Funny Things Third Culture Kids Say

by Rachel Pieh Jones on October 1, 2014

Kids say the darndest things. Parents make the darndest lists out of them. Writers published the darndest lists of the darndest things those kids say. Sorry.

Some of these are from my own Third Culture Kids, some are from others I know. I want to say before quoting them that I love these kids. I love hearing their stories (like about when the crocodile ate the pet dog) and asking them questions (like what they think of their parent’s career choice) and hearing their unique perspectives on global issues (like that slums aren’t scary places to be defined only by poverty, they are specific places with names where their friends live). I’m not poking fun, just having fun.

tck fun1

Here goes…

After we announced we were moving to east Africa people started telling my toddlers about the animals they would see. Everyone talked ad nauseum about elephants and giraffes and zebras and lions. By the time we landed in Kenya, the kids had heard this so many times that our son looked at the airport baggage claim and said, “This is the wrong Africa. There aren’t any elephants.”

“When two moms who speak the same language get together, they never stop talking.”

From the pediatrician to my eight-year old: “What is different between Minnesota and Djibouti?” Lucy: “Well, they’re pretty much the same.”

Lucy, who was born in Djibouti, to a group of African American women at a cooking bazaar, when she saw their sign for African American Food, “African American, like me!”

One TCK to another TCK at a bus stop in America, the first time they meet, the first question they ask each other: “How do you fly?”

While in the US: “Target is the best store in the world!”

When talking about American food problems, expatriate mom says to her third culture kids, “You know, like Twinkies.” The TCKs respond in unison, “What’s a Twinkie?”

When a neighbor in the United States starts mowing his lawn and the sound floats over the wooden fence a TCK said, “Oh, the power is off. The generator just turned on.” Upon seeing the man mowing his lawn, the TCK said, “Why is he vacuuming his grass?”

Deep realization after a few months in the US by a life-long TCK: “I just realized some of my friends here have never moved in their whole life!”

When President Obama is elected and people react emotionally because he is the first black American president, TCK raised in Africa to parents, “Aren’t all presidents black? And isn’t he kind of skinny to be a good president?”

When the teacher asks on the first day of school, where are you from, TCK responds with, “I was born in Djibouti, my family is American, but I just flew here from Kenya where my brother and sister live.” The teacher asked parent (me, if you couldn’t tell) the next day, “Um, where are you guys from? I couldn’t figure it out.”

TCK, thinking about grandparents far away, “Sometimes I feel like my heart lives in two pieces.”

TCK when asked where is home, “Home is the place you miss the most when you aren’t there.”

Expat mom to TCK daughter at a Starbucks inside an airport, when asked to pay for coffee and isn’t sure which currency to use, “What country are we in again?” TCK shrugs. “The airport.”

There are endless delightful insights and funny-isms our kids say, their way of looking at the world and their experiences never ceases to amaze me.

Your turn, any funnies or insights you’d like to share?

*image by Caroline Gutman via Unsplash

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About Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel was raised in the Christian west and said, ‘you betcha’ and ate Jell-O salads, she now lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Family Fun, Running Times, and more, and she blogs for Brain Child and Babble.
  • Elizabeth Trotter

    I love Lucy’s comments! About Minnesota and Djibouti being the same, and about her being African-American. And how all presidents are black, but maybe Obama’s too skinny. Thanks for sharing these!

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Thanks Elizabeth.

    • Ellen Hargrave

      My daughter called herself an American African 🙂

  • Melinda Hoyt

    Once on furlough in Maine (we are long term missionaries in Uganda where our kids have grown up) my kids happily ran outside to play then abruptly returned with confused looks on their faces saying “Mom, where’s the compound? We don’t know where we can go?” This was understandable as they have grown up with compound walls surrounding their home for security and had never had to set their own boundaries. – Melinda

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Oh man, the things we don’t even know to think about, right?

  • Vonnie

    I loved reading this! I am a grandma to grandchildren growing up in Thailand….they have been there 2 years now and live in a small village. When our daughter began to get close to her due date, expecting #4 and first baby in Thailand, the village children asked her if THIS baby would look Thai. 🙂

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      That’s so great, I’m having so much fun reading all these!

