’s our pride and joy. During the European Cup or the World Cup, Germany is transformed into a black, red and golden country. While in the USA people have flags hanging by their doors all year long, in Germany that happens only during these major soccer events.

One test of which side I was on in the Olympics came when a friend tried to bug me by saying that Germany was being beaten by his country in some sport. To be honest, I didn’t mind that much. All I could think about how well Gabby Douglas was doing in gymnastics.

Does this mean I am not proud of my German heritage? It definitely doesn’t; by the next soccer game you will see me losing my voice for cheering on Germany.

So it really isn’t that straightforward or clear. You never truly stop cheering for a country that means something to you. All you can really hope for is that the two countries’ teams never play against each other…

Go women athletes!

On a different note, I was excited to hear about how every country sent women to the Olympics this year. I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but I do think gender equality is important, and that a country that is sending its women athletes to compete in the Olympics for the first time is taking a big step. I hope that gender equality in sports can become the new standard. Some day, perhaps, it will be considered so normal it won’t even make the headlines.

Having lived for three years in Abu Dhabi, I was particularly interested in the news about Saudi Arabian women participating in the Games. I know from experience how easy it is for us Westerners to look at Arab women wearing the hijab and think they are less liberated than we are. When I saw the Saudi women walking behind the men during the London opening ceremony, I was not surprised so much as humbled. Not everyone sees equality in the same way as we Westerners do.

Likewise, I didn’t think it was fair for the International Olympic Committee to consider banning the judo wrestler Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani from dressing according to the traditions by which she was raised.  (In the end, they compromised on a cap for her to wear instead of the hijab.) To some degree, I admire Saudi Arabia for insisting upon preserving its cultural identity and traditions in face of the influence of Westernization.

By the time the Games end on Sunday, I think my favorite part will not be about having supported a particular country. The best part, in my opinion, has been seeing the people who rise to the occasion and do phenomenally well. It sounds cheesy, but you can see in their eyes the joy and relief that all their hard work and training has finally paid off — in the moment that counted, they were able to be the best they could be.

* * *

Readers, any thoughts on or reactions to Tiffany Lake-Haeuser’s dilemma? Please put them in the comments. You can also follow what she is up to on her blog, Girl on the Run.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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11 responses to “A classic TCK dilemma: Which of my 3 heritages counts for the Olympics?

  1. Felicity August 8, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    I like the pragmatism! GB’s performance has definitely made the Olympics great watching for us Brits (well, me, at least) and our storming up the medals table in gymnastics would have been unheard of a few years ago. Re not calling yourself a feminist, isn’t a feminist just someone who supports equal rights for women? Not sure I agree with you about the equality in Saudi issue. It’s fine if all Saudi women are happy with the way things are, but many are not, cf the protests against the driving ban.

    • Tiffany August 8, 2012 at 4:02 pm

      Yes GB is doing greatly this year! Congrats!
      What I meant with me not being a feminist is that I don’t go to drastic measures for equality.
      With the Saudi issue it is true that many women want their equality and will demonstrate for that, yet for me the most important thing is that they have the decision whether they choose to live by the traditions for adapt a more modern lifestyle. The decision for the women is the most important thing in this problem.

    • ML Awanohara August 8, 2012 at 5:30 pm

      You hit the nail soundly on the head with your choice of the word “pragmatism.” This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately even before I read Tiffany’s post. I do think that TCKs and adults like me, who are (or have been) long-term expats, end up being very pragmatic, even if we don’t start out that way. Once you start trying to make your home here and there, there isn’t much space for theory or dogma. One becomes totally focused on the practical consequences, almost to the exclusion of all else… (That’s one of the reasons why I advocate for every American citizen to live abroad. There’s a little too much dogma for my taste in this, my native, country, to which I’ve now repatriated. But that’s a different blog post!)

      • ML Awanohara August 8, 2012 at 10:49 pm

        Following on from my comment to Felicity, could it be your pragmatism that makes you think whatever Arab women want is okay? I ask that because I know when I first went to Japan, I was appalled that women (usually they were quite well educated) were expected to pour the tea in Japanese offices. By the time I left, though, I’d grown so used to it I thought it was fine. In other words, I’d become a moral relativist. I’d come to the conclusion that different cultures have different moral standards — and we should just accept that.

