Playground Olympics

Living in Vienna is my first experience of living in any kind of big city.  When we lived in Virginia in the US, we lived in a very busy and crowded suburb, but it wasn’t the same as living in an actual city.  In a lot of ways, I think that particular suburb had a lot of the worst characteristics of city life (traffic, tons of people, noise, expensive housing) with very few of the redeeming qualities (walkability, sense of neighborhood, culture on your doorstep).

I have, however, both where I grew up and then living in Virginia as an adult, been fortunate to live in very culturally diverse places.  Living near Washington, DC does that — with so many people from international diplomatic services, as well as DC being the heart of the American government, there is an environment of cultural and ethnic diversity from around the world and throughout the US itself that’s pretty impressive.  Vienna has much the same situation — home to a main office of the UN, there is, by requirement, a vast international community, and, since we live in the very heart of the city, we get to experience the international feeling of a major city that is then amplified by the UN’s existence here.

As such, my kids are growing up in a very international environment.  Benjamin’s kindergarten class has kids from at least 5 different countries and Liam’s class has at least 6 nations represented — and each class only has 20 kids.

But school isn’t the only place we see this dynamic.  Living in Vienna’s 1st district (the central and oldest part of the city) we encounter this international feeling all the time.  It’s entirely common to take a trip to the playground and meet children from all over the world.  On one particularly frustrating occasion, B tried repeatedly, in increasingly slow and precise German, to ask another child their name and age.  He finally came to me in exasperation, asking why he wasn’t being understood, and after inquiring, it turned out that the child was Russian and spoke no German.  (And since we speak no Russian, they were able to play together, but not talk much.)  Another time, my two boys befriended two boys of similar age, finally settling on French as their most common language (in which Benjamin can only say “Bonjour” and “Je m’appelle Benjamin” … but it worked).

This weekend, I looked around the playground and realized that there were four families and four different languages and nationalities represented — American, Spanish, Russian and Austrian.  This is perfectly normal at our local playground.  We’re almost never the only “imported” family there.  Watching my kids play with and around other children from all over the world makes me appreciate that of all the international cities we could have ended up in, Vienna is one of the best.  My kids are used to hearing other languages all the time, they have the experience of finding a common language and sharing common interests with kids from all over the world.  Plus, it’s so much easier to be “foreign” and “different” when you aren’t the only one.  I love the international feeling in Vienna, and the variety of kids my boys are exposed to.  Every trip to the playground is like our own little kindergarten Olympics.

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