  • nicolette hutcherson

    My kids were born in Beirut, so big crazy city is all they know. My 3 year old had a thing about bears and we assured here there were no bears in our city, they only lived in the forest. On our home assignment, we were staying with some friends in Littleton, CO… not a forest, but way more trees than my kids were used to seeing in one place. One early morning, we could hear the neighbor’s garage door opening and she came running, shrieking that she could hear a bear coming for us!

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      So sweet! And fun.

  • My favorite TCK quote comes from a former student, who after seeing an egg with a white shell for the first time asked, “Is this a swan egg?”

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      If the bird is white, the egg is white, right? How about an egg without feathers or poop on it?!

      • Yes, it’s definitely a logical thought. 🙂

  • Melinda Hoyt

    On my first furlough home I was on a playground and I started to try and get the other kids to play with me but no one wanted to. So I went over to my mom and dad and said “Mom nobody likes me.” In Africa there are no strangers only friends we haven’t met yet and everyone plays communal games. Sophia Hoyt

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      So true – here my kids join whatever is going on but not so much in MN. Great insight.

    • cat

      Sad how things have changed. When I was a kid in California, that was the way things were–kids just went outside and found other kids to play with. Even finding kids outside to play with now is rare. Hard to say what has made the change, maybe too much access to passive entertainment like TV and Youtube or too many over-scheduled activities like sports leagues and the like.

  • Melinda Hoyt

    My first experience on a escalator was horrifying. I didn’t know what it was so I put one of my feet on it but I was to scared to put the other foot on so I practically did a split. My parent’s were helpful in between their laughter. Madeline Hoyt

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Love that your parents laughed (and helped). Haha!

  • Marilyn Gardner

    I LOVE this so much!!! So here’s one that dates me Husband: You know – like in the show Gilligan’s Island Me: Who’s Gilligan? Friend: Just wanted to explain to you that the phrase is not “Power for the course” it’s “Par for the course” – it’s a golf term….” My kids On hearing thunder for the first time in New England: Daddy come quick! It’s the black bear.” School administrator to me: We need your kids to stop putting African American as their race on forms. (as I try to explain to them that they were born in ‘Egypt (Africa) and they are American and they now live in America…..Thanks for a GREAT post.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      You actually made me laugh out loud – the school administrator saying that and your kids doing that! Love, love, love.

      • Marilyn Gardner

        We so needed this post in this community Rachel! I’m just reading all the comments and LOVE these stories. Thank you!

    • Elisabeth

      I grew up in China, but my little sister was born in Thailand (due to the bad hospitals where we lived). We moved to Norway when my sister was 6 and when the teacher asked everyone to stand up and say where they were from, she said, “I am from Denmark (Mom), Norway (Dad), China, and Thailand.” Nobody else in the class of foreign students could match that!

    • Amya Miller

      I grew up in Japan where my parents taught in universities. To this day I still don’t the difference between Ginger and Maryann. Something my friends simply couldn’t get their head around when we would return to the US for my parents sabbaticals. Gilligan’s Island is just the tip of the iceberg. The list is loooooong……….

  • Love these! We have a few from our three year old on our most recent (and only so far) furlough to America after living in Tanzania for a year.
    In the London airport
    “Momma, whats that?”
    Me: “You push the button and water comes out. It’s a drinking fountain.”
    Him: looking at us like we’re insane, “Nooooooo that’s silly!”
    We show him.
    Him: “I can’t drink that!!”
    Us: “Yes you can, honey, it’s clean water, look” (demonstrating)
    He apprehensively tried it, realized it was okay and then every time he saw one he had to try it.

    In Phoenix during summer, we walked to a McDonalds for the sole fact of letting him play in the air conditioned play area (we don’t eat McD’s). After about 30 minutes of playing he comes over to get a drink from his water bottle and exclaims, “Momma! I think there’s a restaurant in there!”

    We went to a shopping mall for the first time and he says, “Momma- an airport! Are we going back to Tanzania?”