        But that was then and this is now. Since repatriating to the United States, I’ve become less tolerant of some of the practices I observed abroad. While I’m not an absolutist, I’ve got a sense of which standards are important to me — and hence should apply across the board, regardless of culture.

        This is where Felicity’s comment comes in. Maybe it is better to use your position as a Western woman to support the Arab women who seek to change the status quo? You say that you support a woman’s right to choose, but the fact is, most of them don’t have much of a choice.

        I put it out there because I understand what it’s like to wrestle with such questions. There are no easy answers…

        • Tiffany August 15, 2012 at 2:13 pm

          Perhaps pragmatism is an aspect to it, but a big part would probably be that I just cannot quite imagine being put in a situation like that.
          I see cases, like in France, where people are trying to forbid teachers wearing the hijab and the tensions it can occur trying to ban wearing it. But then I see women fighting the driving ban.
          I think maybe we connect these two issues, when they should be dealt with completely separately.

  2. Felicity August 12, 2012 at 7:14 am

    Yes, I agree, ML. To me choice is something you can only make in full possession of the knowledge of the options you are choosing between. I can’t help feeling, personally, that a society that allows anyone to pursue whatever religion they like or none and to carve out a role for themselves that they feel is the right one is a better society than a dogmatic one. At the same time, I feel that we should question some concepts that seem very western, particularly at the moment, such as self-fulfilment and pursuit of one’s dreams at the expense of other ideals. I remember thinking that the film Bend it like Beckham was really bad in that respect – it celebrated self-fulfilment without ever considering whether self-sacrifice might be as good a path. If we can’t actually travel, at least we should read about other cultures, I think – I mean literature fromwithin thise cultures.

    • ML Awanohara August 13, 2012 at 8:13 pm

      Funnily enough, Bend It Like Beckham is playing on HBO tonight. The TV section of the New York Times quotes the paper’s film critic A.O. Scott, who had this to say when the film was first released:

      It is stuffed to bursting with affectionate stereotypes and the sticky, somewhat oppressive Gemütlichkeit that is the hallmark, at least on screen, of immigrant families, wherever they come from and wherever they reside.

      It doesn’t ask the tricky questions or portray the level of discomfort that arises when traditional and modern values clash. But that’s what people prefer to watch, I suppose! And is it any wonder that film directors are now being hired to orchestrate the opening ceremonies for the Olympics? From all I’ve read, Saudi Arabia, under pressure to send some women, just about managed to scrounge up a few junior players for the purpose of walking in the athletes’ parade. Talk about typecasting/tokenism!

      • ML Awanohara August 14, 2012 at 9:58 am

        p.s. But I also take the other part of your point, and perhaps that’s where Tiffany is coming from as well, which is that we give up something by renouncing traditional women’s roles. Having lived in Japan, I can really relate to your feelings on individualism/self-fulfillment vs self-sacrifice/group (familial) harmony.

  3. Kasia August 12, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    I hear you on cheering and support confusion! I’m Polish-Canadian currently living in Spain. I find myself very torn if 2 or all 3 of those countries are competing in the same event… who the heck do I cheer for??
    Actually, I usually support Poland for the opposite reason that you support the US – I feel the underdogs can use it!! … and then when they do do well… it’s that much more exciting!!!
    long live multi-nationality and globalisation, ripping down stereotypes and boundaries one expat at a time!
    Love this blog 🙂

    • ML Awanohara August 12, 2012 at 10:36 pm

      Thank you for the compliment on our blog! I know exactly what you mean. After having lived here and lived there, I tend to support the underdogs, even — and especially — when they’re competing against the United States (my native land). Hey, I think it’s time they/we gave someone else a chance! 🙂

    • Tiffany August 15, 2012 at 2:16 pm

      @Kasia: I don’t know if you heard, but this year Germany was the first ever European team to ever win the gold medal for beach volleyball. Speak about an underdog there! 🙂
      I definitely think it is important to cheer for the underdog too though, and not only let some people win over and over again.

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