    At his grandma’s house “Momma, why does gramma have two stoves?”
    “That’s not a stove, honey, that’s a dishwasher.”
    “What’s a dishwasher.”
    “It’s a machine that washes dishes.”
    “That’s silly!” as he’s laughing and shaking his head at such a ‘preposterous’ idea.

    We also had to have a conversation with him about riding in a car seat. He was constantly asking to ride on our laps while on furlough in the States, we had to explain that it’s a law in America for him to ride in the carseat, but when we’re back home in Tanzania he can ride on laps.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      So much fun to hear these, making me laugh for sure.

  • My three year old went to a local fair here in Laos today, held in the biggest convention center in town. The highlight? The escalator. Gosh, you’ve never seen a kid so excited. “The stairs are WALKING!!”

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Ha! I have a local friend who went to Dubai for the first time ever and she was one of those who stopped, frozen and unsure of what to do before getting on the escalator. When she finally did get on, she fell down. When she told me we both laughed so hard we were crying,

  • Kim Johnson

    We live in Ukraine. Our 5-year old was playing dolls and asked me what she should name the doll who was supposed to be the princess.
    Hava: “I just need a normal name, Mom, just a nice girl name.”
    Me: “How about Jessica?”
    Hava: “Mom! What’s Jessica? That’s not even a name! Hahahaha…how about ‘Anya’?”

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Love it!

  • Lori McKee

    I wouldn’t get on my first elevator (in a hotel in Dakar, Senegal on our way home for first furlough) because I thought it was the room we were supposed to stay in. Then I called it the “alligator” – And my brother and I always loved living in places with stairs on furlough – since we had no buildings with stairs in our small West African home town – in those days.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Trying to convine a kid that the elevator isn’t the hotel room…I bet that memory is one the family shares often!

  • Sandy Jones Fox

    My now college aged daughter, who spent her high school years in China- “I just really miss getting on a plane do we could play soccer with another school.”

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Wow. That’s is super cool.

      • Sandy Jones Fox

        This post has really jogged my memory of things our daughter said or heard that were totally nirmal. “Tell the office you’ll be late because you have to go to the visa office.” “School is closed because the factory owner next door wouldn’t give the school coal for heat today.” “Hyun Sook. will be late for school be cause she’s flying in from Korea. “I couldn’t get on Facebook because our VPN wasn’t working.” “I missed the bus so I’m taking a taxi to school” and so many more!

  • Judith Havens

    My girls would not go into a toilet stall with automatic flushing toilets. The very first time they used one they were so scared they almost flew out of the stall.
    My kids always wonder why people stand so far apart in line. They see this as a very disorganized way of doing things. I heard one ask, “how do you know whose next?” They find the “lines” in Russia make so much more sense.
    My youngest, after having lived most of his early years in Moscow, found that suburban Dallas much too quiet to sleep. “Momma, I need some bus noises to get to sleep!”
    I love all of the ones people have posted! This is great!

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      I can just see kids bursting out of the toilet stalls! Last winter one flushed while I was still on it and THAT was a surprise for sure!

    • Ohmygoodness me too about the toilets! (well, not me, my 3 year old) Only it wasn’t just automatic ones at first, it was any public restroom because they were SO loud compared to the meager toilets here in Tanzania. It got to the point where he would ask me before being willing to try the bathroom if the toilet was going to flush on it’s own. Anytime there was one of those automatic hand dryers he would refuse to use the bathroom – they freaked him out too much!

  • Sarah

    My friend’s four-year-old, having lived in France and Cameroon, has a slightly strange idea of US geography. We were both leaving for furlough and knew we would see each other at HQ in Orlando, and he turns to me and says:
    “I’ll see you in Texas!!”
    “Actually, I won’t be living in Texas with y’all. I’ll see you in Florida, ok? That’s a different state.”
    a pause. “Yeah, but Florida’s IN Texas, right?”
    At that point we realized he probably thinks of the US as consisting solely of Texas, which, come to think of it, will make him fit in quite nicely there. 🙂

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Ha! Our kids thought Minnesota was the United States, too funny.

    • nicolette hutcherson

      Aw cute! My 4 year old was cheering for Lebanon, Brazil, America and Arizona in the World Cup this year 🙂

  • SF

    So I also grew up in MN, and am raising my kids in a different city. They too are stymied by lawnmowers and twinkies, but slurp up cuttlefish and ride buses like a pro. They pepper me with questions about monks walking around and why we don’t go to the church closer to our house (services are in Russian). They play with kids from other countries who speak different languages and have different customs. They play in dunes and can’t run (they trip!) on grass, but manage rough pavement. They ask thoughtful questions about the large local homeless population but sometimes worry “Is he going to scream at me?” Because it’s happened many times.

    We’re going back to MN later this month, and I already know there will be lots of culture shock – they were completely confused by a description of an ATV (so it’s like a motorcycle?), thrilled by the idea of a rope swing, and want to go crabbing (it’s what we do here in water!) in the Mississippi River.

    But we don’t live in a “foreign” country. We live tucked up between little Russia and a smaller Chinatown (yeah, there’s more than one) in one of the most unchristian cities in the US – San Francisco. I realize that there’s a difference between living in your passport country and overseas (I lived in Japan for a bit as a kid), but not all of Ameica is suburban and homogenous.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Have fun crabbing in the Mississippi! So great.

    • MikeP

      Hi SF, I just wanted to affirm your post! I’m an MK married to an African born mono-cultural who raised our kids in urban US and China and are now raising our Chinese daughter in rural US. As I work with TCKs I am often struck with the similarities between them and kids who grow up in families who have moved ‘cross-culturally’ within a country; to reservations, urban populations, isolated rural situations, from ‘something else’. Those kids are CCKs (cross cultural kids) often with a ‘foot (or heart) in each place’. Blessings on your journey. Do keep one eye on that life-altering reality and the ensuing challenges and benefits for your kids.

      • lomagirl

        And immigrant children are TCKs of a sort, depending on how much their parents maintain their home culture.
        I’m an immigrant/MK from Colombia married to a North African immigrant and living in Texas. Our kids are Texan, but with different values at times than the kids around us, and different life experiences.

  • Once when playing “cars” with his cousins, my 4-year-old TCK corrected them: “Oh no no no. Cars drive on the road. Motorcycles drive on the SIDEWALK!” And he was so serious that his cousins went along with it. ^^

    {I’ve been laughing out loud at these stories and reading them to my husband. Thanks for such a fun post and discussion!}

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      That is hilarious! Love it.

  • D.D. Maurer

    Fun piece!

  • ctw

    while on furlough my son’s KG teacher told the class they should wear old clothes the next day to school b/c they would be doing messy crafts. My son insisted to her that he didn’t have any old clothes. He was right. EVERYTHING was new.

  • Kathy Stoll

    My oldest had a friend tell her on Facebook that she needed to update her “where are you from” section. She said it wasn’t worth it, she was from too many different places. Her friend then said to just list her passport country. My daughter replied that she found that hard also since she has passports from both Germany and the USA, her parents’ passport countries.

  • Danielle Gordon

    What a fun post! A couple of things that come to memory are of my 9 year old son being dumbstruck as we drove from the airport to our new home in Uganda for the first time. The sides of the road were lined with furniture and other items for sale. He wanted to know why everyone was throwing away such good rubbish! That’s the shops son!

    Another moment that made me realise how differently our kids now see life was when one of our highschooler’s was taking a health and nutrition test and called out to me saying he couldn’t remember what the best thing for AIDS elimination was. I thought it was a strange question since he hadn’t been learning about AIDS (other than living in an area with a high HIV rate!) I laughed when I read the question and explained that they were wanting to know what aids, as in ‘helps’ your ability to poop!

  • Tracey Dixon

    These are all so great! We just got back from MN, actually, and had the Twinkie conversation while there 🙂 My 4 year old was disappointed there was no snow, and mostly spoke Spanglish. And while I told my kids we could flush the toilet paper, I forgot to mention that they shouldn’t flush other things. . . i.e. wipes. Oops. Cost a day of unclogging the septic. . .

  • Victoria Parsonson

    This is fantastic! I don’t have children but have been privileged to live alongside the missionary children that were part of our close-knit team in Madagascar. The youngest member of our team is now 3, and was born in Madagascar. As in most African countries, our local language has a word for “white person”, which is often shouted across to us in the street and other places. Our 3yo doesn’t see himself as any different to any of the other kids in the street, and chatters in the local dialect. When local kids shout “bonjour vazaha” at him (“white person”) he just shouts it back at them, and now shouts it at anyone he passes in the street, as he believes it means “hello” and is just a friendly greeting… It’s hilarious to see him shouting “white person!” at all the local kids! And so lovely to see that for the moment at least, he sees himself as the same as them. Our team kids also have a lot of trouble recognising British-brand sweets etc that are second nature to those of us who grew up in the UK. One Christmas, the Mission Aviation Fellowship brought us up some goodies for our Christmas dinner, as we were in a very rural area. This included BROCCOLI, something we never see. The kids were so excited about this broccoli, that they were all fighting over it trying to get the biggest bits – total contrast to UK kids who won’t touch their vegetables!

    A friend came back to the UK after spending several years in Africa. She took her young child to the park in London to feed the ducks. He saw other children playing close to the pond and feeding the ducks, and ran up to them and said urgently, “Don’t get so close to the water, there might be crocodiles!”

    • Kyle

      I laughed out loud at this one! Too funny.

  • jessrings

    Loved this! I cried and laughed and I don’t even have kids!

  • Kimberly

    After over a decade in East Africa, our three kids are still adjusting to nearly 2 years in America. My boys were used to holding hands with other boys. That didn’t go over too well. We definitely stopped for every single drinking fountain and escalator! They said two things recently …
    Daughter (8) walking on a skybridge for the first time, “Oh! Is this an airport?! I really miss airports…(sigh)”
    Son (12) learning to use the piano pedal in a lesson, you know like when you drive a car, have you driven a car? “No, but I’ve flown a small plane.”

  • Ellen Hargrave

    On one Home Assignment my girl friend took our kids to VBS while we stayed with them a couple of nights. Upon asking my daughter what her address was, she looked at my friend and said, “Do they mean today?”


    My husband and our daughter were driving past Mt Vernon and she (around 10 years old) asked, “Is Mt. Vernon an active volcano, Dad?”

  • Jessi

    A college friend who grew up in Africa once told me about the time she was a child on furlough with her family in Germany. She and her siblings were so intimidated at being surrounded by white people that when they spotted an African American serviceman walking down the street, they chased after him, shouting, “An African! An African!”

  • Richelle Wright

    My daughter was about 8 years old and at a fancy mother-daughter tea with her aunt and grandmother (I wasn’t there). The women at the table where my daughter was sitting were watching squirrels jumping around in the tree outside the window. One of the older ladies looked at my daughter and asked her if “they had squirrels in Africa?”

    My daughter replied, “No, not that I’ve ever seen. But we do have spitting cobras.”

    My mother-in-law said that that sweet older lady just about fell out of her seat.

    Then,, when we landed in W Africa (on the backside of the Sahara) for the first time – the airport was very open so that there was air flow through the building. We’d just spent 15 months in Quebec City, learning to speak French – and there were still piles of snow on the ground in places when we’d left in June. Our oldest just looked around with his mouth open and then asked, “What in the world do they do when it snows here?”

  • DM

    We moved to Mexico when our youngest was 2, and on a trip to the States when he was three, he saw a very dark-skinned man in line at the grocery store. He stared at him, first curiously, then we saw the light bulb turn on in his head, and he very happily called out, “HOLA!” to the man. Thankfully the guy was just confused, and smiled. In our son’s mind, if someone looks different from our family, they must speak Spanish!

    • Kristy

      My 2 year old saw two women who were speaking Somali and turned to me and said “Mommy, they speak Espanol too.” 🙂

  • Angie

    We moved to Southeast Asia when my youngest son had just turned 4 and the High School Musical craze was in full swing and having an older sister he watched the movie many, many times. Upon returning to Kentucky, our home state, for Christmas a couple years later a friend asked my son if he liked the Wildcats (Kentuckys basketball team) and he said ‘no I don’t like High School Musical all that much’. Needless to say we didn’t get to watch much college basketball in Southeast Asia.

  • Julia

    This is great! I recently realised my 2-year-old doesn’t know what a grocery store is (her newly arrived friend and she were playing make-believe) so I had to explain it was like a market and then she got on board!

  • Stephanie

    Even though I grew up as an MK in the same country (Chile) where my children now do, I often am surprised by their funny comments. The primary difference is that I attended an American school, while they spent many years in national schools so their English base isn’t so strong. True funny conversation this week: I asked my girls for the hole punch to punch my
    syllabus. They both looked at me aghast and exclaimed, “Punch your
    WHAT?” I asked what they thought a syllabus might be and one tentatively
    responded, “A part of your body?”

  • Valerie

    Our sons are citizens of both Mexico and the US, they’ve lived most of their lives in Mexico, homeschooling mostly in English. When we studied conflicts involving both the US and Mexico, they can’t decide who to root for.

  • Douglas Gentry

    Our colleagues arrived in a new country for assignment just after Christmas. When their young daughter saw an elderly Sikh gentleman walking down the street she shouted “Look, it’s one of the Wisemen!”

  • I’m a Third culture grandma. I really identified with my heart lives in two pieces. And home is where you miss the most when you aren’t there.

  • One child, driving by the airport, “Oh it’s a green plane! (Aer Lingus, our national airline) Are we going to fly again soon? I miss flying the green ones. They’re my favourite.” and the 7yo: “Jane [our babysitter] has lived in the SAME HOUSE her WHOLE LIFE. It’s UNBELIEVABLE!”

  • Oh there are so many, many things I could add here! My parents always tell of my older sister calling out to the Ambassador as he walked by, “Mr. Bassdord, Mr. Bassdord!” We also grew up mostly in Africa, so my sisters and I called ourselves African-American long before it became the norm. We also use a lot of slang in our speech from all over the world, “Take a shoufti at this,” “we’ll be there, inshallah,” “pass me the peas, merci.” It’s a shame we lose some of those turns of phrase when we go “home.” But we fall back into it when we’re all together.

  • carolyn

    On Home Assignment from Afghanistan, my nine year old daughter saw a friend at the park and they spent some time catching up. On the way home I asked her how it went, seeing a friend after being gone for a while. She said, “Mom, she didn’t know where Afghanistan was, so I told her it was in the Himalayan Mountains. She didn’t know what that was, so I told her it was near Iran and she STILL DIDN’T KNOW!” My seven year old son piped up and said, “did you try telling her it was in the middle of Asia?”

  • Carole

    Love this! Let me add a few. . .
    My husband and I were talking about our childhoods in America one day when my 8yo, having never spent a summer in the US, said, “You mean they have VBS in America, too?!?”
    Like so many TCKs, my kids LOVE water fountains in America: “You can drink the water straight out of the tap, and it’s REALLY COLD!” I’ve even caught them drinking out of bathroom sinks–just for fun.
    My very Caucasian kids call themselves ‘American-Africans.’ It seems to work, but it doesn’t fit on any form.

  • bmc

    My kids have lived overseas their whole lives. One is 12 now and the other is 9. At a certain point both of them started getting overly concerned and pretty confused about where people spoke english. When my son was about 9, we had just flown from Tunsia, where we’d lived for a few years, and landed at the airport. My husband promply hit the food court and took my son with him. They went to a chinese place (like Panda Express). The workers were actually Chinese/American w/ very strong Chinese accents. When one of the women asked him a question, he did not understand and immediately thought she was speaking to him in Chinese since most people his whole life had been speaking to him in either Chinese, Russian, Arabic, or French. He politely resonded, “I’m sorry, but I don’t speak Chinese.” She was speaking English.
    Both kids also wonder when we go from US state to state, whether people speak English in the new state.

  • Tina

    I love these! We’re Americans living in Europe (in a country with 4 unofficial languages) and we were visiting family in Ohio during the summer. I asked my 6 year old TCK if she’d like to go to Vacation Bible School while we were there.
    “Ummm, what language will they speak?” she asked.
    She doesn’t understand US geography and when she was quite little she said, “Hey Mom, remember when we went to that country that isn’t in America and isn’t in Europe? Remember when we went to TEXAS?”
    Another time while we were in the US, we flew from Ohio to Florida. When the flight attendant finished giving the safety instructions, my daughter said, “Isn’t she gonna say that in Danish?” She was surprised to hear only English!

    • cat

      Your Texas comment cracked me up. We always tell people we have kids born in three different countries: The US, Indonesia, and Texas.

  • Hilary

    We live in West Africa. One year we went to France in August, and it was in the 60s and raining when we arrived. My then 5 year old said “Mom, I think it’s going to snow!”
    This year, when we arrived in the US, she (now 8) exclaimed after leaving the grocery store through an automatic door “Mom, everything is automatic here! Even the toilets at the airport are automatic!”
    Her most recent one was when she was playing a geography game on a tablet. She had ‘own’ a new country, and she wanted me to guess what it was. “Mom, I’ll give you a hint…it’s near Senegal, and it has ebola. It’s Liberia!” I’m still not sure what to think about this one.

  • Love this, so funny and true! Here’s one from our archives: After two years in a bungalow in SE Asia with no window screens, my four year old is at my in laws’ lovely home in Dallas. “Aren’t there any insecks in this country?” (since there weren’t any inside!)

  • Liz

    We’re missionaries in the tropics and when my 3 year old saw me put a jacket on in the U.S. he made a weird face and said “what’s THAT?” After I explained that those funny things on my arms were sleeves, for the rest of our vacation he kept referring to needing to put on his “sleeves” when he got chilly.

  • I’m a TCK who was born and spent all my growing up years in Kenya. When I was little, one day, I asked my mom why there were so many more black people in the world than white people (this was before we took our first furlough). Then, when we actually went back to the States on furlough, I would go up and greet African American people out in public in Swahili and was offended and thought they were incredibly rude for not responding to me. I also remember getting into arguments with African American people about how I was more “African” than they were. “I can name city where I was born and country where I live. Can YOU do that? Do you even know where your ancestors came from?”

  • Allison

    This is a great piece and I loved reading all the comments!!! On a TCK’s heart being in two pieces when thinking about faraway grandparents — Closer To The Kids has a printable activity on just this that is designed for long-distance grandparents and grandkids and symbolically makes both hearts whole again. It’s a fun way to help kids feel more connected to faraway grandparents. Check it out:

  • Anisha

    We live in SE Asia and I recently recovered from amoebic disentary. My almost four year old is at the stage where he’s all about comparing the size of things. So when he tried to explain just how small but significant a bug was to his friend he remarked, “It was so small you almost couldn’t see it. Just like Mommy’s amoeba!” *Sigh*

  • Nicholas

    We live in a tropical amazonian city where it rains almost every day of the year. On furlough with our five year old TCK he asked after six days with no rain, “Mom, does it rain in the United States?”

  • My daughter and son in law are raising their family in Haiti. They also adopted a son from Haiti before they moved there. Her biological white son was looking at a baby photo of her adopted Haitian son and asked “Mommy is this a baby photo of me or Nico?” Family knows no color.

  • Heidi Tunberg

    As a TCK caregiver, I hear lots of funny stories & questions. Here’s a sampling:

    At our Teen Re-entry retreat, I encourage kids to ask questions about puzzling things they’ve heard or seen. One of my favorites: “What does it mean when you’re walking to the car with your friends, and someone yells, ‘Shotgun,’ then everyone starts running?”

    A junior high aged TCK on furlough found a penny on the ground at school and took it to the office in case the distraught owner came looking for it because “That was a lot of money for my friends in the Philippines.”

    Near Election Day, a college-aged TCK admitted: “I can never remember which party is which, and which one I’m supposed to be.” (Never mind which one is the elephant and which one the donkey. That makes NO sense to US American TCKs!)

    At dinner one night, college-aged TCKs were comparing stories about learning to drive. A TCK from Europe recounted the hair-raising story of stopping UNDER the stoplight, which would have been the right spot in Europe, but was in the middle of the intersection in the U.S. His story brought about an “aha moment” for an Africa TCK at the table: “No wonder my American friends get mad at me at stoplights! In Africa you stop next to the light, too, so when it turns green the person in front can’t see it, and people behind honk to let them know it’s OK to go. I always honk and my American friends always tell me not to be so impatient.”

    During furlough, a girl at American public school asked a 14-year old TCK if he was going to Homecoming. When he told her he didn’t know what it was (his comment to me: “It could have been a pizza party for all I knew”), she explained, then asked him, “Do you want to go?” He agreed that, it sounded fun, and yes, he would like to go. He didn’t realize, until his friends congratulated him later, that he had accepted a date.

  • Cathi Ann

    Our family lives in Haiti. We were state-side this past summer for 6 weeks so my husband could have knee surgery. My sister coined a phrase, “Your Haiti is showing.” We found it true of our youngest most often. When visiting my parents house, he had to go to the bathroom. So he pulled his pants down, facing the street, and just went. I couldn’t get to him fast enough to tell him he can’t do that. Once we explained it to him (he’s 5), he was so confused. Finally we told him, “I know we can do that in Haiti and it is okay. It is confusing and makes no sense to you, but you just can’t do that here, ok?” He nodded and walked away flabbergasted and seemingly frustrated that he really did not understand all the “rules” here.
    Another time he ran into the room, and declared, “I’m thirsty! Is there purified water here?” We all chuckled as we realized the thought of limitless purified water would not even cross his mind. Then we realized why the bottled water for road trips had been disappearing so quickly – he had been using it for everything – probably even brushing his teeth. We never thought to tell him that the tap water was okay to use.

    He also critiques every pilot – when hitting turbulence one day, (at age 4) he told his dad, “This pilot’s not very good.”
    He makes us laugh, and I love hearing all these stories here!

    There are some things that nobody else can understand…it is conforming to see so many who walk the same road. We are the only missionary family at our ministry out in the country in Haiti, so this really made me smile and encouraged me! Thanks for the post!

  • My three-year-old in Mexico, “Look at the bunny, Mommy!” It was a dead rat.

    • Dana M

      Ellen! Hi!! I was just reading this comment thread and laughing at memories of some of the things C and G have said. Grant used to think that squirrels were brown, fuzzy iguanas. 🙂

  • Alex

    My children always say funny things. So I created a Facebook page to share everything . Check it out. Hope you all enjoy it! The page calls: Lucas & Luis

  • angie

    When going through the airport back to the US for the first time in their memory….littles said…”Hey mom, can I have a coin so I can go to the bathroom?” and then they returned with “Mom…IT”S FREE!” And on the way out they saw a water fountain for the first time….”Hey Mom, there’s cold water on the wall in a box!” and they proceeded to drink out of EVERY water fountain in the whole airport!

    One last one….Our kids had been sent the movie “KungFu Panda” and had watched it a zillion times while living in Central Asia. One scene they picked up on when the Panda gets kicked between the legs, He says…”oh, my tenders!” (of course littles would chose the most awkward phrase to remember!) Anyway…… When retuned to the states we were going through the drive through and the sign said “Chicken Tenders .99cents!” — “He said….Ohhh, mom…they EAT “those” here?”

    • cat


  • Jennifer Dorr

    We were preparing to go back to the US after two and a half years in South Africa. One of my twin ten year old daughters asked if we needed to pack our adapters. I told her that we wouldn’t need them in the US. She then asked “Well, how do you plug things in then if you don’t use adapters?” I also overheard my kids arguing about being able to drink water out of all the faucets in America.

    Thanks for your posts. There are so many things I can relate to. We are also African-American.

  • Nancy McAllister

    We returned to the US on our second furlough. The year was 1994. Having been born in France, this was our 4 year old son’s second trip to the US, but he was only 18 months old the first time he came here. Upon driving through busy Greenwood and Indianapolis, Indiana, Xavier, from the back seat remarks, “Why are there soooo many places to eat in America?!”

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